After 28 seasons at the helm of Northwestern baseball (plus three as an assistant coach), Paul Stevens retired this past April, leaving athletic director Jim Phillips to look for the Wildcats’ second coach since the 1988 season.
Under Stevens–who is the winningest coach in program history–Northwestern eclipsed 30 wins three times as it tried to keep up with its fellow Big Ten schools, which are located in more baseball-heavy areas. With a career record of 674-836-6 in Evanston, Stevens clearly was unable to experience long-term success with the Wildcats, even though the program produced a decent amount of MLB talent for a private school with stringent academic requirements.
For his new hire, Phillips decided to go with Spencer Allen, who was then an assistant at Illinois and coached at Washington State, Purdue, Iowa and Creighton in previous stints after playing at Iowa State. By doing so, Phillips made Allen, 37, the first black head baseball coach in Big Ten history and the first in major-conference baseball since the 1980s.
The historical ramifications of the hiring aside, Allen is clearly qualified to run his own Big Ten program and, frankly, has been for awhile. With the Fighting Illini for just one season as a hitting coach, Allen saw Illinois roll off a 27-game winning streak en route to being one of the best teams in college baseball. This is just more success in a long line of it for Allen, who has been widely lauded as a great addition for the Wildcats’ baseball program.
During his Northwestern tenure, Stevens was a calming force and universally beloved figure who has been praised endlessly by anyone involved with the baseball team since he joined the staff in 1985. But, he was never able to get the Wildcats to get over the hump, so to speak, in terms of making serious noise in either the Big Ten or on the national level. With Allen, an exciting and young coach with recruiting experience and noted baseball acumen, Northwestern has a chance to finally do that.
Now, there is a new energy around the program that should be able to attract top recruits to Northwestern, which went just 18-36 last season (8-16 in conference). He has the ability to make Wildcats baseball interesting for students, which would certainly be helped out by the presence of a winning team that can compete with the likes of Indiana, Illinois, Maryland and Ohio State among others.
Granted, his job will be made tougher–as Stevens can attest to–by how tough it is for Northwestern to snag Midwestern recruits away from more established programs with better facilities than Allen can offer. However, as a top, young, history-making coach in power conference college baseball, he’s definitely a guy that can use his distinguished pedigree to build a roster that can turn into one of the Big Ten’s best.
He has a lot of work left to do and he may be starting with a bit of a disadvantage, but there’s no better person to lead the Wildcats from NCAA baseball purgatory to the promised land. If he gets the full support from the athletic department and the rest of the school, the Big Ten–and the country–better watch out.