In a lengthy retirement statement earlier this month, Wilkinson spoke of a grind that snapped his spirit and affected the passion needed to coach at the NCAA Division II level. “I found myself numb to the win and questioning myself following a loss,” he stated. “If a coach cannot celebrate the win and questions his teaching following a loss, it is time.
“Throughout the recent seasons, Lindsey and our beautiful daughter, Katie, have been subjected to a husband and father that was a flat line far too often…” The veteran coach added his wife was “very comfortable” with his decision but admitted it bothered his daughter, who graduated from Wilson Christian Academy on Friday evening and will continue her education at Barton. “She didn’t understand,” Wilkinson said of his daughter. “But Lindsey could see how the grind was beginning to beat me down day-by-day. She could see something had to give.” Wilkinson emphasized: “The coaching job now is tough.
“Coaching the kids is fine, but the agenda for every kid and the people around the kids makes it a difficult job at all levels.” The “Wilkinson way” was to bring in freshmen, start them from scratch, watch them steadily improve and “hit it just right where you’ve got some veteran players.” “I do know, to compete in this league, you need to have veteran players,” Wilkinson added. “I don’t think you will ever see it again like it was for us in 2002 — seven freshmen in the starting lineup (and won a conference tournament). You also have injuries along the way and, sometimes, your evaluation doesn’t turn out like you wanted or expected it to be.”
Wilkinson’s retirement statement also alluded to his “tough love” for his players. “That’s the discipline we instill,” Wilkinson explained.
“I will always believe in discipline on and off the field. That met with some resistance — that maybe we were beating them down and being too negative. But I knew, when I went into this, I wasn’t going to be too soft.” But, since his retirement, the feedback Wilkinson has received from former players, his peers, well-wishers and followers has been gratifying, satisfying and sometimes emotional. His first stint as Barton’s head coach began in 1988 and the second in 2000.
Returning, Wilkinson assures, was the right thing to do. “Barton College has been excellent for me and to me,” he emphatically said. “It has always supported me. Never have I ever once felt I didn’t receive the support I needed — including the attempt to grow the program. They always listened. I have absolutely no regrets.” The burn-out, the grind are behind Wilkinson but he remarks: “As a competitor, you would love to have another year, 10 more games. But it’s not going to happen.” “I love baseball and will always love baseball. But I do feel like I’m capable of doing something else, and I’m going forward in that direction. I’m looking forward to contributing in another capacity.”
His pride in the program, its tradition, its overall perception and its facilities will stay in the forefront. “We won the conference sportsmanship award this year,” Wilkinson said with a smile. “I left the program in better shape than it was, and I’ve been able to do that twice. If the message I wanted to deliver and the way I wanted the players to leave here got across, we got somewhere. “But I’ve got a feeling we had a lot of wins in life that nobody else is going to understand.”