Casey does it his way, but it's still hard
CORVALLIS — Sometimes, the hardest thing is saying goodbye.
Pat Casey did it Thursday in a press conference at Valley Football Center, putting an apparent end to a coaching career unparalleled in Oregon State history.
One can argue the other three faces on the Beavers' Mount Rushmore of coaches, but not about Casey's inclusion, front and center. Three national championships and exactly 900 victories ensure not just Casey's spot as the school's greatest-ever coach, but also first-ballot selection for the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Calling it quits was harder than hard for Casey, 59, who choked up 20 seconds into his address to the media and dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief through 25 minutes while sitting between President Ed Ray and athletic director Scott Barnes in front of the reporters and television cameras.
The coach wasn't kidding when he opened with, "I tried to get these guys to let me do this behind closed doors." He'd have loved to walk away quietly, without any fanfare. I've spent 43 years in the sports writing business, and Casey is on the short list of the high-work ethic, low-ego coaches I've run across.
Pat's wife, and the mother of their five children, didn't push for his retirement. But she is all aboard with him hanging up his coaching cleats.
"I support Pat's decision 100 percent," Susan Casey told me Thursday. "He has talked about it for years. It was just time. I don't think any time is going to be a good time, whether it's yesterday, tomorrow, 10 years from now. It's always going to hard when you're successful and have done what Pat's done here. It's hard to walk away from that."
Casey agonized over the decision for several months.
He'd thought about retiring a couple of times in recent years, drained after a long season that never really ends, with recruiting and fundraising and tending to his players. This year, though, it finally got serious.
"I told my wife before the season, 'Honey, this might be the last one,'" Casey told the media. "I went into Scott's office (at midseason) and said, 'There are days I feel like this is my last run. I'm going to air it out. I'm going to come every day.'"
Casey aired it out this past season, practically willing his team to a third College World Series championship in 13 years. The Beavers overcame the Luke Heimlich situation and an early-season injury to star second baseman Nick Madrigal and, at Omaha, an injury to center fielder Steven Kwan and the ineffectiveness of ace pitchers Heimlich and Bryce Fehmel and even Madrigal's hitless championship series against Arkansas. When the Razorbacks couldn't field the pop fly foul ball that would have given them the title, it was almost as if God was giving the nod to the man wearing No. 5 in the Beavers' dugout.
Casey mulled the decision through the summer. He went back and forth with it many times. He didn't get out much to be with friends.
"I've been miserable," he said Thursday. "I've struggled with it from the day I got off the plane (from Omaha). We won a national championship. Guys were asking me, 'How come you don't come out?' This thing isn't supposed to be easy. I worked my tail off to be the coach at Oregon State. It shouldn't be easy."
Two weeks ago, Pat and Susan attended a football scrimmage at George Fox in Newberg, where his older brother, Chris, is head coach.
"He was contemplating it pretty seriously," said Chris Casey, one year older than Pat. "We talked a lot about how the head coaching experience is different from any other experience. You take on every single thing your players are going through, whether it's life, family, school, the sport itself.
"That's just the way we do it in our family. We're going to do it full bore. And it takes a toll on you. You take on everything that's part of your players' lives, if you're going to do it right."
Pat Casey has always done it right. When he wasn't sure he could do it anymore, he decided to hang it up.
"I can't go on the field and not be 100 percent sure I can do what I want to do the way I want to do it," Casey said Thursday. "That's taking away from the players. That's not fair to them. What I expect out of my players on the field, I expect out of myself. Right now, I'm not positive I can give that. I will never put the uniform on unless I do it with that same passion as I expect of them."
There were additional factors. Casey felt guilty about the way he'd handled coaching one of his sons, Brett, who played for Oregon State from 2007-09. His youngest son, Joe, will be a sophomore outfielder at OSU next season and a potential starter. Casey didn't want to make the same mistake again.
Also, Casey wanted to make sure the program he built from scratch 24 years ago is on solid footing. Boy, is it. His right-hand man, Pat Bailey, slides over one seat to become head coach, albeit on a one-year interim basis. A spectacular stable of pitching returns next season along with perhaps the nation's best player, catcher Adley Rutschman. Two highly rated recruiting classes are in line to provide help. Facilities have improved every year to where they are as good as any in the Pac-12.
"I feel good about where the program is, and about the people in the program, and the players in the program and the players coming and the people who will be running the program," Casey said.
And even then, Casey is candid in saying he's not sure about his retirement and a new role as an associate athletic director, helping out with mentorship of coaches in the athletic department and fundraising and serving as a goodwill ambassador for the university.
"I'm not smart enough to tell you that the decision is the exact right decision," Casey said Thursday. "It's very difficult, because (the job) has been very good. I have no hobbies. I don't know what the hell I'm going to do."
His wife isn't, either.
"He's going to drive me crazy," she said with a smile. "Better take up golf or something."
For sure, there is indecision within the decision.
"I'm worried about our guys and the players," Casey said. "I feel like I'm a coach, but those are my own demons. Whatever I do, I'll do it as well as I can do it. They can put me in anything they want, dress me up however you want, but I'm a coach.
'I feel like I'm letting a lot of people down. There's nothing about this that I feel good about. Maybe I'll miss it. Maybe I made a mistake. If I did that, I would be the first guy to tell you that I'd try to get into coaching. If it isn't right, I'm sure I can get back in the game."
Chris Casey puts the odds on his brother eventually returning to coaching at 50-50.
"I don't foresee that," Susan Casey said. "Who knows, though."
Pat Casey doesn't even know. Not yet.
He knows he's going to miss it, though. That part is irrefutable. He'll miss the relationships he has with the players most of all.
"Those players, they made my life," he said. "It's all about the players. It has absolutely driven me to be the best I could be. National championships are awesome. They mean a lot. But they don't mean one damn thing if you don't have a relationship with the people you work with. Those guys made me the coach I am and allowed me to make the mistakes I made. I've learned more from my players than they've learned from me."
So Casey goes out on his own terms. His last game was a national championship. A new deck being constructed along the right-field line in Goss Stadium will be called "Casey Corner."
If this is it for the coach, it was one hell of a way to go out.
One thing is for sure. There will be great coaches in the future at Oregon State, but there will never be another Pat Casey.