Laing Kennedy: a tough act to follow

Jody Michael

Laing Kennedy’s time as Kent State athletic director officially concluded at the end of April. It makes me wonder if anyone has thought about what he has done with the department in his 16-year tenure.

I think the way to judge it is to ask this simple question: Has Kennedy left the Kent State athletic department in a better condition than he found it?

Perhaps you’ve heard about the men’s basketball program’s recent rise to legacy. This team was an utter disaster until the 1998-99 season, when suddenly coach Gary Waters put together the program’s first 20-win season.

He, Stan Heath and Jim Christian went on to make that a trend for ten consecutive years and included a magical Elite Eight appearance in 2002. Now Geno Ford has the program ready to continue that success.

Women’s basketball coach Bob Lindsay is the winningest basketball coach in Mid-American Conference history and led his teams to four NCAA tournament appearances in a span of seven years.

The baseball team has advanced to the NCAA Tournament five times in the past nine years and groomed major league stars like Andy Sonnanstine and Matt Guerrier.

Softball coach Karen Linder has sent her team to four straight MAC East championships, along with national tournament trips in 2006 and 2008.

Bill Lawson is creating a track and field monster after only five years with the program. In that short span, 49 of his athletes have already earned MAC championships, and Lawson’s recruiting will bring the program more and more of those very soon.

The cross country programs had arguably their best season ever in the fall, with the men’s team earning its first ever MAC title.

The field hockey team has won six MAC regular-season titles in the past 11 seasons.

Our wrestling and gymnastics programs continued their usual dominance this winter. The wrestlers finished 16th in the nation with two All-American individuals in Danny Mitcheff and Dustin Kilgore, while the gymnastics squad put together a 22-game home winning streak and has won five consecutive MAC regular-season championships.

Herb Page has run a powerhouse men’s golf program, with 14 MAC titles in the last two decades, and also groomed a British Open champion in Ben Curtis. The women’s golfers are even more successful: they’ve won the MAC championship every single year since the team’s beginning 12 years ago.

Women’s soccer coach Rob Marinaro turned around the team’s fortunes into MAC titles in 2003 and 2004. Glen Conley became coach of the volleyball team in 2007 and immediately led it to 22 wins, its best finish in 20 years, in his first season.

Of course, we know the football team has been riddled with bad luck, but you can’t ignore the success of James Harrison and Josh Cribbs, both of whom now consistently earn a starting position at the Pro Bowl.

That’s a lot of accomplishments, and yet I expected I would sense more excitement around our sports teams than I’ve noticed so far as a student. In fact, I’ve actually heard students discuss how all the teams suck so badly. Hello?

Kennedy has overseen Kent State teams win more than 90 MAC championships. In his 16 years, he doubled what the department had won in the Flashes’ first 41 years with the conference.

Kent State has won the Reese Trophy for best overall men’s athletic teams four times in Kennedy’s tenure here and won the Jacoby Trophy for the women’s teams five times. Before Kennedy, the Flashes had just one Jacoby Trophy.

Kennedy’s poor replacement, Joel Nielsen, might be reading this right now realizing what massive shoes he’s filling. Nielsen’s resume at South Dakota is impressive, but I hope he realizes the act he has to follow.

Has Kennedy left the Kent State athletic department in a better condition than he found it? You really can’t argue otherwise.

Contact sports reporter Jody Michael at [email protected].