OCU mourns after death of Crabaugh

OCU Athletics
Rich Tortorelli

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City University mourns the loss of Denney Crabaugh, head baseball coach.

Crabaugh died Wednesday morning in his home after a prolonged battle with cancer. Crabaugh, 64, had been OCU head coach for 34 years and built the winningest college baseball program in the nation since 1991.

Crabaugh directed Oklahoma City to a 1,601-493-2 record, collecting victory No. 1,600 7-5 over Kansas Wesleyan on May 16 at Jim Wade Stadium in the NAIA Championship Opening Round Oklahoma City Bracket. Crabaugh led OCU to 14 NAIA World Series appearances, 14 50-win seasons, four trips to the national title game and the 2005 national championship.

Denney Crabaugh brought out the best in so many people, including me,” said Jim Abbott, who recently retired as Oklahoma City director of athletics. “I spent 23 years working with Denney in the OCU athletic department, and he set the example for work ethic, preparedness, sportsmanship and so many other incredible attributes. His vision for the OCU baseball program resulted in the development of virtually every physical feature at Jim Wade Stadium today, countless championships and outstanding graduates. Denney had an unmatched competitive fire, but remained grounded in his responsibility to help build young men as more than just baseball players. I join the Crabaugh family and OCU family in mourning his loss, but I’m so grateful to have experienced his impact on my life and so many other lives firsthand. Denney’s legacy will live on through those of us that were so fortunate to have him in our lives.”

“The OCU community mourns the loss of a true icon of college baseball,” said Dr. Kenneth R. Evans, OCU President. “With more than 1,600 wins, more than a dozen World Series trips and an NAIA national championship, Denney Crabaugh‘s legacy as OCU’s greatest baseball coach is without question. While we celebrate that legacy, we recognize his impact off the field of play, as well. Denney coached more than 80 NAIA scholar-athletes and more than 20 academic all-Americans during his time at OCU. His presence between the lines and in the lives of his student-athletes will be greatly missed, and we extend our condolences to Denney’s family during this difficult time.”

Corey Bray, OCU Director of Athletics, said, “This is a very sad time for Oklahoma City University, the athletics department and the OCU baseball program. Denney bled OCU blue and white; and it showed in his passion for the university, his program and, most especially, for his student-athletes. While Denney’s accomplishments on the OCU baseball field are numerous and very noteworthy, the core of Denney’s legacy will live on through the alumni of his program as they live out their lives as outstanding spouses, fathers, community members and contributors to their chosen career field. Denney’s student-athletes certainly became better baseball players through his coaching, but more importantly, they became better people through the life lessons Denney taught using baseball as the vehicle to supplement their OCU education. The thoughts and prayers of the OCU athletics community are with the Crabaugh family during this extremely difficult time.”

Crabaugh followed his father Duane into coaching baseball.

“Growing up around coaches and listening to the Xs and Os of the situational strategies, seeing that really put a hook in me,” Denney Crabaugh said previously. “Seeing the impact they made on people’s lives, the impact coaches made on my life, I know I wanted to be in a position to make an impact on young men’s lives. Those personal relationships you have with your players go beyond the winning and the losing.”

Crabaugh coached 92 all-Americans, 150 future professionals, 71 Major League Baseball draftees, 83 NAIA scholar-athletes, 21 CoSIDA academic all-Americans and eight national player of the year award winners. Five OCU alumni coached by Crabaugh reached the major leagues, including 2006 National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez.

Crabaugh’s association with the university dated back to when he joined Charley Lodes’ coaching staff as pitching coach for the 1987 season. When Crabaugh became OCU head coach for the 1989 season, he hired Keith Lytle as OCU hitting coach.

“I truly believe Denney’s greatest accomplishment is the impact he has had on the lives of our players and us as coaches,” said Lytle. “They’ve become college coaches. They’re police officers. They’re doing great and wonderful things out there in the world. His tough love method of being able to look at players – and coaches, too, for that matter – and not accept them for as they are but show them what they’re capable of being, I think is awesome.

“One of the neatest experiences is when the alumni come back for alumni weekend, and they talk about their experience here, but more importantly, when they say how this experience at OCU changed their lives – how they become better men, better husbands, better fathers, better people in our society. That’s what he does, I think that’s his greatest gift back. He shows you what you’re capable of being. You might not realize it at the moment this is taking place. Later they realize what he’s talking about, how to grow up. I watched him turn a lot of little boys into grown men.”

Crabaugh became a four-time hall of famer, gaining recognition from OCU Athletics, the Oklahoma Baseball Coaches Association, NAIA and American Baseball Coaches Association. He guided the 2004 Stars to a 73-7 record to set the NAIA single-season record for wins. OCU won 14 conference regular-season championships, 13 league tournament crowns, one district title, five regional crowns, three area titles and six NAIA Championship Opening Round titles. Crabaugh’s win total ranks third all-time in NAIA baseball history. OCU owns 1,535 wins since 1991 to lead the country during that time.

Crabaugh began his coaching career as a graduate assistant and pitching coach at Southeastern Oklahoma State under Mike Metheny. He had been head coach at Ada High School and an assistant at Ardmore High School in Oklahoma prior to arriving at OCU.

“His passion for baseball began at an early age as his dad was a very successful baseball coach in Oklahoma,” said Metheny. “Denney participated at all levels of baseball and ended his playing career at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He was a graduate assistant at Southeastern and shortly after began his college coaching career at OCU with Charley Lodes. As members of the NAIA and District 9, Southeastern and OCU had some historic battles through the late 80s and 90s. Even through this great rivalry, Denney and I have continued to be great friends.”

Crabaugh picked up the NAIA coach of the year honor twice in 2003 and ’05 and five SAC coach of the year honors, including this past year’s.

Denney Crabaugh and Keith Lytle are the best baseball coaches in the state of Oklahoma, and they have run the best program in the state of Oklahoma for the last 30 years,” said OCU alum Ted Ledbetter, the 2004 NAIA player of the year, when Crabaugh was inducted into the ABCA Hall of Fame. “I’m very, very, very proud to have been a part of it.”

Freddy Sanchez said of Crabaugh, “He’s unbelievable. I only played at OCU for one year, but that’s where I say I went to school. I learned how to play the game of baseball there.”

As a student-athlete, Crabaugh attended Rose State College, Oklahoma State and Southeastern. In 1980, Crabaugh pitched two no-hitters to cap his senior season at Southeastern playing for Don Parham. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences in 1980 and a master’s degree in school administration in 1981 from Southeastern.

The Del City, Okla., native is survived by his wife, Sue, and four children – Kaylee, Mindy, Cody and Amy. All four children attended OCU. Mindy reeled in all-American honors competing for OCU softball, and Cody took all-American acclaim playing baseball for his father. Amy contributed to OCU winning the softball national title this year.

“Nothing in life prepares us for losing someone we care about,” OCU softball coach Phil McSpadden said. “Especially someone so vital, so loved, by many. Denney was not only a good friend and mentor to me, he was the heartbeat of our athletic department. He was a coach on and off the field, a life coach to all that knew him. Good coaches can change a game, but great coaches can change a life. We lost a great coach in Denney Crabaugh.”

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