Mike Gottlieb, Towson University’s head baseball coach, got a call Monday morning from Director of Athletics Tim Leonard letting him know that his services would no longer be required.
“The only thing I was told was that ‘I’m not sure the student athletes are having a good experience.’ Which I disputed,” Gottlieb said in an interview. “I asked if it was a done deal and he said yes, so I didn’t beg or grovel.”
Gottlieb has been leading TU’s baseball team since the fall of 1987. He started at the school as a junior in 1978 and after graduating, became a volunteer assistant coach in 1980, working with Coach Bill Hunter.
“When people look back at their time in college, they will say, Did they get a good education? Did they make friends, did they have a good experience, did the coaches try to help them as players and as students in the classroom to develop and mature as people,” Gottlieb said Sunday. “I think I checked all of those boxes.”
In a statement, Leonard said: “After several discussions over the past couple years, we felt like now is the best time to look for new leadership. We are committed to this program and want to bring in somebody that can build off the foundation that was set by Mike.”
The statement also said that Gottlieb “compiled a 733-821-10 record in the Tigers dugout. He led Towson to all three of the school’s NCAA Division I Tournament appearances (1988, 1991, 2013).” The team had a 20-34 record in 2017.
Gottlieb, who is 60, said he’s not ready to retire.
“I am hoping to stay in baseball,” he said, “either coaching or scouting, I don’t know.”
In 2013, TU announced it was cutting both its baseball and soccer programs. Gottlieb and others fought to keep it and were ultimately successful. Soccer, however, was still eliminated.
“I got to know [Gottlieb] when we went through process of saving the baseball program, and I have a lot of affection for him as a person and I really admired how he handled that situation — he was absolutely tenacious in trying to reverse that decision,” said Patti Johnson, mother of TU pitcher Kevin Ross, who just graduated.
“I think the program is still there in large part because he did everything he could to make the program stay on. He’s contributed a lot to the school,” Johnson said. “He’s built a program there over the last 30 years and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
After its last game of the season on Saturday (a 4-2 win over the University of North Carolina Wilmington), the team held an end-of-season picnic. Gottlieb said he didn’t mention his firing then, although he said word was already getting out.
“When I look back, probably like in any job, there are things you love and things you don’t like, but I think 85 to 90 percent [of my time at TU] was good,” he said. “I wish that more often we’d have done better, but when I look back I can hold my head up high and know I never cheated the school when it came to work ethic.”
TU said in its statement: In his first season, Gottlieb led the Tigers to a 31-17-1, the East Coast Conference (ECC) championship and the program’s first trip to the NCAA Regionals in the Division I era. Towson was sent to Coral Gables, Florida where it won its first postseason game, defeating VCU 4-2. For his efforts, Gottlieb was named the ECC Coach of the Year and NCAA Regional Coach of the Year.
Gottlieb led the Tigers back to the NCAA Tournament in 1991 after sweeping through the ECC Tournament. Towson went to Orono, Maine where the Tigers picked up another postseason victory, 5-0 over Princeton.
The Tigers returned to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the Gottlieb era in 2013. Towson overcame adversity during the regular season before sweeping its way through the CAA Tournament. The Tigers were the No. 3 seed in the Chapel Hill Regional where they opened the tournament with a victory over No. 23 Florida Atlantic.
The 2013 team led the country by turning 81 double plays.
Gottlieb joined an elite club during the 2016 season when he recorded his 700th victory in a 6-5 victory over Kennesaw State on March 26.
During his tenure as the Tigers head coach, Gottlieb has helped mentor 17 players who were selected in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. Of the 17 players, Chris Nabholz and Casper Wells went on to play in the major leagues.