Brian Spinner was always fast, but he wasn’t always a great base-stealer. He had trouble getting a good jump and could not read a pitcher’s move to the plate. That changed when he went to play summer-league baseball in upstate New York between his sophomore and junior years at the University of Dallas. There he met the current Webster University head baseball coach, Bill Kurich, who was then working as an assistant coach at St. Joseph’s in Indiana.
Kurich took Spinner out to a parking lot and made him stand 10 feet away. He held a tennis ball in his hand and instructed Spinner to only move once the ball left his hand, but to catch the ball before it bounced twice. The exercise honed Spinner’s reflexes and sharpened his base-running skills. The next season, Spinner stole 35 bases and broke the University of Dallas’s record for all-time stolen bases.
It was moments like this that proved important in Kurich’s arrival as head coach at Webster in 2007. Since then, Kurich has amassed 282 wins with the baseball team, compiled a winning percentage of .721 and led the Gorloks to seven NCAA tournament appearances and two College World Series. But it was Spinner who helped turn his attention to
Kurich, a native Chicagoan who had never spent much time in St. Louis, had heard about the job prior to speaking with Spinner. During the interview process, Kurich said he felt a bit like an outsider, not having a tangible connection to the school. However, Spinner worked with his brother Scott Spinner, a basketball player at Webster at the time, to give Kurich a recommendation. Kurich applied for the job and, as former Webster Athletic Director Tom Hart said, it didn’t take long for Kurich’s candidacy to gain momentum.
“He was definitely someone who quickly came on our radar and who we thought we should consider,” Hart said.
Before coaching at Webster, Kurich worked as an assistant coach, first at Concordia College in Chicago and then at St. Joseph’s. Before that he played at Quincy University before transferring to Wartburg College.
As a left-hander, Kurich did not play against left-handed pitchers at Quincy, and the decision to move on was motivated by playing time.
“I was five foot eight and was never going to play on television,” Kurich said. “And I wanted to play every day.”
Bill Kurich had never spent much time in St. Louis before he arrived at Webster. Were there any difficulties in moving to a new city?
“Beside the fact that I can’t stand the Cardinals, not really,” Kurich said.
Kurich’s wife Stacey lived in Belleville, Illinois, and he moved in with his in-laws during his first season at Webster. He slept in their basement while they attempted to sell their house in Indiana.
But the transition was smooth for Kurich because of the connection he made with his first team at Webster.
“They were tough kids,” Kurich said. “They were hungry for some change in the program, and everything I threw at them, they absorbed. They were tough.”
Spinner followed Kurich and became a part of his coaching staff at Webster. He said Kurich worked to bring discipline and passion to a baseball team that had been successful, if not laid-back in their approach.
Wesley Hilliard, a junior during Kurich’s first season in 2007 and a member of the search committee for a new coach, believes the same of Kurich. He said Kurich changed the nature of practice at Webster, and that everything about the team became more intense.
“We were looking to take the next step, and Coach Kurich came in and impressed us, and we thought he was going to do that,” Hilliard said.
Spinner believes the relationships Kurich cultivates are what make him a special coach. He said Kurich knows how to be encouraging and tough when he needs to be.
“Bill (Kurich) does a great job of walking that line, and evidence of that is the relationships he maintains with his players,” Spinner said.
A high bar
During the past two seasons, Webster had only lost two games in the entirety of conference play. But this year, just eight games into St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) play, Webster is 5-3. Kurich said the quality of the pitching during the early season stretch is encouraging because of the number of good performances, but frustrating because the good performances have not always resulted in wins. Webster is currently second in the SLIAC West Division behind Fontbonne University, but Kurich is confident in his team.
“Hitting is contagious; it can come around,” Kurich said. “But if you can’t pitch, you can’t pitch.”
The bar has been set high for the baseball team. Hart said the success the baseball team has enjoyed defied even his expectations.
Last season, the team was ranked no. 1 in the nation—the first time any Webster team has earned the distinction. For Kurich and the rest of the baseball team, a national title is still the goal for every season.
“We’re in good shape,” Kurich said. “If we play the game that we’re capable of playing, we’re going to be very difficult for anybody to beat—not just in conference, but across the country.”