By anyone's measuring stick, Steve Longley was a neophyte when the Cleveland State baseball job came his way in the summer of 1974.
His playing background was impeccable: a career at the University of Tennessee followed by parts of two seasons playing for the Cincinnati Reds.. But as a coach, Longley had but one year of prep experience under his belt when a sudden need arose.
“Ed Coates had been head coach for 2-3 years, but he took the job at Tusculum,” Longley recalled Saturday following his induction into the Cleveland State Hall of Fame. “I had one year of coaching Darlington Academy under my belt, then I left to get my Masters at UT.”
Longley hit the recruiting trailed armed with little more than the Chattanooga and Knoxville papers' all-star teams, a telephone and some words to live by Joe Crabtree, who had been the program's first head coach and Coates' predecessor.
“I had one meeting with him, and he made sure I was recruiting the best players I can find who also had the best character,” Longley said. “He more or less said that if I settled for less, you'll get used to taking less and eventually you'll smell the difference.”
Crabtree, who was also inducted Saturday but was unable to attend, was heeded. Longley;s reach into his hometown of Chattanooga was helped thanks in large part to having his brother, David, who was coaching at Baylor. A year later, Longley brought in a pair of talented pitchers – Scott Bell from Knoxville West, who two years later would be a top draft pick of the Boston Red Sox; Mike Moore from Chattanooga McCallie by way of Vanderbilt.
An undersized catcher with a big-time name and a big bat, Ted Williams May, was also brought on board and that 1976 Cleveland State team was TJCAA state champion, regional runner-up and the ninth-ranked team in the nation.
Bell had a no-hitter that first year, was TJCAA all-state in '77 and went on to Georgia after passing up the chance to turn pro; Moore would go on to be the first CSCC player to be named first-team All-American; May would go on to lead the nation in home runs in 1977 and signed with the Chicago Cubs.
And Saturday, Bell, Moore and May joined Longley as part of the school's inaugural Hall of Fame class. In 1978, another one of Saturday's Hall of Fame inductees, Larry Simcox, joined the program and the juggernaut was rolling.
During Longley's 14 seasons as head coach, he was named TJCAA State Coach of the Year four times, and led the team to it a runner-up finish in the Juco national tournament. He stepped down with a record of 446-181 and currently is assisting one of his former players, Joe Shamblin, at Walker Valley – where his son, Caleb, is currently a senior.
“This year might be it for me,” Longley admitted. “I'm old school. I believe the phone is the the most valuable tool in recruiting, more than texting or tweeting. I'm always going to want to talk to recruits, look them in the eye.”
E-mail David Jenkins at email@example.com