Change is all around us. The landscape of athletics on every level is ever-changing. Sometimes the only constant in the world of sports is change. This is true on a national level from the advent of inter-league play in Major League Baseball to the most recent change in the National Hockey League where there will not be an NHL season for the first time in league history. Closer to home, for the past 34 years there has been a place where change has taken a back seat. That place has been in the dugout of the Penn baseball team. A place held for nearly three and a half decades by Penn Baseball coach Bob Seddon, or '9' as he has come to be affectionately known. Even the constant that is personified by Seddon will be changing as he will step down from his post at the conclusion of the upcoming baseball season.
Seddon began his days with the Red and Blue not has the skipper of the Quakers baseball squad but as the leader of another athletic program, the men's soccer team, where he was hired for the post in 1968. The former Hackensack, N.J. high school coach was brought to Penn by then Director of Athletics Fred Shabel to take over for Charles A. Scott, a former Penn soccer All-American and dean in the coaching ranks.
Seddon had not one day of collegiate coaching experience when he came to the Red and Blue but he won out over 49 other applicants to take over the coaching duties for the soccer team because he was able to sell the University on what he could bring to Penn.
"Having to sell yourself is still true today in a job interview. I basically needed to tell them why I was the right person for the job, what I wanted to do with the program, what I felt I could do to help raise money and I also felt I was involved enough on the national level to get right in here and begin to recruit. Basically, I went in and had a plan," remembered Seddon.
Seddon was also asked to head the freshman baseball team as well. After compiling a record of 40-12 during his first four seasons, Seddon took on another role, one that would be unheard of given the level of Division I competition in today's coaching climate. The 38-year-old became the head coach of Penn's varsity baseball program as well.
Today it is definitely not the norm to see the same person heading a pair of Division I athletic programs, but the off-season schedules were much less stringent in the past. Fall teams did not have spring practices and spring programs began their preparation for the upcoming season much later than they do today.
As Seddon gazed upon a Pennsylvania Gazette article from December of 1973, he saw a photograph of younger version of himself and reflected on the possibility, or lack thereof, of taking on such a task in today's sporting world. In a world of cell phones, email, PDA's and every other means of contact imaginable, Seddon said that there is so much involved with coaching now that he did not have to deal with when he started out.
The picture Seddon was glancing at showed him in the middle of his soccer team on the turf of Franklin Field bouncing a ball on his knee. There was no Daktronics scoreboard adorning the back walls of Weightman Hall, just the original clock almost suspended in that moment, showing 1:20 on its face. How things have changed.
Seddon headed both programs for 15 seasons, and when his soccer coaching career at Penn came to a close after the 1986 season, he had compiled a record of 163-64-29. He stands second in wins only to Penn's first soccer coach, Douglas Stewart (245-107-46) and second to no one at Penn with a .637 winning percentage.
With his sole focus now on baseball, Seddon and the Penn baseball program was about to embark on a golden age. He had already brought Penn its first Ivy League title in 1975, in just his third season as head coach. It was the third league title for the program as the Quakers were Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League (EIBL) champions in 1931 and again in 1943. But this was the Ivy title under Seddon's belt. The 1975 season ended in District 2 competition of the NCAA Tournament. Losses to Seton Hall and Maine left the Quakers with a 25-9 mark, the highest one-season win total by the Red and Blue at the time. It was sandwiched between a pair of 20-win seasons in 1974 (23-5-1) and 1976 (20-13). In fact, Seddon has managed his Quakers to 13 20-win seasons with the height of success coming in 1988, 1989 and 1990.
"To win 20 games in an Ivy League baseball season is very difficult and I don't think many people outside of the League understand that. Some people may ask, 'Why?' and the reason is because you go on spring break and play teams that already have 20 games under their belt and so off the bat, the Brown's and Yale's, and so on, of the world come back with a 2-9 or 1-8 record. So it [winning 20 games] is something that is usually only afforded to the team that wins the League," Seddon said.
Prior to the Ivy League forming into the two divisions (Red Rolfe and Lou Gehrig) as is the case today, Penn had a run of three-straight championship seasons under Seddon. In 1988, the Quakers finished 28-11 and 14-4 in League play. They faced California in the first game of the regional, losing, 13-3, but bounced back against Southern, 10-6, before Michigan ultimately ended the Red and Blue's season with a 7-6 decision. The following season, Penn experienced the most wins in program history, finishing 29-11 and 15-3 in League competition. Again, the Quakers earned a victory in postseason action in the NCAA Tournament, 7-1, against Illinois in the Northeast Regional. The winning stretch was not over as despite the change that comes with the dawn of a new decade, 1990 saw Penn back at the top of the Ivy League with a 23-17 mark and back in the NCAA Tournament.
"You always remember the winning teams and '88, '89 and '90 were great teams. We would have won it in 1991 also, but we had lost [William] Wisler and [Doug] Glanville. Those three years though were very good years," Seddon commented.
Seddon captured his fifth Ivy League title during the spring of 1995. His team finished atop the Gehrig Division with an Ancient Eight record of 13-5 and an overall mark of 25-21, the 11th 20-win season by a Seddon-coached team.
Amidst all of the change that goes around in the world of sport, one constant is winning - another constant that is synonymous with Seddon. He is the winningest coach in Ivy League and Penn baseball history with 623 tallies in the 'W' column. To put into perspective, the closest Ivy contemporary to Seddon is Paul Fernandez, the head baseball coach at Columbia. Fernandez has been at the helm of the Lions program for over 20 years and has amassed 336 wins. That is 287 wins behind Seddon, and Fernandez, a great coach as well, is the closest to the Penn skipper among all current Ivy coaches.
You can go on and on about Seddon's resume as a coach at Penn but the most staggering number is 37, the number of years Bob Seddon has been a head coach of one athletic program or another. His consistency through all of the change he has personally witnessed during his tenure is something not just worth mentioning; it is something worth honoring.
"I will miss the people that work at the University. I will miss the student-athletes because I like to think I was always a player's coach. I will also miss the change of not coaching but I leave on my terms and I am at peace with that and I am looking forward to some of the changes I will be experiencing in my life," Seddon said.
There will always be change in the world. Nowhere is that more evident at times than in athletics. As the winds of change blow through Murphy Field at the end of this baseball season, the image of Bob Seddon roaming that third base dugout will forever remain constant in the minds and hearts of Penn baseball fans young and old.
Written by Mat Kanan, associate director of athletic communications