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Casey revels in hero's welcome

by: Jim Clark,

The day after nirvana for Pat Casey was 'long, long, long … and just a heck of a lot of fun.'

The Oregon State baseball coach knew there would be people in his home state who would want to help celebrate the Beavers' College World Series title when they returned Tuesday from Omaha, Neb. But the reception at public greeting sessions in Portland and Corvallis 'absolutely blew me away,' Casey says.

'There were so many people (about 10,000 at Pioneer Courthouse Square), it was overwhelming. Then we got to Corvallis and thought it wouldn't be quite as big, but there were so many people there, it packed the whole plaza from Gill Coliseum to Reser Stadium.

'It was great for our guys to get that kind of recognition. A lot of times you work so hard and get very little credit. Look at Stanford. They won a regional at Austin (Texas), then lost to us in the Super Regional, flew home and there wasn't a person waiting there for them. We won it all, and it was cool for our guys to see the enthusiasm. They deserved it and earned it. And it was great for our fans. They deserved it and earned it, too.'

In interviews after winning the regionals, Super Regional and College World Series, Casey went to great lengths to pay homage to coaches at the Little League, Babe Ruth and high school levels in the Northwest for their hard work in developing players who led the Beavers to an NCAA championship.

Casey did his best to deflect attention away from himself.

'I'm just a simple guy who loves to do what I'm doing - coaching,' Casey says. 'I've been blessed with unbelievable talent and the opportunity to coach at a great university.'

Since he took over the Oregon State program 12 years ago, Casey has always thought big - bigger than he had a right to at a place where his program historically played second fiddle to schools in sunnier locales, such as Southern Cal, Arizona State and Stanford.

'I remember when coach (Dennis) Erickson showed up at Oregon State,' Casey says. 'The football team hadn't won in a long time, but at his first press conference, he didn't say he wanted to have a winning season. He said, 'I'm trying to win a Pac-10 championship.' That's exactly how I felt when I took the job at Oregon State.'

Brick by brick, Casey built the program to a conference contender to a conference champion to the very top of college baseball.

His players know the impact he has had.

'Coach Casey has played the biggest role in all of this, from his recruiting to his mentality as a coach,' says pitcher Jonah Nickerson, the CWS Most Outstanding Player. 'He can't stand to lose. He's a great competitor. He forces players to be competitors. He's not going to give up on us; we're not going to give up on him. I'll never forget what he did for me, and I know the other players feel the same way.'

'A lot of kids haven't wanted to play at Oregon State,' pitcher Kevin Gunderson says. 'A lot of us came here mostly because of him, because we believed in him. What we accomplished is a real tribute to him and his coaching staff. He had the confidence in us to get the job done at the very highest level. When your coach has confidence in you like that, it makes it 10 times easier to go out there and get it done.'

In 2005, Casey's base salary was $67,000, the lowest among Pac-10 coaches. After taking the Beavers to the Pac-10 title, Athletic Director Bob De Carolis gave him a significant raise and a five-year extension beginning at $120,000 this year, including a $20,000 media package. Private donations also provided a longevity package worth $50,000 a year if he stays three years or longer. On its own, Wilson Sporting Goods signed him to a $30,000 deal that includes free uniforms and equipment for the team.

This year, Casey also earned bonuses for winning the Pac-10 title ($10,000), for winning Pac-10 coach of the year ($10,000) and for winning the Super Regional ($7,500). Alas, he gets nothing for winning the College World Series or being named national coach of the year. And any profits from summer youth camps go to assistant coaches Dan Spencer, Marty Lees and David Wong.

Casey, 47, is a hot commodity on the coaching market these days. A year ago, Texas A and M and Oklahoma came calling. In recent weeks, Louisiana State has put out feelers about his interest. There will be other suitors from big-time programs willing to pay a lot more money than Casey makes at OSU.

Asked if he is concerned he might lose Casey to another school, De Carolis says, 'No. Well, in the back of your mind, you're always concerned. If we hadn't done what we did last year with his contract, I would say yes. The financial package he has now is a good, competitive one. You have to look at the quality of life in Corvallis, with his family situation and so on. We have a lot of sweat equity in this thing. Money is money, but it's not everything.'

Beaver boosters aren't so sure. Casey is still only the seventh-highest-paid baseball coach in the Pac-10, ahead of only the coaches at Washington and Washington State. From university money, he will make less this year than OSU women's basketball coach LaVonda Wagner and about the same as volleyball coach Taras Liskevych.

'Bob should find a way to write up a new contract and get Pat another $50,000 a year,' says one major donor, who asks to remain unidentified. 'That would get him into a competitive range with the coaches he has beaten regularly the last two years. That would take away any question about whether Pat should look at other jobs. We shouldn't lose him because there is such a disparity in pay between Oregon State and other schools.'

Casey isn't asking for more money. He would listen to other offers, but he isn't looking. He is happy in Corvallis and loves the way the community has embraced his son, Jonathan, who is developmentally challenged.

After the CWS-clinching victory over North Carolina, Jonathan raced onto the field to give his father a hug.

'I love you, Dad,' Casey's oldest child said.

'I can't remember the last time Jon told me that,' Casey says, his voice choking with emotion. 'Those things are hard for him. He doesn't understand all that. After we beat Stanford (at the Super Regional), he told me he was proud of me. Where that comes from, I don't know, but it's pretty special.'

So, too, is Pat Casey.

'I hope the administration realizes what they have, and does its part in locking coach Casey down,' Gunderson says. 'It would be a big loss to the program if he left. They need to do a real big job trying to keep him around.'

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