Playwright Kernen Restarts Coaching Career

Veteran coach returns to CSUF to find his way back on the diamond

To coach or not to coach, that is the question.

Returning Cal State Fullerton volunteer assistant baseball coach Bill Kernen had an easy answer to that question after taking an 11-year hiatus from the game to pursue his goal of becoming a playwright.

"Once I got back on the field, I was like, 'Wow, I'm not finished with this,' " Kernen said.

On the Titan staff, Kernen replaced Ted Silva, who was hired by Fresno State.

Kernen, 58, is unlike other coaches. Aside from being a successful playwright who studied dramatic writing at Columbia, he is a self-described connoisseur of classical music and has a high appreciation for art.

"He's a little different, it's a little broader scope than most baseball coaches," Titan Head Coach George Horton said. "We're usually jocks, we read the sports page, we read sports books and our hobbies are going to games, watching ESPN. It's a pretty tunnel-vision kind of lifestyle choice."

Assistant Coach Rick Vanderhook also thinks Kernen is a little different than the typical baseball coach, but welcomes those differences.

"He brings a lot of experience and a different vision and perspective," Vanderhook said.

While at Columbia, Kernen wrote and produced two full-length plays in 1997: "And Other Fairy Tales" and "A Graveyard Symphony." In 1998, he wrote "Galleria degli Angeli," which was honored as a finalist in the Oglebay Institute National Playwriting Competition. He also wrote "Musica de Mariposa" in 1999.

Currently, "And Other Fairy Tales" and "Galleria degli Angeli" are in film production.

As different as the two worlds of baseball and theater are, Kernen finds many similarities between the two.

"You rehearse, you perform, you make adjustments, you budget," Kernen said. "You do all the same things; it's just that you're doing it with a different set of skills and a different discipline."

Horton is looking forward to the out-of-the-norm coaching style of Kernen, which he described as, "life-lesson kind of a coaching."

"I'm a little intrigued with learning some of the philosophical things and the methods that he has that I can add to my bag of tricks," Horton said. "Just the other day he was talking about how eccentric Beethoven was."

The opportunity for Kernen to dive into the world of theater from baseball came in 1994 with the Northridge earthquake.

He left coaching shortly after the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake. At the time, he was the head coach at Cal State Northridge.

"Playwriting is something I've always wanted to do and I figured I'd do it a lot later than I did," Kernen said. "But the way things came down at Northridge after the earthquake in '94, it pretty much leveled the campus and they put all resources into rebuilding the campus."

Kernen said that after the quake he was told that CSUN's athletic director had been fired and the baseball program was dropped due to budget cuts. He then made the decision to move to New York City, study at Columbia and focus on becoming a playwright.

"It was a little scary," Kernen said. "I go to New York City with no job, very little money, never having written a word of dialogue in my life. It was a little bit of a leap."

While in New York, Kernen lived about 30 blocks from the World Trade Center. He said Sept. 11 was the most memorable experience he took with him from his time there.

"It's just one of those defining events that's so surreal you can't believe you're in the middle of it," Kernen said.

Kernen said that it was a desperate time for many of those in New York.

"Everybody was scrambling to grocery stores because of the fear that tunnels and bridges were going to get shut off and there wasn't going to be any more food."

Being so close to the World Trade Center at the time of the terrorist attack was life changing, Kernen said

"I took it as a wake up call on the scale of what happened to us in World War II when we finally figured out Hitler was out to conquer the world and mow down everybody in sight," Kernen said. "It just kind of changes your whole perspective of where you are in the scheme of the world as a country and as a person, a citizen in that particular country."

Kernen described the general feeling in New York post Sept. 11 as a combination of outrage and shock.

"Like anything else, if it happens to you, it's completely different," Kernen said. "If you lose a child as a parent, everybody else is going to think how terrible that is, but for you as a parent that it actually happened to, it's going to redefine your life and you'll never get over it."

After taking a chance in life and

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going to Columbia, becoming a playwright, and witnessing one of the country's most historic events, Kernen has found himself back to square one in the baseball coaching world.

Horton said that volunteer assistant coaches are typically young and talented but inexperienced.

With Kernen being an assistant coach at CSUF for former Head Coach Augie Garrido from 1978 to 1982 and again in 1987, he brings to CSUF the coaching experience that most volunteer assistants lack.

"With young volunteer coaches, players kind of check them out to figure if they're worthy of their respect, and those kind of things," Horton said about Kernen. "I think just the nature of who he is gives him a good start, so that trust level back and forth from player to coach is there and I think that's a big thing."