Mike Gottlieb's career as Towson's baseball coach received a reprieve in 2013 after the program, on the brink of elimination because of budget cuts, was kept alive with the help of then Gov. Martin O'Malley's intervention. It came after the Tigers reached the NCAA tournament that season for the first time in 22 years.
Four years later, there will be no such second life for Towson's longtime coach.
Gottlieb, 60, said in a telephone interview Sunday that he was informed by athletic director Tim Leonard last Monday that he would not be back for his 31st season as head coach. Gottlieb waited until Sunday to tell his players. The Tigers finished a 20-34 season — their fourth straight losing year since going 30-30 in 2013 — with a 4-2 win Saturday over North Carolina Wilmington.
"I wasn't blindsided about it. I knew it could happen," Gottlieb said. "I knew I was getting to the point that one way or the other, it was going to come to an end, because nobody works forever. My only regret is that from the time they saved the program, we were not funded well. It was really difficult to get the recruits we wanted. That was frustrating. I wish I would have been judged in that light."
According to Gottlieb, the program went from having money to pay for 11 in-state scholarships in 2013 to just below 6.5 this season. Since most players were given partial scholarships, "you could be talking about 10 fewer players," Gottlieb said.
In an interview Sunday, Leonard said: "It's a very hard job and he's done a lot with a little, but he's been the head coach for 30 years. I can't thank him enough. It's a very hard situation, with a lack of resources and so forth. I think he's made the most of it. … I'm very appreciative for what he has done. … He fought hard to keep it alive obviously."
Leonard said the success of some of the school's other sports teams — including men's lacrosse advancing to its first final four since 2001 — had nothing to do with his decision to let Gottlieb go. Still, Leonard added, "It was time we needed to get some different energy, different excitement in the program. You could just sense it."
Asked why he waited until Sunday to inform his team, Gottlieb said: "We had three games left, the last of which was [Saturday], and I didn't want distractions of all kind. I didn't want it to be about me going into the final week of the season."
Redshirt senior pitcher Matt Golczewski (Patterson Mill) said "we were definitely taken aback, just because of the situation our program was in a couple of years ago. Coach Gottlieb had been there for quite some time, and we hadn't been winning a lot of games, so you knew the writing was on the wall eventually."
Gottlieb, who finished his career at Towson with a 733-821-10 record, took the Tigers to all three of their NCAA Division I tournament appearances. Towson reached the tournament for the first time as a Division I team in Gottlieb's first season in 1988, and again in 1991. The last time came in 2013, two months after then president Maravene Loeschke's decision to cut baseball and men's soccer was made.
The baseball program was saved when O'Malley announced on the eve of the NCAA tournament that the state would put $300,000 back into the 2014 state budget for Gottlieb's program to continue. Loeschke said at the time that the university would have to raise its student fee 1 percent, or about $8 a year, as well as raise $100,000 in donations for the first year, to keep the baseball program operating.
Gottlieb said Sunday that the program was saved by a single donor, the father of a former player whom Gottlieb declined to name.
"He gave that type of money because of the experience his son had on the Towson University baseball team," Gottlieb said. "I know that for a fact."
Gottlieb said that the highlight of his head coaching career at Towson was his first season, when he was promoted after being an assistant when former Orioles player and coach Billy Hunter moved up to athletic director. Gottlieb was named the East Conference Conference and NCAA Regional Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers to a 31-17-1 record in 1988, including a win in the NCAA tournament.
"Probably because it was my first year, it was like a dream come true," said Gottlieb, who had also played two years at Towson before graduating in 1979. "I know that the inner feeling I had is nothing like I experienced since. I feel I had reached the ultimate."
Towson's season four years ago, during which the team won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament as well as beating Florida Atlantic in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, was "almost bizarre, it was almost 'pinch me, this isn't really happening' after all we went through," Gottlieb said Sunday.
Gottlieb's one-year contract runs out June 30.
"I had 30 year-to-year contracts," Gottlieb said. "I'm the Walt Alston of college baseball."