Walters State baseball coach Ken Campbell retiresJuly 10, 2013
MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — After a 39-year head coaching career that included 1,200 wins and nearly 1,800 games coached, Walters State baseball coach Ken Campbell has coached his last game.
The veteran coach, who spent the last 14 years turning the Walters State program into one of the elite programs in the United States, retired Tuesday morning, ending an unprecedented era of success on the baseball diamond in both the state of Tennessee and at WSCC.
After coaching 15 years at Eau Gallie High School in Florida, a decade at East Tennessee State and 14 years at Walters State, Campbell knew the time was right to get away from coaching and spend more time with his family.
“It was time,” Campbell said. “I’ve been in education for 49 years and been a head baseball coach for 39 years, and it was just time. My wife and I have some health issues that we want to take care of, and hopefully this will allow me to spend some more time with my grandson Kevin and my family.”
Ken’s grandson Kevin Campbell is one of his biggest fans, even wearing his granddad’s No. 10 on his Walters State shirt to every game when he was younger. He’s been along for the ride for his entire life and was the focus of many fan’s attention in Grand Junction, Colo., at the JUCO World Series in 2006 when the Senators won the national championship.
Now it’s time for Ken to spend time on the exterior of the field, sitting with his son Mike at Kevin’s baseball games.
“I definitely want to spend more time with Kevin and go to his games,” Campbell said. “He’s been out here since he was 2 at practices and watching us play, and he’s been to the World Series with us every time that we have been.”
Campbell goes out on top, having led the Senators to the JUCO World Series this season, ending his career with Walters State sporting a sparkling 650-162-1 record with the Senators.
Ken, who is a member of the TCCAA Hall of Fame and an almost certain future member of the NJCAA Hall of Fame, won at least 37 games every season at WSCC, including 40-plus wins in 12 of his 14 campaigns. He won several TCCAA coach of the year awards as well as a national coach of the year honor in 2006, all while leading the Senators to numerous regular season and postseason TCCAA titles.
“The retirement of Ken Campbell has ended a tremendous era in Tennessee and national collegiate baseball,” Walters State athletic director Dr. Foster Chason said. “Few programs in the nation can be labeled as premier, but Ken and his staff developed one of the premier baseball programs in the nation.”
Walters State president Dr. Wade McCamey echoed the sentiments of Chason, saying Campbell made an impact both on and off the field with his players.
“During his 14-year career as head baseball coach at Walters State, Ken has developed the Senators baseball program into one of the most distinguished programs in the country,” McCamey said. “He is to be commended not only for the tremendous success of his teams but for the positive impact he has made on the lives of our student athletes.”
This year’s team made a late run to get back to Grand Junction, which actually helped Campbell make his decision to leave the dugout an easier choice.
“This last World Series was special,” Campbell said. “I had told my assistant coaches that I’d like to get back out to the World Series one more time before I retired, and if we hadn’t made it this year, I would have probably stayed on one more year to try to get back out there. Since we made it this year, I felt it was time to retire.”
Campbell’s head coaching career began at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla., where he totaled a 327-159 record in 15 seasons. He coached future Major League pitchers Tim Wakefield and Jeff Tam during his time there.
“I spent 15 years at Eau Gallie, and I had a lot of fun and success coaching there,” Campbell said. “I surrounded myself with good people and had a lot of good players go through that high school. The most notable was Tim Wakefield, who pitched for the Boston Red Sox, and Jeff Tam, who pitched for the Oakland Athletics. I had a great time there.”
The next stop for Campbell in his career was a return home to Johnson City to coach East Tennessee State University, where they were close to dropping the program before his arrival. Ken, a graduate of Science Hill High School, faced a constant wave of tough opponents while with the Bucs, but he turned the program into a winner before leaving after the 1999 season with a record of 223-249-1.
“I was at ETSU for 10 years, and they were getting ready to drop the program when I took it over,” Campbell said. “We certainly weren’t fully funded, and I didn’t have a full-time assistant coach. We took out lumps. We were playing some of the best teams in the nation. We opened one year against Georgia Tech, who was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and they had Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra playing for them. I have a lot of good memories from ETSU. We started winning towards the end, and if I had stayed there, I believe I could have gotten the record over .500.”
Campbell arrived at Walters State in 2000 and immediately went to work trying to turn the program into a contender in the then named Tennessee Junior/Community College Athletic Association, and it didn’t take long.
By his third season, he led the Senators to a 51-6-1 record and their first NJCAA East Central District tournament. In his fourth season, he took WSCC to the World Series for the first time wince 1984, and he led them to five appearances in the junior college baseball showcase during his 14 seasons.
