Legendary LCSC baseball coach Ed Cheff to retire
Ed Cheff, who led the Lewis-Clark State College baseball team to an unprecedented 16 NAIA World Series title and is the NAIA’s all-time leader in victories at one school, announced Wednesday that he will be stepping down after 34 years at the Warrior helm.
The veteran coach will be replaced by Gary Picone, who will also keep his duties as athletic director, incoming LCSC interim president J. Anthony (Tony) Fernandez announced. Picone, however, will relinquish his duties as Tournament Director for the Avista NAIA World Series to LCSC assistant athletic director Brooke Cushman.
The changes officially begin on Sept. 1.
Cheff has been the face of the LCSC baseball program since his arrival in 1977. He posted a 1,705-430-2 record with LCSC for a .799 winning percentage. His win total ranks second only to Wichita State’s Gene Stephenson’s 1,724 wins with the same program in all of college baseball. His win total also is fourth all-time among all college baseball coaches.
“Ed Cheff’s accomplishments at LCSC are unmatched in college baseball,” Picone said. “His career victory total combined with 16 national titles put him in a league of his own. Those of us who had the opportunity to work directly with Ed know that he positively influenced hundreds of student-athletes and had immeasurable impact on the college and the community.”
Cheff’s accomplishments are nothing short of amazing. Under his leadership, the Warriors captured 16 NAIA national titles during a 25-year span, won at least 40 games for 30 straight seasons, and produced 114 players who were selected in the Major League Baseball Draft, including 14 who have made it to the big leagues thus far.
“Ed Cheff and LCSC baseball - it is impossible to think of one and not the other,” Fernandez said. “Ed achieved an unbelievable record of success, certainly on the field, but also as a positive influence in the lives of countless young men. It will be odd not to see Ed in the third base coach’s box at Harris Field next season. He will be sorely missed.”
During Cheff’s tenure, LCSC played in 11 consecutive NAIA World Series championship games and won eight. To put this in perspective, no other program has won more than four NAIA Series titles in its 54-year history. LCSC has been to the Series a record 29 times, more than double than any other NAIA program, including 28 under Cheff. Of those 28 appearances, LCSC finished fourth or higher 25 times.
Cheff also has been inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, and been selected the winner of the ABCA’s Lefty Gomez Award for his lifetime contributions to amateur baseball. He was named the NAIA Coach of the Year eight times.
Cheff’s teams also produced 72 NAIA All-Americans and three NAIA Players of the Year.
Cheff, who was raised in Butte, came to LCSC after a successful coaching career at Lower Columbia Community College in Longview, Wash. He replaced Ramon Hooker at LCSC following the 1976 season when the Warriors made their first appearance in the NAIA World Series and finished second to Lewis College in Illinois.
One of the trademarks of Cheff’s teams was their mental toughness. LCSC lost more than 20 games only once in a season and during the past seven years, his teams averaged 50 wins and only 8.6 losses.
Cheff’s teams also were regularly involved in the community and with community projects. Players regularly served as mentors at area elementary schools, helped with cleanup at the Lewiston Roundup, and also did work at an animal refuge, among being involved with other local events, fundraisers, and volunteer programs.
During his time at LCSC, Cheff also was on the coaching staff for Team USA in 1991 and again in 1994 when he served as hitting and third-base coach at the World Championships. He also spent sevensummers coaching baseball in the Alaska Collegiate League, which features college baseball players from across the United States.
Only three active coaches have compiled more wins than Cheff. University of St. Francis coach Gordie Gillespie is 1,852-938 in 58 years, followed by University of Texas’ Augie Garrido at 1,768-59-2 in 43 seasons. Stephenson is at 1,724-596-2 after 34 seasons.
On May 11, 1996, Cheff captured his 1,000th career victory with a doubleheader sweep over Central Washington, becoming only the third coach in NAIA baseball history to win 1,000 games. He became only the fourth coach at any level to win 1,500 games during the 2006 NAIA World Series.
Cheff and his wife Karen, a retired elementary school teacher, have three sons - Trevor, Tyler and Toby.
Picone said both Gus Knickrehm and Allen Balmer will remain as assistant coaches in the program and that other staff positions will be filled by Sept. 1.
Picone has been LCSC’s athletic director since June 27, 2006, but he also has a long history with the Warrior baseball program dating back to 1972 when he enrolled at the institution and joined the baseball team. He was an outfielder on the squad, which was coached by Hooker.
“Gary Picone will rekindle his role as coach and I cannot think of a person more qualified to take the reins of Warrior baseball,” Fernandez said.
After his LCSC playing days and three years of playing with the Canadian National Team, Picone joined the Warriors' coaching staff, which included the 1976 season, the first season LCSC qualified to participate in the NAIA World Series.
In 1980, he left LCSC to teach and coach in Canada. He returned in 1983 as the Warriors pitching coach. In 1989, the Trail, British Columbia, native was named the executive director of the British Columbia Amateur Baseball Association, but he returned to LCSC in 1991 as athletic director, a position he served for nine years.
While athletic director, Picone helped bring the NAIA World Series back to Lewiston. The Series had previously been held in Lewiston during 1983-91, but then jumped around between four sites before returning to Lewiston in 1999.
Picone left as athletic director in 2000 to become pitching coach at Washington State University under new coach Tim Mooney. He spent two seasons there before returning to LCSC as pitching coach in 2002. In the fall of 2003, Picone was involved with the Canadian National Team, serving as head coach during international play in Cuba.
During the past three years, Picone has helped see more than $700,000 in improvements to Harris Field, home of the Avista NAIA World Series.
This past year, LCSC qualified either teams or individuals to NAIA national tournaments in 12 of the 13 sports it competes in. The Warriors won or share six conference/region titles in nine sports. Both men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track teams do not compete in a conference.
Picone and his wife Terri have three children, Nina, Rico, and Maria.
Cushman has served as assistant athletic director at LCSC since the spring of 2006. She is a Lewiston High School graduate and played four seasons for the Warrior women’s basketball team. She graduated from LCSC is 2001. Cushman has a son, Parker.
Statement from LCSC baseball coach Ed Cheff:
I have decided to retire effective September 1. President Fernandez's decision to name Gary Picone as the new baseball coach will insure that the program remains competitive. Gary and I formed a partnership approach to running the baseball program when he was hired as the program's first full-time assistant coach in l983-84. I have always had a great deal of respect for his coaching abilities and know he is the right guy for the job. Gus Knickrehm will remain as the associate head coach. Gus is "LCSC baseball".
WSU's Coach Brayton, college baseball's best coach ever in my opinion, made me a better coach everytime we played his ballclub.
The support of the Lewis-Clark valley for the program has obviously played a big role in building the program.
LCSC's administration, faculity and staff have always provided a quality small school atmosphere for students that made recruiting quality players possible.
The many former players who held roles as assistant coaches in the program for the past 34 years could never be underscored.
The bottom line in any athletic program however belongs to the players. I've coached players who seldom played to those that went on to play in the big leagues. And while roles on every team were different for each player, I was continually appreciative of how, collectively, they became quality teams made up of great teammates.