Dugan leaves legacy of teaching By Jim Wyatt / Sports Writer
The wheelchair and oxygen tank may have been a bit cumbersome in the final months for Ken Dugan, but they weren't enough to keep him away from the game he loved so much. In October, the former Lipscomb University baseball coach traveled to Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees and Braves in the World Series. A few months earlier, on Father's Day, he was in Cooperstown with his two sons at the Baseball Hall of Fame. A friend, Bill McInnes, aware of Dugan's deteriorating health, wanted to give something back to the coach who had given so much to the game over the years. He arranged for Dugan to travel to both places on his private jet with several close friends. Dugan, who won 1,137 games in 37 seasons at Lipscomb, died yesterday. He was 64. "Those were moments I think we'll all savor forever," said Mickey Hiter, who played catcher for Lipscomb in the late 1960s under Dugan and accompanied him on the trip to New York. "He was ahead of his time when it came to the game of baseball. Most importantly, he was a great man." McInnes never played for Lipscomb, though his son worked at Dugan's baseball camp.
"I think everyone wanted to make sure his last years were enjoyable," said longtime friend Farrell Owens, who also played for Dugan. "Everyone learned so much from him. He did so much for so many people."
Few have enjoyed more baseball success than Dugan, who starred as a player at Lipscomb in the 1950s before returning -- after his days in the Army -- as a coach in 1960. Dugan, who retired in 1996 with an overall record of 1,137-460, won NAIA National Championships in 1977 and '79. His 1984 squad set a college baseball record with 34 straight victories. "Coach Dugan was an institution himself and Lipscomb baseball was known throughout the nation as one of the better programs at any level,"
Cumberland University Coach Woody Hunt said. "I saw some teams of his that could've beaten anybody and maybe could've gone to Omaha and won out there in the Division I World Series."
Dugan grew up around the game, the son of W.F. "Home Run" Dugan, a former baseball star himself, in Huntsville, Ala. And the game seemed to grow up around Dugan, who coached his two sons, Mike (33) and Kurt (26), at Lipscomb and had the school's baseball complex named after him in 1991. Mike and Kurt, now coach at Ezell-Harding, served as a Lipscomb bat boys as youngsters.
In the late '70s, before the arrival of the Nashville Sounds, Lipscomb baseball was king in the spring, often grabbing headlines from bigger schools such as Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Former Vanderbilt baseball coach and Sounds owner Larry Schmittou remembered Dugan was a "pioneer" who worked every angle. "[Long-time Lipscomb fan] Chuck Ross would always call me before we played Lipscomb and ask me who I was going to pitch against them," Schmittou said. "Even though I knew I was going to pitch a right-hander, I would tell him a left-hander. I'm sure as soon as [Chuck] hung up with me he'd call Ken and say 'Schmittou is going to pitch a left-hander.' It was always a lot of fun. "Our teams fought each other, but when the game was over it was over. We remained friends."
Dugan was big on fundamentals but wasn't bad when it came to motivating either, said Steve Liddle, an All-American catcher at Lipscomb during the late '70s. "He was kind of the Bear Bryant of baseball and the room became quiet when he walked in," said Liddle. "A lot of us could have gone to school at other places but back then Lipscomb was the place we wanted to go because of him."
Reggie "Rock" Whittemore, who starred at Lipscomb during the late '70s, is now heading up a program in Nashville devoted to revitalizing baseball in the inner city. "He had a lasting impression on me and what I'm doing now -- I'm helping kids, kind of like what he did," Whittemore said. "Everyone always had a lot of respect for him. I love the guy."
During his days as athletic director at Lipscomb, Dugan was responsible for hiring former Lipscomb basketball coach Don Meyer, now at Northern State University in South Dakota. As an assistant basketball coach at the school, Dugan recruited a hot-shot basketball player from McGavock High to Lipscomb. That player, Steve Flatt, is now Lipscomb's president. "There's no doubt that Ken Dugan is the singular most important person responsible for putting David Lipscomb College and now University on the map," Meyer said. Dugan's work off the field will live on.
He wrote five different baseball books, including the best-selling Coaching Championship Baseball. He worked with Hiter, a music publisher for Five Star Music, to put out an album of baseball songs a few years back. Dugan became close to many in the music industry, and was responsible for forming a Celebrity Softball tournament at Dugan Field.
Former Gov. Lamar Alexander sent his oldest son, Drew, to Dugan's baseball camp and has admired his work over the years. "Ken Dugan was a good example and a good teacher," Alexander said. "I think Drew learned as much about growing up as he did about playing baseball. "It makes a big difference for there to be men other than fathers around boys when they're teen-agers who are good examples, and Ken Dugan was as good an example as existed in our part of the world."
Bobby Ogdin, a former piano player for Elvis Presley who became one of Dugan's closest friends in the final years, said Dugan's brightest moment on the trip to Cooperstown came when he spotted the pictures of two of his former players on the Hall of Fame's walls. Until he simply couldn't get out any more, Dugan found a way to get to the ballpark. He was a regular at high school games at Lipscomb and Ezell-Harding.
"Ken Dugan is a guy who dedicated his whole life to youngsters," said former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, a friend. "His reputation is one of the greatest degree."
Jim Wyatt is a Tennessean sports writer. He can be reached at 259-8015 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.