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Pat Chun makes change in Washington State dugout, firing coach Marty Lees after four seasons

UPDATED: Tue., May 21, 2019

Washington State baseball coach Marty Lees reacts after a call during a game against Gonzaga at the Patterson Baseball Complex on April 17, 2017. (James Snook / For The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State baseball coach Marty Lees reacts after a call during a game against Gonzaga at the Patterson Baseball Complex on April 17, 2017. (James Snook / For The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – In late January, Pat Chun took the first step toward improving the baseball product at Washington State, getting approval to move forward with a $10 million renovation to Bailey-Brayton Field.

But major facility upgrades were just one component of his “Back to Omaha” mission.

With three games to play, Chun made a change in the Cougars’ dugout Tuesday, firing fourth-year coach Marty Lees as the team continued to veer further and further away from a return to Omaha, Nebraska, and the College World Series.

The Cougars, 11-39-1 heading into the final series of the year against Arizona, are guaranteed to finish with the worst mark of Lees’ tenure and will extend their postseason drought to nine years.

Lees went 70-137-2 in his time and WSU and 32-83-2 in Pac-12 play.

“I met with Marty this afternoon and let him know I would be making a change in the leadership of our baseball program,” Chun said. “We appreciate Marty’s four years of service at Washington State, but at this time I felt a change was necessary. Baseball is one of the most storied programs at Washington State and we will work diligently to find someone to return it to a place of prominence.”

Associate head coach Dan Spencer will serve as the interim coach for this weekend’s series against Arizona as WSU begins a national search for Lees’ successor.

The 2019 season, one in which the Cougars failed to win a Pac-12 series, has easily been Lees’ worst. WSU will presumably finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 and last in runs scored and allowed. Lees was fired exactly one week after an embarrassing 20-13 loss to Utah Valley.

Former WSU athletic director Bill Moos hired Lees largely because of his impact on the college baseball powerhouse at Pac-12 rival Oregon State, where Lees had been the top assistant to longtime coach Pat Casey.

Lees’ experience in the Pac-12 and his understanding of the recruiting landscape on the West Coast, and Pacific Northwest in particular, were supposed to help WSU climb out of the conference cellar and return to the glory days of the 1970s and ’80s.

That never came to fruition as WSU finished with losing records in each of Lees’ four seasons, despite showing some improvement in 2017, when the Cougars wedged a 24-29 record between a 19-35 record in 2016 and a 16-33 record in 2018.

Lees’ firing means Chun has replaced coaches in three of the four “major” sports at WSU.

Chun, who was hired last January, hired Kamie Ethridge to replace women’s basketball coach June Daugherty and recently made a change in men’s basketball, replacing Ernie Kent with Kyle Smith.

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