Longtime Neshannock baseball coach Mike Kirkwood resigns

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Saturday, January 18, 2020 | 9:15 AM


After 32 years, baseball is about to look very different in Lawrence County.

Longtime coach Mike “Bubba” Kirkwood announced he will be resigning as Neshannock’s head coach. He broke the news in a team meeting Friday evening.

“It’s a sad day for Neshannock baseball,” longtime assistant John Quahliero said. “It’s an emotional day for the kids and the program.”

Kirkwood amassed 379 wins over his 32 seasons as head coach at Neshannock and New Castle, including 13 section championships, five WPIAL championships and two state titles.

While it is a coaching retirement for Kirkwood, who also coaches golf and junior high basketball at Neshannock, it also will be a new beginning for the 55-year-old teacher at New Castle.

Kirkwood said a new opportunity at a local golf course was the reason for his resignation, where he will run the day-to-day operations.

“My buddy owns Green Meadows Golf Course, and he wants me to run the golf course for him,” Kirkwood said. “It’s just a great opportunity. I have two years before I retire (from teaching), and I’ll be able to do that throughout retirement. It will be something good for me. I didn’t plan on it. It just happened.”

For Kirkwood, a man who has spent a majority of his life meticulously planning and preparing for the next opponent, the move comes as a shock to just about everybody, including himself.

“I planned on coaching and thought I’d be coaching definitely until I was done teaching, which will be at least two to three years,” he said. “Just, with this opportunity, I could not pass it up.”

Within just a couple of hours of the announcement of “Coach Bub” retiring, messages began pouring in on social media outlets from his former players. While many talked about the games won and the medals earned, even more talked about the “winning” that happened beyond what the scoreboard said.

“Bub didn’t want anything on social media,” Quahliero said. “But, I think he deserved all of that — the comments from the former players. Forget all of the wins and all of the other stuff. If anyone just sits back and reads the replies and the retweets, that says more about Bub than all of the rings.”

A graduate of New Castle, Kirkwood played college ball at Geneva and was named captain as a junior and a senior. After graduation, he applied for the head coaching position at Neshannock at age 21. Four years later in 1991, he lead the Lancers to a WPIAL championship and a PIAA silver medal.

After 10 years with Neshannock, Kirkwood got the opportunity to coach at his alma mater. He took the head coaching position at New Castle in 1998, where he remained for six years. He then returned to Neshannock in 2004, and in his first year back, led the Lancers to their first state championship. Neshannock won three more district crowns under Kirkwood, including another WPIAL and PIAA championship run in 2015.

Quahliero knows, as do all who played for him or against him, that Kirkwood’s track record in the postseason was second-to-none.

“He built the program literally from the ground up,” Quahliero said. “It’s going to be really tough to replace Mike Kirkwood. There is no one better than Mike Kirkwood in May and June.”

In 2016, the dedication of Mike “Bubba” Kirkwood Field occurred, with numerous former players again in attendance.

Kirkwood is a 2012 inductee of the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame. The only thing maybe more worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame than Coach Bub himself is his on-the-field sayings, which roll off of the tongues of his former players even decades later.

“Have a day.” “One pitch one spot.”

Of all of his phrases, the one that resonates most at the moment is “No rest ‘til three.” The team does not let up until the third out is recorded, and must give its all until the job is done. This familiar phrase has taken on a even deeper meaning in the past few years as Neshannock has worked toward a third state championship.

If they are to get their third PIAA title, the Lancers will have to do it without their veteran skipper.

Quahliero, an assistant for 20 years under Kirkwood and a fellow inductee into the Lawrence County Sports Hall of Fame, is interested in the head coaching role. The school board has to go through the process of officially accepting Kirkwood’s resignation before they can begin looking at Kirkwood’s successor.

“It’s not about who the next coach is,” Quahliero said. “It’s about who the coach has been, and what he has meant for Neshannock baseball.”

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