Ken said he knew coming in it was going to take a lot of hard work both on the field and in recruiting to get the Senators program to where he envisioned it going, and the hard work paid off.
“I knew we had to work hard to get the program to be successful, and the first thing I needed to do was get a pitching coach,” Campbell said. “I hired coach Joey Seaver right off the bat, and he’s been tremendous for the last 14 years. I knew we would have to recruit well, and I knew a lot of scouts, so we had to depend on them in recruiting. I wanted to see what the league was like, and at that time, Motlow State dominated the league. It took us a few years, but we finally took that dominance away from them.”
Seaver was his first hire as an assistant coach, and he kept Adam Cross, who had been the interim coach in 1999, on the staff as well. The trio built the program up and took it to another level, but when Cross left after the 2003 season, the addition of David Shelton helped WSCC shoot into the upper echelon of junior college baseball.
Seaver stayed with Campbell all 14 years, and Shelton has been with him for a decade. They added Justin Pickett, a star on the 2006 national championship team, in the last few years to bolster the group, and Campbell said the low turnover with his staff was a source of pride.
“One of the things that I’m proud of is the low staff turnover throughout my career,” Campbell said. “When I coached in Florida, I had one assistant coach to help me on varsity for 15 years, and he stayed right there with me. When I was at ETSU, I had one assistant named Johnny Cloud that stayed with me for the 10 years I was there. Here at Walters State, Joey has been here all 14 years. Adam Cross was here for a few years and I guarantee he would still be here if he could have afforded to raise a family on his salary. We hired David Shelton to replace him and he’s been here ever since, and I’m just glad that I didn’t have a turnover in my assistant coaches through my whole career.”
Campbell said the key to his success has been surrounding himself with Seaver and Shelton, whom he called two of the best assistant coaches in America. He also noted the support from the staff, administration and the community as factors in the stability of the program.
“You have to surround yourself with good people, and I surrounded myself with two good assistant coaches,” Campbell said. “David is one of the best recruiting coordinators that you could ask for, and Joey is one of the best pitching coaches in the country. You add in our administration, and we have their full support. The faculty and the fans supported us every game, and any time that you have a lot of good people working on your side, you can have success.”
Still one of the things to bring a smile to his face is mentioning the national championship team in 2006 that ended up 61-8. Campbell said it was a product of hard work and a group of guys that bought into the system and came ready to play every game.
“We had a great bunch of players that year to start with, and we ended up winning 61 games,” Campbell said. “All of the guys on that team bought into our program, and we had good competitive practices every day. When it came game time, they were all ready to play. As a coach, that is all you can ask for, and here we go to the World Series with nobody giving us a chance in the championship game, and we end up winning it all.”
Chason said the biggest attribute about Campbell was the respect he has earned locally, on the state level and nationally during his time at Walters State.
“To speak of Ken Campbell as a baseball coach is only a portion of the man,” Chason said. “He is a tremendous mentor and role model to his staff and players alike. To me, Ken’s greatest attribute is the respect he has publically obtained as a being a man of high morals and integrity who has not only developed the Walters State baseball program into a consistent winner, but has positively influenced numerous student athletes to become successful citizens across the state and nation. Ken’s character, loyalty, dedication to Walters State, the TCCAA, Region VII and the game of baseball are unmatched. I’m honored to call him a colleague and friend. Ken is leaving the Walters State baseball program in great shape. We will work diligently to ensure the next head coach will continue to uphold the tradition Ken, Joey and David have developed.”
Campbell said if he is asked for a recommendation for the next head coach, he will tell the administration to hire from within and not mess with the formula that helped them average more than 46 wins per season the last 14 years.
“I don’t think they need to change our system that we have set up here right now,” Campbell said. “We have everything set up so we know what to do before a game and after a game. When we have a little down time, we know what the practices are going to be like. We don’t give our players off, no matter if it’s 30 degrees and two-feet of snow on the ground outside. We still practice. Hopefully they will stay in house to hire the next coach, and hopefully they will carry on our same system and the tradition.”
While saying he won’t miss the long bus rides and all the everyday things that come with being the head coach, Campbell did mention that the need and want to compete on a daily basis is still there. He jokingly warned his golfing partners that he will be gunning for them when they hit the links.
“I’m going to miss the competition and getting up in the morning wanting to beat somebody,” Campbell said. “I’ll just have to play more golf and try to beat guys like Dave Kragel, Tim Humann and my brothers Jack and Bill.”