MACALUSO: Is your glass half-empty….

Success may be the most subjective word in the English language. Wait. Then again, perhaps failure is the word that's so subjective. I guess it all depends on if you're one of those glass-half-full kind of guys or one of the glass-half empty nay sayers.

For instance, say you moved to Baton Rouge four years ago from just about anywhere else in the country where a major college is located, aside from places like Miami or Austin or Houston. And you brought with you a love for college baseball.

Since LSU has a reputation for having such a great college baseball team and atmosphere, you decide to become a season ticket holder. You actually show up on a regular basis and cheer on your new favorite, hometown team. That team and its coach wins 68-percent of its games in the most competitive conference along with some of the best in-state talent in the country. You get the privilege of watching four tense, nail-biting NCAA Regionals and two equally exciting Super Regionals and then moves on to the College World Series twice.

If that happened, you may be inclined, without much doubt or deliberation, to call that team successful. But, the guy sitting next to you may be just as inclined, without much doubt or deliberation, to call that team a failure and then point the finger for that "failure" directly at the head coach.

That is the duplicitous cruelty LSU baseball coach Smoke Laval faces everyday when he shows up for work.

Mere weeks after Laval led his team into the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in his four years as head coach and the 17th consecutive time overall, he was the focus of, perhaps, fabricated reports claiming he was a candidate to leave LSU for the greener (well, browner really) pastures of the University of Oklahoma. He, according to the rumors, was to fill the vacancy left when long-time Sooner coach Larry Coshell was fired for embroiling Oklahoma in a nasty, racial name calling incident this past season.

The Sooners ultimately decided upon tenured Wichita State head coach Gene Stephenson, a move that surprised many in college baseball. Knowledgeable baseball fans understand his name, after coaching in south Kansas for 28 seasons, is as synonymous with Wichita State Baseball as Tom Osborne's with Nebraska Football.

Stephenson accepted the new position after much debate and an emotional press conference. During that meeting with the media, fans and reporters were reminded the 59-year old baseball guru was once an assistant coach at OU and said he'd leave Wichita State for only one job: Oklahoma.

But, somewhere along the drive from Kansas to Norman, where OU athletic director Joe Castiglione was waiting to welcome Stephenson to the fold, he had a change of heart and turned the car back toward Wichita.

Stephenson has suggested the reason behind his about face is Oklahoma's scholarship quandary. The Sooners have 15.7 scholarships being used for classes this summer when that number has to be cut down to 11.7 by the beginning of the fall semester. Whose money would he have to take away? Who would have to come up with book money this fall and possibly not be able to stay on the team?

Perhaps Stephenson simply didn't want to be the bad guy.

Or, perhaps he realized he was walking into a no-win situation, much like the one Laval faces at LSU. It is a situation where he must live up to the demands of LSU baseball fans, who have now become casual observers in many facets, yet save their ability to blame and chastise.

Oklahoma is much like LSU in many ways. They are both large institutions where football is first above all, and everything else is often well down the line. If not for the job opening at Oklahoma involving big names like Stephenson, Laval and reminding the football-starved public of the reason behind the vacancy, discussions of baseball in Norman and Baton Rouge would have ended as soon as the last out was recorded in the first week of June.

But, more than anything else, the two schools share a similar trait among their fans who believe both should win every game they play in every sport no matter the competition and the fact that other team wants to win just as badly.

Oklahoma has won (baseball) national championships in the past; the last in 1994 under Coshell. Stephenson produced a championship as well, in 1989, and made Wichita State a staple of the Omaha landscape like cows and road construction.

The combination of the two and the fact Stephenson is second in NCAA baseball wins to Texas' Augie Garrido, would mean an expectation of instant success almost impossible in the modern world of college baseball.

Winning consistent championships in college baseball has become as difficult as winning championships in football and basketball. In fact, it may be even more difficult due to a number of considerations most notably a pronounced lack of scholarships.

And, rightly so, every school wants a share of the money and recognition schools like Texas, LSU, Miami, Wichita State, Oklahoma State, USC and Arizona State used to keep in their coffers alone. There are no more dynasties like LSU's of the ‘90's, and there may never be again unless Garrido manages to win three more titles in the next six years.

So, perhaps Stephenson felt an emotional attachment to Wichita State that was too powerful to break. Or, perhaps he didn't want to walk into an NCAA brick wall with scholarship problems at Oklahoma. Or, perhaps he talked to Laval at some point and didn't want to be subjected to questions concerning whether he cared about being disliked by LSU fans, a question asked by some sophomoric reporters moments after his team fought and scraped in heartbreaking loss to Rice in this year's regional.

And perhaps Stephenson knew, like Laval, there's a chance he could lead his team to a division championship despite injuries and poor player performances and other plagues every team faces during any given season, yet still not gain any admiration from his dwindling fan base.

And maybe Stephenson recognized there was the possibility he could have more wins in his conference than any other coach in the league in a four-year span, more even than the coaches the fans want to see replace him, and it still fall well short of expectations.

And maybe, that was enough for him to decide to stay in Wichita and be happy with what he built rather than having to rebuild in a shadow that is always cast.

No matter the reason, Stephenson's decision has once again churned the rumor mill about Laval leaving, and opened the chance that some fans will get their wish and it will be LSU, not OU, forcing another big name coach from another established program to choose between staying and going.


Chris Macaluso is a staff writer at Tiger Rag Magazine. The son of longtime Stat-Times and Advocate writer Joe Macaluso, Chris has been a longtime fixture in the Baton Rouge sports landscape. He can be reached by e-mail at

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