ETSU Golf Coach Fred Warren Announces His Retirement

Insiders say they knew it was in the works. But could the lack of attention also be because of the new philosophy for ETSU athletics?

Tri-Cities based sports talk show host Marky Billson

Remember when Paul Stanton was East Tennessee State University’s President and David Mullins was their athletic director?

The philosophy then was every athletic program was equal.

Sounds altruistic. But it also meant dropping football, getting kicked out of the Southern Conference, and statements like “2007 was the greatest year in the history of Buccaneers athletics,” an often-quoted and regrettably seldom-challenged statement Mullins made following an All-Sports Trophy ETSU won in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Mind you, there was no football, the basketball teams failed to make the NCAA Tournament, and the baseball and softball teams had losing records. But the Cross Country team won a meet at Gardner-Webb so who cares about 1996 when the football team made the playoffs and the golf team beat Tiger Woods’ Stanford squad to finish third in the country?

This is mentioned because not only should this dark period in ETSU athletics not be forgotten so it is not repeated, but because Fred Warren announced his retirement as ETSU golf coach after 34 years at the helm.

How little attention it was given. The announcement was given a “from staff reports” piece in Saturday’s Johnson City Press at appeared on the sports section’s fourth page. Several media sources tweeted the news, but three days later not one person has even replied to these tweets with a “good luck, coach!”

Compare this with the attention given Carl Torbush, someone whose Buccaneers coaching career was not successful and who will be remembered for his tenure at North Carolina, not ETSU. The grand party given to him to announce his retirement made one wonder if Bill Belichick was actually the one departing.

It shows a changing of the athletic philosophy at ETSU, and perhaps the reason why the men’s basketball team is about to win their unprecedented 100th game in four seasons, the resurrected football team won their first Southern Conference championship, and longtime sports known for losing like baseball and softball now have winning records.

Call it a “trickle down” philosophy for ETSU athletics. One does not build up from the sport of least interest to gain attention, as was the plan before.

Sadly, it was a decision that still holds back the community today. Instead of initially investing in a new arena that could have brought ETSU basketball back to national prominence and brought in events that even non-sports fans would attend, softball, soccer, baseball, and football venues were built in reverse order of need. Perhaps that is why they usually brought little success when opened.

But it was Warren who started the ETSU athletics building boom by raising the money for his own golf practice facility, which made it so curious why Mullins was taking a “don’t blame me, we haven’t done this before” approach to numerous building delays that occurred in the construction of the soccer, softball, and baseball venues. The first seasons of all of these facilities were played when the buildings were still being constructed with fans sitting in lawn chairs and blankets to watch the games.

It’s why when athletic director Keener Fry left ETSU for a supporting position in the University of Wyoming athletic administration Chip Kessler, the former “Voice of the Bucs” wrote in his newspaper Sports Talk that ETSU should hire Warren to be their athletic director.

The joke was he couldn’t take the pay cut. Warren is one of the NCAA’s highest paid golf coaches. In 2007, he signed a 10-year contract.

One criticism of Warren was perhaps he relied to much on international players. This year’s roster has as many players from Asia as the Tri-Cities. Some Warren teams were comprised of nothing but players from overseas, Wales especially.

There was always a question of whether this was the best construction of a roster at a state school, especially in 2006 when Phil Pettitt, a native Tennessean, beat ETSU in the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at the Ridges by one stroke on a birdie putt at the end.

So watch how ETSU constructs their roster in the future with Jake Amos, currently the associate head coach, who will replace Warren. South Carolina, Amos’ previous stop, had a completely domestic men’s golf roster, including Abingdon, Virginia’s Andrew Spiegler.

But Purdue, where Amos coached from 2014–16, had an international roster with players hailing from distant lands such as France, China, and Switzerland.

Amos himself hails from England.

It’s always been a curious thing how so many locals criticize ETSU for not stocking their roster with players from the Tri-Cities, a dubious criticism at best since the current roster lists 13 players from the immediate area and three more coming in on this year’s recruiting class, while the men’s golf team, which could realistically exist as a program designed to give scholarships to five local young men regardless of their competitiveness, has rarely been criticized for employing a far reaching roster.

Maybe it has something to do with the respect Warren has in the community. From appearing at military events or ETSU basketball games or making the local contacts needed to gather the donations for his program, Warren has been a face of ETSU athletics.

Which isn’t easy to do as a golf coach.

Marky Billson is a Tri-Cities based sports talk show host. Watch his show here from 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays or archived.



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