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DHS baseball coach quits

by Chuck Smock

Lars Baker admits there were a few things he needed to work on to make the Douglas High baseball program better.

The Tigers head coach refused, however, to enter a one-year probation period with an assistant coach and junior varsity coach chosen by school officials, and instead resigned from the position he had held for the past years.

“They told me I could be in on the interview process, but the final decision would be theirs,” Baker said. “If I’m going to be on the chopping block for a year of probation, I need to feel like everyone in the program is loyal to me.

“For them to say they’re going to make that decision for me, that’s something I couldn’t work with.”

Baker did agree to finish out the summer as the coach of the Douglas High Senior Babe Ruth team. His final day as the Tigers head coach will be July 30.

During a two-hour meeting with DHS principal Bev Jeans and vice principal John Carlson on June 21, Baker said he was told there were two areas of professional growth he needed to work on: improving communication between himself and his players and their parents; and fostering a more team-like atmosphere.

Baker accepted that assessment and agreed to increase his efforts in both areas during one year of probation.

Eight days later, Baker was called into another meeting with Jeans and Carlson. New Douglas athletics director Andy Hughes also attended the second meeting.

“They said they wanted to talk about (the baseball coaching) staff and staffing baseball positions, among other things” Baker said. “They started off by telling me they were going to open the varsity assistant and head JV coach position to applications. I asked why. Mr. Carlson said they would feel more comfortable if they had teachers from Douglas High in those positions. I asked if it was a new philosophy for all sports across the board, and they said, ‘No, just baseball.’

“Mrs. Jeans indicated having teachers in those positions would help me (achieve the goals they talked about in the first meeting). I indicated (assistant coach) Larry Silveira was very good with the kids and communication. I asked if Larry could reapply. They said no. And that’s when I resigned.”

The decision to open the two positions means Silveira and JV coach Jason Kyle are out of coaching jobs. Silveira owns and operates Silveira Construction. Baker and Kyle both teach at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School.

Silveira, who had spent four years with the program and whose son, Jared, is expected to be one of the Tigers top pitchers next season, chose not to comment about the situation for this article. He did say Thursday that he had not received a letter or phone call from the administration regarding his status.

Jeans and Carlson were both out of town late this week and could not be reached for comment.

Steve Wilcox recently finished an eight-year career as athletics director at Douglas High and has coached football for 25 years at Douglas. He said an evaluation he wrote about Baker and the DHS baseball program was his last act as the AD.

“I wrote an evaluation at the end of the (baseball) season because the principal (Jeans) asked me to,” Wilcox said. “There were some concerns. We had a lot of people – parents of the players and people who follow the program who don’t have kids in it – who were real upset.

“My recommendation was I thought he needed to get some help on the JV level. (And) it’s real hard to coach the whole thing when you’re not on campus. One of the goals of Mrs. Jeans was to get some coaches on campus to help him keep track of the kids.”

Wilcox added that he didn’t mention Silveira in the evaluation. He also said he gave the report to Jeans almost a month before school was out. Baker didn’t see the evaluation until the first meeting with Jeans and Carlson.

“(Jeans) indicated to me that she didn’t think it was fair to do it (show it to Baker) until after the team had its banquet,” Wilcox said. “She said she didn’t want to ruin the banquet.”

Baker’s desire to let as many players as possible participate in the program may have been the biggest factor leading to his resignation. The Tigers started the season with 24 players on the varsity roster. Baker kept the two best players at each position and all pitchers he thought could be effective at the varsity level.

Before the season started, Baker gave each player a “role sheet,” which defined in detail where and how much each would play. As the season progressed, Wilcox started hearing complaints about playing time and a lack of team unity.

“In my opinion, they kept too many kids on both teams,” said Wilcox, who coached the Douglas softball team to state championships in 1990 and 1991 with 12 players on his roster. “If you load up a bench with a whole pile of people who aren’t going to play, you’re asking for trouble.

“We told him last year he needed to cut down the number of players on the team.”

Carson baseball coach Ron McNutt routinely carries as many as 25 players on his varisty roster.

Wilcox went on to say he wasn’t ever dissatisfied with Baker’s work ethic.

“I’ve never worked with a guy who worked as hard as Lars did,” Wilcox said. “I was sad to see him quit. The guy worked his tail off. He was a workaholic. He spent every free minute working on that field. We’ll have a tough time finding a coach who works as hard as that guy does.

“And I don’t think anyone can question his values and his morals.”

Kenny Nicoll, a three-year starter at shortstop for the Tigers who recently graduated from DHS, said the news of Baker’s departure came as a shock.

“I was surprised and a little disappointed at the same time,” Nicoll said. “I thought he was a good coach. He did a lot for the program. He was starting a young family, but he still took the time to help you out. If you wanted to stay after practice and work on hitting, he would do it.

“I don’t know how you go from Coach of the Year one year and playing for the state championship and then being forced into doing what he had to do.”

Baker led the Tigers to second-place finishes in the zone and state tournaments in 1998. He was named Northern 4A Coach of the Year in voting conducted by his peers.

The Tigers returned more than a dozen players from the state runner-up squad this spring. Nicoll said being eliminated from the 1999 zone tournament in two games finished a disappointing season for Douglas.

“I think, for the most part, everyone felt that way,” he said. “It seemed like when the pitching was good, there was no hitting. And when we hit, there was no pitching or defense. We never could get on the same page. We had the athletes, we just never could click.

“But one disappointing season doesn’t make a career.”