Texas, 1970; M.Ed. Houston, 1973
There are some fairly common factors that measure coaching success in college baseball. The familiar criteria include a coach's wins and win-percentage, NCAA Regional bids, trips to the College World Series, winning a national championship, conference championships, All-America honorees and molding young players into major league draft picks.
It's common criteria. Rice Owls head coach Wayne Graham has had uncommon success.
After 23 full seasons at the helm of the Rice baseball program, and 34 seasons as a collegiate head coach, Graham has been one of the top coaches in the country who has built a sky-scraper of a program at Rice.
It was no surprise that in 2012 coach Graham was tabbed for induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame. It was even less surprising, and in fact applauded, that (at then age of 76) he was rewarded by Rice with a five-year extension on his current contract. Clearly, the University administration realizes its Hall of Fame head coach is both a national and baseball treasure.
At Rice Graham has amassed 1,039 wins and maintained a .712 win percentage. Another way of looking at the .712 win percentage is that it's the equivalent of a major league team winning 115 games in a single season -- except Graham has maintained that impressive pace over 23 full seasons at Rice.
Speaking of win-percentage, Graham has led the Owls to the second-best composite win percentage in the nation over the last 16 full seasons. Using the year the NCAA tournament expanded to its current 64-team/Super Regional format (1999), and with Graham firmly at the Rice's helm, the Owls' .731 win percentage from 1999 to 2014 has ranked second among all Division I programs (see page 23 for a more detailed list of teams).
Are all-America selections the criteria for an outstanding coach? Graham has coached 34 different Rice players to a total of 51 all-America awards. Perhaps it's molding a player into a professional prospect. More than 20 former Owls were playing pro baseball in 2014, including six in the major leagues (two-thirds of a starting lineup). Of course that Rice total of Graham-coached players to reach the majors isn't even counting the ones he tutored while he was at San Jacinto College.
There were six of his Owls who were selected in the 2014 major league draft and a total of 47 Rice draftees over the last seven years. It's a steady draft rate to be sure, but consider in 2007 Graham had 14 Owls drafted by the majors in that year alone. The 14 Rice draft picks tied the college record for the most players selected from one school in a single year. It's not just simply getting drafted, however. He developed 14 Owls into first-round major league draft picks, including as recently as 2011 when Anthony Rendon as the sixth player taken overall.
Are team accomplishments the criteria? Consider Rice has won 19 conference championships in a row, including C-USA regular season and tournament crowns, all nine Western Athletic Conference titles during the Owls' tenure in that league (1997-2005) and the final Southwest Conference Championship in 1996. The 2014 season marked Rice's 20th-straight appearance in an NCAA Regional and 20th-straight with at least 40 wins.
The Owls have been to NCAA Super Regionals ten times since the format was adopted in 1999. The Blue & Gray has been to the College World Series seven times since 1997. In 2003, Graham led Rice to the school's first team national championship in any sport.
Pick the criteria for coaching success, and Graham has far-exceeded the standard. His work in 2014 may have been some of his best coaching yet. Graham's Friday night starting pitcher was lost for the year early in the season, followed by his starting catcher for a while and then the starting shortstop for a month late in the year. All the head coach ended up doing was leading the team to a 42-20 record and sweep of the league's regular season and postseason tournament titles on the way to hosting an NCCA home regional. In 2014 he also notched his 1,000th Rice victory.
Not only was Graham's 2013 squad was a consensus Top 20 team all year long, the Owls battled some freshman growing pains to share the C-USA regular season co-championship the last weekend of the season before sweeping through the C-USA Tournament. His Owls then shocked college baseball followers by winning an NCAA Regional on the road at No. 9 Oregon to advance to the Super Regionals.
In 2012 he led Rice to the C-USA regular season championship on the last day of the league schedule on the road. The Owls played 22 games against nine different teams in the NCAA Tournament, going 15-7 against the elite teams. Rice played the eventual national champion Arizona Wildcats in the regular season and split that series 1-1. For his effort Graham was named the C-USA Keith LeClair coach of the year (for a fifth time).
The head coach's 2011 squad delivered despite being beset by injuries. He had to play two true freshmen on the leftside of the infield all year and turn to a freshman starting pitcher on opening day and in the Friday night games. Graham steered the team to its 17th-straight season of 40-plus wins. Rice won a share of the C-USA regular-season title before winning the league's tournament title and earning a Top 8 national seed in the NCAA's.
In 2010 he guided the Owls to the C-USA regular season title, an NCAA Regional bid and 40 wins in a demanding schedule that featured 26 games against elite teams that went on to national postseason play. Along the way he coached and developed Anthony Rendon into the National Player of the Year and recipient of the Howser Trophy. At the end of the year he was named the C-USA Coach of the Year.
