As the psalm goes, to every thing there is a season, and for Cal State University San Marcos (CSUSM) baseball coach Dennis Pugh, the season of his retirement has come.
First, foremost, and only, coach of the Cal State San Marcos baseball Cougars, Pugh hangs up his spikes following a 23-25 last hurrah. His final game, fittingly enough, resulted in an 8-2 win over UC San Diego.
Pugh started the program 10 years ago, won league and NAIA championships and guided the Cougars into unchartered waters of NCAA Division II competition, among other honors.
Pugh, 70, was coaching and athletic directing at Mission Bay High School when the Cougar call came.
“I always wanted to coach in college,” Pugh said earlier this year. “I had opportunities before, but the timing was never right. “After I talked with the people at Cal State San Marcos, I figured, ‘If not now, maybe never.’”
The first four years on top of the San Marcos hillside campus, the team had no home to call its own. Most home games were played at San Marcos High, Escondido High or Poway High. Now, under Pugh;s leadership the Cougars prowl a home diamond that plays great, but continues to lack such accoutrements as lights, bathrooms and concession areas.
“It’s just time,” Pugh was quoted as saying. “This doesn’t mean I’m done as a coach. I’m still extremely close with Mission Bay. They may need some help. Cal State San Marcos needs new leadership. I wanted to coach 10 years. I wanted to see the program transition from the NAIA to the NCAA. I’ve done that.”
Pugh added: “There was no facility. We had to rent fields, and that got expensive. No one came to see us play. There were no players and no scholarships to offer players.”
Pugh won 280 games at CSUSM. That ended his career with 1,000 overall wins, including 640 baseball victories at Mission Bay and 86 wins as the school’s football coach. He won eight San Diego Section baseball titles in his 27 years as Mission Bay coach.
Other turns at glory involved time with the Marines in Vietnam. Pugh was shot in the leg when his unit was ambushed north of Da Nang, which earned him a Purple Heart.
Returning home, he went to Grossmont College and then San Diego State on the GI Bill before getting into high school athletics. His Mission Bay legacy included several players or assistants who went on to their own coaching careers. Dusty Filter and Brock Ungricht are coaching at Stanford. Jared Suwyn is on Pugh’s staff at Cal State San Marcos. Jeff Dufek is the head coach at San Marcos High.
Pugh addressed the crowd of 150 fans and payed homage to the assistant coaches that have been with him for so many years by presenting them with a framed game jersey, according to Amy Chastain, sports editor of the Cougar Chronicle.
“One thing about being a head coach—if you don’t have good assistant coaches, you aren’t going to be a good coach, in baseball anyway,” Pugh said. “I’ve been so lucky in my career to have great assistant coaches.”
Athletic Director Jennifer Milo closed out the ceremony by addressing Pugh’s accomplishments, Chastain said.
“Coach Pugh has built a strong foundation that will be successful far into the future, but it isn’t just the baseball stats that make Coach Pugh a person I truly admire, “Milo said. “It’s who he is as a man, a mentor, a teacher and someone who cares deeply about the young men he works with.”
The Cougars followed up the celebration by displaying their hot bats and good pitching, for what their coach called the “best game of the year,” according to Chastain.
Filling Pugh’s cleats will be a rigorous job, but CSUSM officials have begun an active recruitment process.
This year marked the inaugural season with the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), a highly competitive conference made up of the likes of UCSD, Cal Poly Pomona, San Francisco State and other Cal State schools.
CSUSM associate director of athletics Todd Snedden leads the search committee.
“The baseball coach, who will have the working title of head coach, will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of a successful NCAA Division II program,” Snedden said. “This includes, but is not limited to, recruiting, preparation and assistance with practice and competition scheduling, team travel organization, compliance with all NCAA rules, and student-athlete welfare.
“The head coach will work with the academic support services staff in fostering academic success for all student-athletes, including graduation rates and retention of student-athletes,” Snedden said.
Minimum requirements are a BA degree and two years of paid NCAA baseball coaching experience.