Bill Kernen has been the face of Cal State Bakersfield baseball since the spring of 2007 — nearly two years before the Roadrunners played their first game.
Kernen, hired at that time to start the baseball program from scratch, announced his retirement Thursday morning, effective July 1.
“It’s not for a negative reason. It’s not for a bad reason,” Kernen said at a press conference before countless CSUB athletic department personnel and his players.
Kernen, who turns 66 in August, said he will return to New York and resume writing and directing plays, something he did over a seven-year period starting in 1995.
‘There’s a sadness involved when you put this much into something and then you’re going to be separated from it,” Kernen said of ending his coaching career. “It has a tough element to it, most particularly the guys (current players).
“You get to be a family and they’re your own sons, and it’s tough from that standpoint.
“But on the other side, I’m very excited about some of the things I’m going to do to get on with my life.”
CSUB is in its sixth season as a baseball program. The Roadrunners are 21-27 this season entering tonight’s game at Hardt Field against New Mexico State.
This weekend marks the final three home games of Kernen’s career. CSUB is 12-9 and tied for fourth place in the Western Athletic Conference with six league games remaining. CSUB must finish in the top six to qualify for the WAC Tournament.
Kernen’s record at CSUB is 155-168. As a college head coach — he led the Cal State Northridge program from 1989-95 — Kernen is 394-321-3.
“It’s hard to picture the program without him,” said junior outfielder Garrett Pierce, a Centennial High graduate. “It’s impossible to envision that. I’m speechless, really.”
Junior outfielder Jordie Hein from Scottsdale, Ariz., said he was shocked when Kernen told the team minutes before the 11 a.m. press conference.
“We had no idea this was going to happen,” Hein said. “It’s heartbreaking. You come to Bakersfield from another place and the guy who recruited you is gone. It’s weird.”
“It’s a tremendous loss for our athletic department,” CSUB athletic director Jeff Konya said. “I tried to get him to stay for another couple of years, I tried to get an extension through. There’s a time when retirement is beckoning.”
Kernen said he told CSUB President Horace Mitchell of his decision in late March, adding that it was Mitchell’s decision to make the retirement public on Thursday.
“I say to Coach: You’ve done all that we expected of you and you did so much more than that,” Mitchell said.
Then, to CSUB’s players in attendance, Mitchell said: “We are all committed ... to making sure that you have the kind of coach like Coach Kernen who is interested in each of you as student-athletes, to make sure we’re concerned about your development as students and athletes and also your development as individuals who will graduate from the university and be contributors to society. That’s what we want and that’s what Coach Kernen has worked for.”
Konya said there is no timetable for hiring Kernen’s replacement. Kernen and CSUB’s players want associate head coach Jody Robinson to be named as Kernen’s replacement.
Robinson has been on CSUB’s baseball coaching staff since Year 1 and spent five seasons as the head coach at Loyola Marymount. Robinson also coached at Long Beach City College and Cerritos College, two Southern California community colleges. He’s also had assistant coaching jobs at Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge and Illinois.
“I think we’d like to get a guy here as quickly as possible,” Konya said. “There’s an advantage to being the first job on the market. We can take our time and really analyze who will be the right fit. ...
“We definitely want to see what the marketplace will offer. We think it’s a pretty attractive job, and that’s a testament to Coach Kernen.”
Konya added: “We’re going to get a good candidate pool. The blueprint for success has been established and we’re only going to add to it as a foundation.”
Kernen said he “pretty much made” his retirement decision between the end of the fall season and the start of spring practice.
“Here’s what I did,” Kernen said. “I took periods of time and I lived as if I was leaving. Then I’d take another period of time and say, ‘no, I’m not leaving’ — just to see which one felt right. ...
“And whenever I was thinking about this being it, I felt the best. I felt the most calm about it, the most right about it.
“I know I’m not going to live forever. I see other people, and I say, ‘Wow, 10 years from now? Fifteen years?’ And I’m going, ‘Geez, if I’m going to actually do something else, I’d better do it.’”
Kernen graduated cum laude from the University of Redlands in 1970. He pitched three years in the Baltimore Orioles organization before starting his coaching career.
He was out of baseball from 1995-2002 when he enrolled in the prestigious dramatic writing program at Columbia University where he wrote and produced two full-length plays. A play he wrote after finishing the program was a 1998 finalist for the Oglebay Institute National Playwriting Competition.
Kernen said he’s written seven plays.
“New York is where I need to live,” he said. “That’s not a slam on Bakersfield by any means because I loved it here. This place is probably 1,000 times better than I thought it would be in regards to the people, the environment, the university community and everything else.”
He added: “I just need to get into my directing and writing, finish the projects I was involved with. ...
“It’s not that much different from coaching. Working with actors and athletes have many similarities. It’s fun and a lot of hard work, but it’s something I enjoy.”
Kernen said he was planning on calling CSUB’s recruits to inform them of his retirement. Four have signed letters of intent and Kernen said CSUB is targeting some junior college pitchers to round out next season’s team.
“I have to tell them the truth,” Kernen said.
CSUB still has not qualified for an NCAA Tournament. The 2011 and 2013 teams came close.
“This team still isn’t finished,” Kernen said. “We’re playing better. We still have a shot of doing some things. We need to get into the (WAC) Tournament first and then see what happens.
“And the future? This is going to be a real good team next year.”