Graham's 2009 Rice squad finished among the nation's Top 10. The Owls stormed to the C-USA Tournament Championship then hosted and won the NCAA Regional at Reckling Park. He coached Rendon to the National Freshman of the Year honors.
The 2008 Rice squad rocketed to the upper echelon of the national Rating Percentage Index (RPI), finishing fourth overall. The high RPI made Rice an easy choice for a national seed in the NCAA Tournament and to host postseason games. Graham's Owls justified that consideration with the program's third trip to Omaha in as many years. The Blue & Gray dominated the C-USA regular season with a 21-3 league record. He was named the South Central Region Coach of the Year by his colleagues in the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and the C-USA Keith LeClair Coach of the Year.
The 2007 Rice squad was second in the nation in wins (56) and third in the nation in win-percentage (.800). The Blue & Gray reached the semi-finals of the CWS and tied for third in the nation for a second year in a row. The team also had the No. 1 rating percentage index (RPI) in the country. At the end of the year Graham was named the National Division I Coach of the Year by Fieldturf, the ABCA region coach of the year and LeClair Coach of the Year.
His 2006 team had the best win-percentage in the country. The Owls reached the semifinals of the CWS and tied for third in the nation. For an incredible 2006 season, the College Baseball Foundation named Graham one of its national coaches of the year. His fellow head coaches in C-USA named him the Keith LeClair Coach of the Year his first year in the league.
It may be hard to imagine with all the success Graham has had at Rice for these many years, but at first there were small steps for a program which had never won even a conference championship or advanced to NCAA tournament play.
Year one in 1992 showed a 13-game improvement in the win column. Year two (1993) was another seven games better. In year three (1994), the Owls had their best finish ever in Southwest Conference play at 12-6 and their first appearance under Graham in the SWC postseason tournament. Year four (1995) boasted of 43 wins and Rice's first bid to the NCAA tournament. Year five (1996): a SWC tournament title and NCAA bid.
The Owls won the 1996 SWC championship in storybook fashion. Entering the last conference tournament in Lubbock as the number-six seed, Graham's Owls swept through the field in four straight games, topped by a 16-8 romp past Texas in the final. It was Rice baseball's most satisfying week in its long history as a member of the SWC.
Then there was Graham's sixth Rice season in 1997, the Owls' first foray into the Western Athletic Conference. Led by a duo that Baseball America called "one of the greatest power packages in college baseball history" (pitcher Matt Anderson and first-baseman Lance Berkman), Rice soared to a 47-16 record and its first WAC team championship. A 13-game winning streak over the last month of the regular season ensured titles in the WAC-South and at the league tournament, resulting in an automatic NCAA bid.
Rice returned to Lubbock for the 1997 Central Regional where the South Plains magic continued from the year before. The Owls romped through the regional, earning the school's first entry into the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. It was a season that netted Graham kudos as the western region's coach of the year as voted by the ABCA.
In 1998, Rice posted a 46-17 overall record and was even more successful in the WAC. The Owls ran through their division with a 26-4 record and capped the year with another four-game sweep in the postseason tournament. Graham's charges were the top seed in the Central Regional in College Station, but a pair of slugfest losses ended the year prematurely. Damon Thames was the ABCA national player of the year, and Bubba Crosby was the Owls' fourth first-round draft choice in four seasons. Graham won recognition as the WAC coach of the year by his peers.
The 1999 season ran true to form. Led by one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball, the Owls never left the top 10 in any of the national polls, enjoying the school's first number-one ranking in any sport on two different occasions and finishing at number five. Graham was named Baseball America's national coach of the year, as well as repeating his WAC honor. The conference tournament was another four-game sweep, but the return trip to Lubbock for the regional was a bit less routine.
After an opening round upset at the hands of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Owls swept through Rutgers, UWM and host Texas Tech twice for its second regional title. In the new Super Regional, Rice also dropped the opener to Louisiana-Lafayette before stopping the Cajuns twice to win the trip to Omaha. That was up to six straight wins when elimination was only one loss away. The head coach had convinced the squad to keep fighting. At Omaha, the Owls fell to eventual national champion Miami in their opener. Rice's first-ever CWS win, over Oklahoma State, followed two days later.
The 2000 season is one of Graham's most outstanding coaching achievements. Adjusting to six new position players and the loss of all-America pitcher Jeff Nichols due to an injury, the Owls staggered through the first half of the schedule. After April 1, though, the head coach righted the ship to lead the Owls from a sub-.500 record to their fourth straight WAC title on the final weekend of the season.
