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Knight and Casey show true character

When it was all over last week and Oregon State had held its news conference with Pat Casey, announcing it had retained its baseball coach and, in fact, had signed him to a 10-year contract, a call came in to the Portland Tribune sports department.

It was someone in the sports information department at Notre Dame. The guy said he really wanted to set the record straight and had a problem with our story on www.localnewsdaily.com - the first one on the Internet with quotes from Casey about why he decided to stay at OSU. Notre Dame had interviewed a lot of people, the man said, and never said that it actually had offered the job to Casey. In fact, the school wasn't even willing to state, on the record, that Casey had been in South Bend, Ind., interviewing for the job.

I laughed out loud. The baseball coach at Oregon State had turned down the Fighting Irish, and they just couldn't stand that everyone knew that. It's a delicious irony.

This whole saga taught us something about two people. One of them, of course, is Casey. We'll get to him in a minute.

But the second is Phil Knight. A source inside the OSU athletic department has confirmed the rumor that's been raging since last week - Knight, Super Duck, as he's called around Eugene - played a big role in keeping Casey in Corvallis.

Casey's base pay at OSU has nearly doubled, and Knight, it is now known, is going to pay a sizable chunk of that raise, every single year Casey is coaching at Oregon State. And Knight stepped up to do it without being asked. He volunteered.

And while that may irk a few stray Ducks (even a few misguided Beavers, who can't come to grips with it), I find it incredibly refreshing. Knight loves this state, and he loves winners. He recognized how important Casey is and what a remarkable job he's done.

Knight gets solicited every time someone in this state needs anything from a set of uniforms to millions of dollars for something having to do with sports. It's a difficult spot to be in, but he gives from his heart, and this one really impressed me. It was a very generous gesture.

Casey is a gentleman and a coach of high quality. He's built the baseball program at Oregon State through old-fashioned hustle and a business sense born out of many years in the real-estate business - which is how he supported his family for years while coaching his way up the ranks.

Baseball is a sport that's never gotten university support in Corvallis the way baseball programs are supported at Miami, Florida State, Texas or USC.

A new ballpark? Sure, you can have one - as long as you raise all the money for it. During Casey's tenure at OSU, it's been estimated he's raised $5 million for baseball. In one trip to Portland a week ago, he raised about $500,000 - with more to come as he polishes his stadium into one of the best in the country.

Keeping this man in Corvallis was easier, though, than it looked. Casey has the kind of coaching ethics and family values that made the decision easier. And on that night last week when he finally returned from Notre Dame and crawled into bed at a little after 2 a.m., you know how he felt when the bedroom door opened and his son, Jon, crept into the room.

And you know when Jon whispered, 'Dad, I don't want to go,' that Pat's future probably was very clear.

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