Linfield’s top ’Cat retires: Scott Carnahan’s farewell to arms

Reprinted with permission of the News-Register. Find more News-Register stories about Linfield College here.

By Rusty Rae    May 30, 2017

Scott CarnahanScott Carnahan, Linfield’s athletic director and head baseball coach retiring this June, is the epitome of the Linfield way.

For more than a quarter century, he has practiced and refined his practicum of success. Dedicating himself to the betterment of the athletic department and the college, personifying the values of integrity, hard work, and perseverance, Carnahan has continued the tradition of those before him: Paul Durham, Roy Helser, Ted Wilson and Ad Rutschman.

In doing so, the athletic department has grown both in terms of facilities, and perhaps more importantly, by the influence the department has had on the men and women as members of the Linfield family.

Carnahan actually began his Linfield career in the fall of 1969, as a Wildcat freshman. He was recruited to play all three sports at Linfield – football, basketball and baseball. When his father was hurt in a serious logging accident, he moved home to help the family, enrolling at Centralia Community College. While there, he played basketball and baseball before returning to Linfield to finish his college career, competing in football and baseball his junior year, and baseball his senior year.

After graduating from Linfield, Carnahan said his goal was to coach (baseball) at the college level, but didn’t know where that might be, noting, “Obviously, I loved the place (Linfield) when I was here as a player,” he said.

But out of college, his career turned in a different direction. He had a contract with the Portland Mavericks (at the princely sum of $300 per month) – which didn’t work out – he lasted three weeks. He worked for Evergreen Aviation for nine months before he discovered his path to teaching and coaching. The position at Evergreen was attractive, three times the starting pay for teaching. But in the nine months of employment with Del Smith, he was on the road six, and that simply did not allow him time for his wife.

“My wife Cathy and I were living in the Michelbook Apartments. She was teaching in Yamhill-Carlton. I was on a world-wide trip with Del and had just flown into New York. I called home only to find the number was disconnected,” he remembers.

Frantically, he called his dad, who let him know “Cathy moved.”

Carnahan learned his wife had taken a job in Chehalis and Carney had been offered a job at Onalaska High School. “And by the way, you have to be home tomorrow for teacher orientation,” his father told him, marking the beginning of his journey as a teacher and coach.

He jumped on a redeye to Portland, where the family had left a car for him, drove to the high school, arriving in time for the 8 a.m. teacher orientation. He coached there for two years. When the levy failed (a blessing in disguise, he notes), all high school sports were discontinued. So, he moved to the Chehalis High School, where he coached for two years. He interviewed to for head baseball coach at Big Bend Community College – and was offered the position.

“I told them I would get back to them. About three miles out of Moses Lake (Washington), Cathy turned to me and said, ‘If you come here, you will be coming here alone’.”

Obviously, he did not accept that position, but one at Lower Columbia College came open. Carnahan had been the runner-up there the previous year, and when it opened up again, he was chosen. He taught, coached baseball and also assisted the basketball coach – Mike Polis. Mike’s son, Mickey, is now the assistant coach for Shanan Rosenberg at Linfield. For Carnahan, life is about relationships – and they last forever.

Fast forward six years, and Carnahan is in Arizona, driving the team bus. As he pulls into the parking lot for a Mariners’ spring game, out of the parking lot comes a van. It stops – and it’s none other than Ad Rutschman, who at the time (1983) was coaching both football and baseball.

Rutschman let Carnahan know this was going to be his final year coaching baseball, and there would be a position opening, and he should apply for the position. Carnahan went through the interview process and that summer was named baseball coach at Linfield.

You might assume the rest of the story is history – and so it is – but then you’d be missing the crux of Scott Carnahan’s Linfield adventure.

Remembers Jimmy Ray, Carnahan’s bench coach and friend of more than 30 years, “When I came to Linfield for my visit, the grass in the infield was crotch-high; a cat ran across the field and made a deposit on the home plate area; when I asked where the training facilities were, coach Rutschman smiled and told me ‘We don’t get injured here.’ And when Ray walked through the locker area at old Riley Gymnasium and heard someone yell ‘showers’ when one of the toilets was flushed, he again asked Rutschman what was that and Ad said, ‘Jimmy, that’s our agility drill’.”