More success followed in 2001. Led by an all-America pitching staff featuring Kenny Baugh and Jon Skaggs, the Owls spent six weeks as the nation's number-one team. The amazing comeback win over Baylor on Memorial Day clinched the Owls' second trip to a Super Regional.
In 2002, the Owls adjusted again after Baugh and Skaggs were first-round selections in the professional draft. Graham combined two new players in the weekend pitching rotation -- transfer Justin Crowder and freshman Philip Humber -- and five new position players with four returnees, keeping the Owls near the top of the national rankings most of the year. Graham was named the WAC and ABCA western regional coach of the year as the Owls again advanced to Omaha.
In 2003, his 12th season, Graham's mind and energy were focused squarely on the goal of Rice's first national championship. The team combined the best pitching staff in the nation with the best defense to win 58 of its 70 games. The Owls spent more than two months ranked as the top team in the nation, and the team ran off an eye-opening 30-game winning streak. Sophomore pitchers Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, Philip Humber and Josh Baker combined for a 47-5 record, and closer David Aardsma had a Rice-record 12 saves. Every Owl starter won at least one postseason honor and Graham was named the national and WAC coach of the year.
In 2004, the Owls went 46-14 and won another WAC title to qualify for another postseason appearance. Graham came up with yet another Rice first. The pitching trio of Humber, Niemann and Townsend were all selected among the first eight picks of the major league draft (numbers three, four and eight overall). It was the first time in MLB history that three pitchers, or even three players, from the same school had been selected that high in the draft's first round.
Freshmen were the bulk of the 2005 team, but that did not stop the Owls (45-19) from winning the WAC championship. That young Rice team came within four outs of reaching the College World Series after nearly upsetting number one ranked Tulane on the road in the Super Regional.
A native Houstonian who had followed the Owls since his earliest days, he played high school baseball at Reagan High in the Heights. He had his first championship experience when he played his first year at Reagan, as a pitcher and outfielder in 1951-52, under coach Leroy Ashmore.
In 1952 Reagan was the Houston city and Texas State baseball champions on the strength of a 38-3 record. With Graham on the mound in 1953, Reagan won the city's high school championship. One of his battery mates throughout his prep career was Rice alum (`58) Jerry Sims. The championship spirit was instilled at an early age and is still there.
Graham matriculated to Texas, where he played two seasons under the legendary Bibb Falk. After his playing days as a Longhorn ended, Graham embarked on an 11-year professional career as a third baseman and outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets organizations.
Despite several strong seasons in the minors -- he hit .300 or better in six of 10 minor league stops, including a .311 average with 17 home runs and 70 runs batted in at Dallas-Fort Worth in 1962 to earn Texas minor league player of the year honors -- Graham had just two brief stints in the major leagues. The first came in 1963 when he appeared in 10 games for Gene Mauch's Philadelphia Phillies. A year later, Graham played 20 games for Casey Stengel and the New York Mets.
Following his playing days, Graham returned to UT to receive his B.S. in physical education in 1970, and he added a master's of education from the University of Houston in 1973.
Graham's coaching career began at Scarborough High School in Houston. In nine seasons at Scarborough and one at Spring Branch, Graham's teams compiled a 98-13 (.883) district record, won seven district titles and never finished lower than second place in the district race.
After nine successful seasons on the high school level, Graham moved on to San Jacinto, where he proceeded to turn the Gators into the nation's most celebrated JC team. His first squad in 1981 (featuring freshman Roger Clemens) went 43-7 and finished second in the Texas JC ranks. The following two seasons brought 89 more victories (only 22 losses) and a pair of conference titles.
Graham was just getting started. In 1984, he led the Gators to the first of seven consecutive 50-win seasons and the national JC tournament. A loss in the championship game only served to fuel the fires that would lead to three straight national titles in 1985-87. Another runner-up showing in 1988 was followed by two more titles in 1989 and 1990, giving the Gators five championships in a six-year span while preparing dozens of players for major college and/or professional careers.
Graham's honors at San Jac were nearly endless. He was named Collegiate Baseball Magazine's Junior College Coach of the Century, as well as the newspaper's Coach of the Decade for 1980's. He was named the national JC coach of the year five times and the top Texas JC coach six times. His uniform number (37) was retired by San Jacinto and he was inducted into the junior college hall of fame in May, 1995.
