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Graham already solidified place in history before Hall

By Daniel Elledge     3/14/12 7:00pm

Rice University baseball was not always the way it is now. In its first 78 years of existence, baseball only had seven winning seasons. They were the laughing stock of the Southwestern Athletic Conference as they never finished higher than second place and finished dead last 24 times. Just like with many of its other major Division I sports, Rice was not up to par with some of the big boys like The University of Texas and Texas A&M University.

In 1992, Wayne Graham was hired to come and resurrect the program and make the Owls a winner. That was what he had done everywhere else. At San Jacinto Junior College, Graham built up a dynasty as his team won five junior college national championships in six years, and he piled up 574 wins in the process. Rice was going to be a much steeper task for Graham, but he was up for the challenge of turning the program around.

Rice athletics now prides itself on baseball. When I tell people I attend Rice, they mention both the great academics and the terrific baseball team. Students count down the days until the first pitch of the season, and everyone tunes in to see if Rice will make it to the College World Series. This is all thanks to Graham, a man who turned a tiny program into a national powerhouse.

On March 2, Graham was inducted into the Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame, the first Rice coach or player ever. However, his induction into the Hall of Fame only added to his accomplishments. It was not something that Graham needed since his illustrious career speaks for itself.

In his fourth season, Graham led the Owls to the NCAA tournament, something that was unfamiliar to them. Just two seasons later, Rice made the College World Series for the first time in school history, and in 2003, Graham and the Owls triumphed as they won the national championship, which to this day is still the only Division I title Rice has.

As much as that national championship was important, it is Graham's consistency that is unbelievable. Even though Rice loses great players to the major leagues every season, the Owls replenish their team and look just as lethal as the year before. Rice has not had a losing season under Graham and has made the NCAA tournament the past 17 years, including 16 straight conference championships. Graham always keeps the Owls relevant in the national spotlight, which today in Division I sports is a difficult task.

He has also coached many players and helped turn some into major league stars, such as St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman (Will Rice'97) and Tampa Bay Devil Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann (Jones '04). Those players would not be who they are today without the help of Graham.

It is not only his success on the field, as Graham has done it the right way. There have never been any recruiting or academic violations, which is tough to avoid at a school with such high standards as Rice. Many coaches and programs do whatever they can to cheat without getting caught, while Graham and Rice just keep on winning playing by the rules.

The induction to the Hall of Fame is an honor for Graham, but Rice and the rest of the country already knows that he is a special guy and one of the greatest baseball coaches of all time. The Hall did not need to confirm that.

Daniel Elledge is a sophomore at Sid Richardson College and Thresher sports editor.

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