BURNABY — It was back in the fall of 1995 when Simon Fraser’s sophomore head softball coach Mike Renney found a quiet moment to chat with a departing member of the Clan’s athletic staff.
“I used to have my office right next to Jay’s,” Renney remembered Monday of Jay Triano, who, on his way to an internationally-renowned career that has come to include both the Olympics and the NBA, left his position as head coach of Clan men’s basketball team to take a front office position with the NBA’s shiny new Vancouver Grizzlies.
“So I wandered over and I told him ‘One day I am going to need your advice,’” added Renney of picking Triano’s brain as it pertained to the dynamics of leaving a team, a program and a family which had one’s personal stamp all over it.
Almost a quarter century later, a span of time over which he would garner the greatest accomplishments of his career, it was hard for Renney to forget that conversation.
“Jay told me there was never a perfect time to leave,’ said Renney, 54, who was discovering as much Monday after announcing to his players following a mid-day practice, that he was stepping down at season’s end as the program’s head coach after 24 years. “You want to see the kids that you have recruited graduate. But at the same time, you have to go when the time is right for you. I’ve been contemplating this for the last couple of years, and at some point, you have to take the time to look after yourself.”
There are three distinct phases to Renney’s softball coaching career, and all three have seen the fruits of his effort.
Renney guided the Clan to seven NAIA national championship game appearances, winning four of them (1999, 2003, 2005, 2010) as the lone non-U.S. school in a field of over 200 institutions.
Within his SFU coaching career, he also guided the softball fortunes of this country, serving as an assistant on the Canadian team at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney games, and as the head coach of the Canadian team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Most recently, Renney — who sent 11 of his players to the Olympics — had re-built an NCAA D2 program which finished with a 2-21 GNAC conference record in 2014, to one which currently sits at 12-12 and heads into the final weekend of the conference season still battling for top-four placing and a spot in the GNAC championship tournament.
While coincidental as it relates to the timing of his retirement from the school, Renney has coached, with four more league games and the the potential of playoff games to follow, precisely 1,000 games at the collegiare level.
Over that span, he has coached SFU to a 635-365 overall record.
The Clan’s incredible staying power for the greater part of a decade within the NAIA signalled a stretch that has to be considered the golden era of Simon Fraser women’s athletics, and one which the school is trying to replicate at the NCAA Div. 2 level.
While the Clan was winning four national titles softball titles, similar success was being experienced on the national stage by its women’s basketball, cross-country and track and field programs.
“When we got to the national final in 1998 and finished second, I wondered if we were ever going to get back again,” said Renney. “There were 270 other schools. But we entered the 1999 season with the goal to win one more game and we got it. I assumed it was going to be the high-water mark of my career, but lo and behold, we got there seven times and we won four of them.”
It was a stunning 10-year span, one in which Simon Fraser softball did not sit outside the top five in the national rankings.
“Twenty-four years is six generations of teams,” said Renney, proud of the Beedie Field Complex which was constructed on campus during his tenure. “So not only is this going to be a new chapter for SFU softball, I am happy where I am leaving the program. I know how to give a new coach their space. I look forward to being a supportive fan from the sidelines.”
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