All of Graham's coaching accomplishments naturally led to his induction into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame at Fort Worth in 2003. In 2004 he was named one of Houston's 38 Sports Legends to coincide with the city hosting Super Bowl XXXVIII. He was inducted to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
What is left for a man who has 41-straight winning seasons at the high school and collegiate level and has won nearly 80 percent of his games on the collegiate level (1,614-533 in 34 seasons at Rice and San Jacinto)? A second national championship, to be precise. With Reckling Park as the Owls' home and the venue for 11 NCAA Regionals in 2001-02-03-04-06-07-08-09-11-12-13-14, plus Super Regionals in 2002-03-06-07-08, Graham has all the pieces in place to sustain Rice at the highest level.
Graham and his wife Tanya live in Houston. She earned her Rice degree in human performance and exercise science in May, 1999.
Graham's Rice Milestones
First Win: Rice 6, UT-Pan American 5 (Jan. 31, 1992, at Edinburg)
25th Win: Rice 6, Houston 1 (April 10, 1992, at Cameron Field)
50th Win: Rice 2, Houston 1 (March 14, 1993, at Cameron Field)
75th Win: Rice 12, Clemson 3 (Feb. 26, 1994, at Las Vegas, Nev.)
100th Win: Rice 20, S.F. Austin State 3 (Feb. 8, 1995, at Nacogdoches)
150th Win: Rice 21, UT-San Antonio 7 (Feb. 24, 1996, at Cameron Field)
175th Win: Rice 1, Lamar 0 (April 23, 1996, at Beaumont)
200th Win: Rice 14, Air Force 1 (March 8, 1997, at Cameron Field)
225th Win: Rice 5, Utah 4 (May 15, 1997, at San Diego, Calif.)
250th Win: Rice 7, Hawaii 6 (March 14, 1998, at Cameron Field)
275th Win: Rice 10, TCU 5 (May 14, 1998, at San Diego, Calif.)
300th Win: Rice 6, Houston 2 (March 16, 1999, at Cougar Field)
325th Win: Rice 14, Air Force 3 (May 16, 1999, at USAF Academy, Colo.)
350th Win: Rice 10, UT-San Antonio 3 (March 22, 2000, at Reckling Park)
375th Win: Rice 3, TCU 0 (May 20, 2000, at Fort Worth)
400th Win: Rice 11, San Jose State 7 (March 18, 2001, at Reckling Park)
425th Win: Rice 7, Baylor 4 (May 27, 2001, at Reckling Park)
450th Win: Rice 9, Fresno State 2 (March 29, 2002, at Reckling Park)
475th Win: Rice 6, Texas Tech 0 (June 1, 2002, at Reckling Park)
500th Win: Rice-h 20, Liberty 1 (March 21, 2003, at Reckling Park)
525th Win: Rice-h 13, Fresno State 2 (May 24, 2003, at Reckling Park)
536th Win: Rice-n 14, Stanford 2 - National Championship (June 23, 2003, at Omaha, Neb.)
550th Win: Rice 14, San Jose State-h 2 (March 14, 2004, at San Jose State)
575th Win: Rice 6, Baylor 4 (May 18, 2004, at Waco)
600th Win: Rice 14, Nevada 6 (March 26, 2005, at Reckling Park)
625th Win: Rice 9, LSU 7 (June 4, 2005, at Baton Rouge, La.)
650th Win: Rice 3, Tulane 2 (Apr. 1, 2006, at Metairie, La.)
675th Win: Rice 5, Southern Miss 1 (May 25, 2006, at Reckling Park)
700th Win: Rice 7, Cal Poly 2 (March 17, 2007, at Reckling Park)
725th Win: Rice 7, Tulane 4 (May 13, 2007, at Reckling Park)
750th Win: Rice 10, Winthrop 4 (March 14, 2008, at Reckling Park)
775th Win: Rice 9, Texas State 1 (May 6, 2008, at Reckling Park)
800th Win: Rice 4, Southern Miss 3 (Mar. 21, 2009, at Hattiesburg, Miss.)
825th Win: Rice 7, Houston 2 (May 22, 2009, at Hattiesburg, Miss.)
850th Win: Rice 3, East Carolina 2 (Apr 24, 2010, at Reckling Park)
875th Win: Rice 3, Southern Cal 2 (Feb. 27, 2011, at Reckling Park)
900th Win: Rice 8, Houston 2 (May 6, 2011, at Cougar Field)
950th Win: Rice 9, UCF 2 (May 18, 2012, at Orlando, Fla.)
975th Win: Rice 3, East Carolina 2 (April 5, 2013, at Greenville, NC)
1,000th Win: Rice 4, Texas State 3 (Feb. 18, 2014, at Reckling Park)
1,025th Win: Rice 5, UAB 3 (April 19, 2014, at Reckling Park)