Such was the state of facilities at Linfield in the early 1970s. Today, thanks to Carnahan (and he would list a cast of thousands who helped), Linfield has some of the best athletic facilities in the conference and the baseball park remains one of the best in all of the Northwest.

Though he never expected to become athletic director, Carnahan began working on athletic facilities when Ted Wilson Gymnasium and the athletic offices were built. He became athletic director in 1996 when Rutschman stepped down. Carnahan was the ideal replacement for Rutschman as he understood the culture of the athletic department and, through his baseball coaching, the management of facilities had already developed significant relationships within the Linfield community. The Linfield baseball stadium is one of many examples of the Carnahan touch.

Jim Wright Stadium and Helser Field cost the college $200,000, but Carnahan estimates its value at a million dollars –because of the relationships he has developed with alums, community leaders and business owners, and the passion for simply getting things done, regardless of the challenge. Carnahan’s charisma earned the trust of countless donors, and his integrity found others willing to jump aboard the Linfield athletic train to provide volunteer time and talents allowing the athletic department to lead the conference in facilities.

Virtually every athletic venue has been upgraded, but these upgrades are the result of Carnahan’s blue collar worth ethic and integrity. Look no further than Linfield’s current gym and athletic offices, the swimming pool and Rutschman Field House to see how the college’s athletic endowment has grown.

Notes Ray, “Carney brought a healthy discontent for the present.” In other words, Carnahan had a vision for what Linfield’s athletic facilities could be and was able to get anyone standing nearby to jump onto that bandwagon.

This season, he was named the Northwest Conference’s Coach of the Year as the ‘Cats won yet another conference title, and Carnahan etched his 600th win into the record books. He has coached the most baseball games as a Linfield coach and also has the most wins.

Carnahan’s winning record is no surprise. One of his early mentors, Washington State head baseball coach Bobo Brayton, told him “Pitching and defense win games.”

Over the years, Carnahan has become a savant in the area of developing catchers and pitchers. Particularly in the area of pitcher development, Carnahan has been able to take talented arms and make them better, without forcing them to change from what made them great initially.

That he’s had numerous offers from other institutions is no secret, but his love of Linfield has kept him and Cathy in McMinnville.

Carnahan returned to Linfield as a student too late to share the joy of the 1971 national championship the baseball team won under Rutschman, also one of his mentors.

But when NY Yankee star third baseman, Scott Brosius, a Linfield grad Carnahan recruited to the baseball team, came asking for a letter of recommendation because he was interested in coaching college baseball, Carnahan, who was besieged by the multitude of details and duties of the athletic director position asked, “Why don’t you take the baseball position here?”

And when Brosius led Linfield to the national championship in 2013, it was Carnahan who groomed the pitching staff for Brosius, and who called the pitches during those games. After eight years at Linfield. Brosius moved on to coach professional baseball, and Carnahan was back coaching baseball until his retirement this year.

Linfield head football coach Joe Smith, who was an assistant baseball coach for Carnahan prior to becoming the head football coach, said of Carnahan, “He has the ‘it’ factor. Nobody really knows what ‘it’ is, but Scott has it. A part of what has made Scott successful is the ability to relate to just about everyone and his absolute integrity. His handshake is his word and people know they can trust him to do what he says he will do.”
Notes Jordan Harlow, a member of that championship team and now assistant coach with the ‘Cats, said, “It is amazing how he interacts with people. His success is no accident. His work behind the scenes has really been an eye opener for me on how to be successful.

“To me, Carney represents the fabric of what has made Linfield’s athletics great for so many years,” he added.
Somewhere, among the many mementoes he saved from his time at Linfield, there is an aerial photo showing the Linfield athletic facilities with the college in the background. His wife Cathy had “Carney’s vision” added to the photo and it serves as a representation of what he has accomplished in his years at the college.

While the facilities are certainly visual extensions of his accomplishments, he says what he will miss most is the relationships with coaches and students.

“It’s really more about what you’re trying to teach through the game. Perseverance, overcoming adversity – things like that which are really meaningful to me.

“When you see guys after they have left school who are leading successful lives and who hold the Linfield experience close to their hearts – those are the things that are important to me. Being able to make a difference in the lives of student athletes who come to Linfield – that is the thing I will hold close to my heart,” he said.

It’s the Linfield way.