By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Tony Holt has spent so much time at Couch Park, he can’t even begin to count the hours.
From his time as Stillwater’s American Legion coach 32 years ago to taking over the Stillwater High School baseball program in 2009, Holt has been one of the most recognizable figures of baseball in Stillwater — joining the likes of the Hollidays and Brett Anderson.
But next spring a new name will be associated with Pioneer baseball as Holt announced his resignation, effective at the end of the Pioneers’ American Legion season.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” Holt said. “It’s not a snap decision. It’s been something that I’ve been thinking about pretty consistently for the last year or so. ... There’s a lot of reasons. I wanted to spend a bit more time with my family. We have a lot of family and it seems like there’s always something coming up and I’m not able to go. I love coaching. I’m not burnt out on coaching, but right now I feel like it’s more important to do stuff with the family.”
“It was a surprise,” Stillwater Athletic Director Tucker Barnard said. “I didn’t really have much indication that Tony was thinking about that. He decided that’s what he needed to do and I understand that he’s got a daughter that’s coming up and going to be a really good athlete. He kind of expressed that he wanted to be able to spend more time watching her play ball and going to her games.”
That’s the thing about the Holt family, though. As important as baseball is to everyone — from Holt’s brothers Rex and Ron to his son Alex, a former Stillwater standout and assistant on the Stillwater American Legion team — family has always come first.
“I’m really looking forward to it, to be honest with you,” Holt said. “I’m looking forward to being a dad, a husband, a brother, a son and just trying to be a better person and doing more things with my family. I’m really looking forward to that extra time to do that. ... Coaching is a big part of my life and most of my friends and people I’ve been around have grown up playing baseball, basketball or football. ... I have some great memories and a lot of great friends. It’s been nothing but a positive experience, but I’m just ready to move on.”
“I’m certainly excited for Tony, if that’s the direction he wanted to go,” Barnard said. “I’m sure he and his family spent a lot of time talking about that and coming to that decision. I’m happy for him that he was able to do that and go in a different direction.”
The only problem? It’s forced Barnard and the athletic staff to scramble once again to fill a coaching vacancy — the third one since March.
“We’ve already started and got the process well under way,” Barnard said. “We talked to several candidates, got some really good coaches that are interested in this job and we’ll have a name for the board meeting on July 16.”
And while Barnard wouldn’t release any names just yet, citing the fact that the board has to approve of the hire before an offer can be made, he said the talent pool for Holt’s replacement was deep — assisted by the fact that Holt hasn’t left the cupboard bare when it comes to talent.
“We’ve got a good baseball program with good talent returning,” Barnard said. “We pretty consistently have good talent coming through this program, so I think it is an enticing job for coaches. We hate to see coach Holt go, but we’re going to have a really great coach to bring in.”
Perhaps that’s what made Holt’s decision to leave the program so unusual — and tough.
“You sit back there and every year you think, ‘Man, I can’t leave now,’” Holt said. “When Alex was a senior, I thought that might have been a time to get out but I wasn’t really ready. Then I looked at the next year’s kids. I had Corey Hassel, Parker Zimmerman and some kids I’ve known since they were little and said, ‘Well, I can’t leave those guys.’ ... The problem is that I’m going to feel that way every year. You just have to make the decision and go. There’s no doubt that I’m going to be sad missing Jon Littell’s senior year and this big class that we have coming through next year. We have a huge class, they’re great kids and I’m going to be sad missing their senior year, but the reality is, if I do that then I’m going to think that way every year because right behind them are some more kids.”
Holt may be getting ready to hang up his jersey for the last time July 15, but doesn’t mean he will be too far away. He has already given Barnard some suggestions about who would be a good fit as his successor — advice that didn’t necessarily fall on deaf ears.
“I have a lot of respect for Tony and (his successor) was definitely something we discussed,” Barnard said. “We talked about whether or not he might have people that he would like to recommend or somebody he thought should be lined up for the job. Obviously, that recommendation is not the determining factor, but I did want to know if he had people that would be interested in it and he thought were qualified. Tony’s put a lot into this program and has definitely earned that.”
No matter who takes over as the next baseball coach, Holt has also vowed to make a trip or two to Couch Park — going not as a coach but a fan.
“It will be a different aspect for me. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in the stands,” said Holt, who was a sportswriter for the NewsPress in college before beginning his coaching career. “I don’t know that I’ve ever sat in the stands at a high school game in over 30 years, but I’m looking forward to it. I know I’ll be more relaxed. I won’t have to worry about whether everything is going all right. ... I won’t get in the way, I won’t intrude. I’ll stay out of the way, but I do want to come watch them play as much as I can.”
As for whether or not Holt sees a return to coaching in his future once his children have grown, the former Stillwater coach wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a comeback.
“Right now I’m done,” Holt said. “I’m still going to teach at the middle school and I got my master’s degree and administration certification. If something comes along at a place I feel comfortable at, I might go that route. You never know, after my daughter graduates I might be looking to maybe do some sort of coaching again. I’m certainly not burnt out on coaching. I just thought it was time to do more with my family. ... There may be a time when an opportunity comes up and I might jump in there, but I never will say never about it.”