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Legendary former Lewis-Clark State baseball coach Ed Cheff dies at 78

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 16, 2022

Ed Cheff coaches the Lewis-Clark State Warriors during the 1983 season. Cheff coached the Warriors from 1977-2010, winning 16 NAIA World Series titles.  (Spokesman-Review files)
Ed Cheff coaches the Lewis-Clark State Warriors during the 1983 season. Cheff coached the Warriors from 1977-2010, winning 16 NAIA World Series titles. (Spokesman-Review files)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

Ed Cheff, the venerable baseball coach who turned Lewis-Clark State’s program into a national powerhouse, died Saturday at his home in Sequim, Washington, after an extended battle with illness. He was 78.

LCSC announced the news later that day.

“The legacy of Ed Cheff is felt every day by his former players, assistant coaches and colleagues,” former Warriors athletic director/baseball coach Gary Picone said, quoted in a school release. “His impact on LC baseball, the LC Valley and all of collegiate baseball will live on, always, just as the man Ed Cheff will be missed but never forgotten.”

Cheff led the Warriors from 1977-2010, building the small-school club into one of the most consistently dominant collegiate athletics teams in the nation, regardless of classification. LCSC went 1,705-430-4 during his tenure in Lewiston and amassed 16 NAIA World Series titles.

An American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, Cheff has the fifth-most wins among college baseball coaches at all levels, and by far the most national championships.

He cast his recruiting net far and wide, but developed many Lewiston-Clarkston Valley products into stars, too. In all, he sent 114 players to the professional ranks and 16 of them went on to the Major Leagues.

“Ed Cheff left one of the biggest impacts on me as an adult, without a doubt,” former Seattle Mariners/LCSC Warriors slugger Bucky Jacobsen said in summer 2020. “Without him, (my MLB career) wouldn’t have come true. Coaching me the way he did, almost sole credit goes to him.”

Cheff implemented a rigorous training regimen and was no-nonsense in his approach to the game. Former Warriors agree that playing for LCSC was exceptionally challenging, but looking back they cherish their time learning under Cheff. “He turned boys into men” is a common phrase among L-C baseball alums.

“As you get older and talk about those times, you understand he was trying to take you to a different place,” Brett Holley, an LCSC outfielder in the mid-1980s, said in 2020. “When the pressure’s on, it’s second nature. He was a tough guy, and that’s how he coached, but he’s crazy smart. He could dig into your soul and bring the player out.”

Alumni and fans enjoy sharing stories about Cheff’s unconventional methods. If a performance didn’t meet his standards, for instance, he’d have the Warriors run up the Lewiston Hill. Occasionally, he’d organize boxing matches between players, which served to eliminate nerves during games.

“I always believed you should try to earn your way, no matter what it is,” Cheff said during a phone interview in summer 2020. “If we wanted to go to San Diego, for example, we’d have to cut a helluva lot of firewood to make that trip. The philosophy of our program was: Earn your way. I’ve always believed in that stuff. I think it helped the kids’ character.”

LCSC was seldom challenged by opponents at the NAIA level throughout Cheff’s time in charge. The Warriors’ schedules always featured games against NCAA Division I competition – sometimes 20 or more.

Cheff’s teams went 87-66 against coach Bobo Brayton’s Washington State Cougars and pocketed multiple victories over highly ranked NCAA foes. LCSC defeated Wichita State, the eventual national champion, during the 1989 season. Under Cheff, the program claimed wins over power-conference opponents such as Iowa, Minnesota, Texas Tech, Oregon State and Washington.

Cheff helped spearhead the campaign to bring the NAIA World Series to Lewiston in 1984. In 2017, LCSC modified the name of the national tourney’s venue, dubbing it Ed Cheff Stadium .

Born in Butte, Montana, Cheff played baseball and football at Lewis & Clark College in Portland in the mid-1960s before starting his coaching career as a high school football assistant in Tillamook, Oregon. He was hired as head baseball coach at Lower Columbia College (Longview, Washington) in 1973 and compiled a 120-30 record across four seasons, according to the Lewiston Tribune.

He became the Warriors’ boss in 1977 after coach Ramon Hooker resigned abruptly following a runner-up finish at the Series.

Outside of LCSC, Cheff held an assisting position on Team USA’s coaching staff in 1991 and again in 1994, when he served as hitting and third-base coach at the world championships. He also spent seven summers mentoring players in the Alaska Collegiate League. Cheff spoke at clinics for the American Baseball Coaches Association on six occasions.

Cheff is survived by wife Karen and sons Trevor, Tyler and Toby.

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