College Sports

Amid ongoing cuts at SWIC, Fiala will leave Blue Storm baseball program

Neil Fiala has been the head baseball coach at SWIC since taking over for Frank Colston in 1993.
Neil Fiala has been the head baseball coach at SWIC since taking over for Frank Colston in 1993.

Neil Fiala, who has coached the Southwestern Illinois College baseball team to nearly 900 wins over 25 years, will leave the program at the end of this season.

The SWIC board of trustees voted last week to cut 13 more administrators from the college's payroll, including the assistant athletic director job Fiala currently holds.

The 61-year-old coach says he can't support his family as a a part-time baseball coach.

"It's been a great run here, but I have to keep going and make a living," Fiala said. "I can see possibilities both in baseball or elsewhere."

Fiala said he was given the chance to accept a buyout and vacate his position last week, but elected to fulfill his duties through the end of the fiscal year, June 30. The Blue Storm are 14-10 since the current season began Feb. 14 and still have 24 dates remaining on their spring schedule.

"It wasn't really an option for me to leave my guys literally in the middle of the season," Fiala said.

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Neil Fiala took over the SWIC baseball program for Frank Colston in 1993. Provided

The SWIC board had already laid off 47 staff members and 19 administrators last year. Those cuts came after 12 administrators voluntarily retired in 2016.

SWIC President Georgia Costello, whose own retirement will be effective June 30, cited Illinois' three-year budget impasse, a loss of state funding and enrollment declines as the reasons the layoffs have been necessary.

Even with the passage of the first budget Illinois has had in three years, SWIC is still waiting on $5.7 million in payments from the state.

Fiala said he knew cuts to the SWIC athletic department were inevitable.

"I'd like to think I'm a realist," he said. "During the last year or so, you just didn't know what was going to happen one way or another and there isn't really anything you can do to change it. So I've kept an eye out."

SWIC Athletic Director Mike Juenger said as of Tuesday morning no course of action has been decided as to how or when a new baseball coach will be hired. Fiala said filling the position will be difficult if not paired with another position that pays a full-time salary.

"It has to be a person in the right frame of mind," he said. "It's minimal pay — less than $10,000 — and time intensive between the seasons, weight room conditioning and all the recruiting. They'll have to find somebody in the right position to do the job."

Fiala's last reported salary to be both assistant athletic director and baseball coach was $55,269.

Fiala was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1977 after successful high school and college careers. He reached the major leagues for five at-bats in 1981, collecting his only hit as a pinch hitter for the Cincinnati Reds.

His coaching career began as an assistant at Vianney High School in 1983. He worked as an assistant at Meramec Community College, the University of Illinois and in the New York Yankees organization for a single season. In 1993, he took over lead of the SWIC program from Frank Colston.

Fiala has been named to five halls of fame including NJCAA Coaches Hall of Fame and Mon-Clair Amateur Baseball HOF. In 2008, he was named “Manager of the Decade” for the River City Rascals of the independent Frontier League, which he managed for three seasons. He also managed the Gateway Grizzlies.

Fiala entered the fall season with 1,219 career wins in more than 30 years as a coach, 863 of which came at SWIC. Eleven of his former players were junior college all-Americans, 202 moved on to four-year university programs, 45 signed professional contracts and 14 reached the major leagues.

"I'm proud of the baseball program we've built here," Fiala said. "It's not just the baseball. More important that that is the guys I see who are engineers, teachers and coaches and all sorts of things. I'm excited for all of them and the things they've done."