The Seton Hall baseball program suffered a major loss on April 6, when legendary coach Mike Sheppard, Sr. passed away at 82.
A Seton Hall University Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, Sheppard’s time with the program dated back to the late 1950s, as he played catcher for Owen T. Carroll and the Pirates. Beginning in 1973, Sheppard took over as head coach and remained in that role until 2003. In 31 years, Sheppard led Seton Hall to 998 wins, 28 winning seasons, 27 postseason appearances, 15 Big East Tournament appearances, 12 NCAA Tournament berths, a conference tournament title in 1987 and College World Series appearances in 1974 and 1975. Sheppard’s 998 wins rank in the top 75 on the list of NCAA’s all-time winningest coaches by victories. He was also named Big East Coach of the Year in 1985, ‘87 and ‘89.
“On behalf of Seton Hall Athletics, I extend my deepest condolences to Phyllis, Rob and the entire Sheppard family,” Seton Hall Vice President & Director of Athletics Pat Lyons said in a statement. “Mike Sheppard will forever be synonymous with Seton Hall Baseball, and the impact he had here for over 60 years is indelible. While we mourn his passing today, his spirit will always remain with us and lives on through the lives of the hundreds of student-athletes he coached and mentored. Coach Sheppard always said to never lose your hustle, and it’s assured that Seton Hall never will.”
While Sheppard will be remembered primarily for his success on the diamond and ability to send players to the professional ranks (more than 80 of Sheppard’s players went on to sign professional contracts and 30, including Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, made it to the MLB), his impact was felt off the field as well. Sheppard served as an assistant professor in the University’s Department of Education and in 1990, he was awarded the McQuaid Medal for 20 years of academic and athletic service at Seton Hall. In 2012, the city of Newark and Seton Hall elected to rename the University’s softball in Sheppard’s honor.
Sheppard was also a devoted husband and father. All five of Mike and Phyllis Sheppard’s children, Mike Sr., Susan, Kathleen, John and Rob are Seton Hall graduates. All three of Sheppard’s sons played under him at Seton Hall and were standouts in their time with the program. Sheppard’s oldest son, Mike Sr., is currently the head coach at Seton Hall Prep, his second oldest, John, is the head coach at Morristown-Beard High School and his youngest, Rob, is currently the head coach at Seton Hall. Sheppard’s son-in-law, Ed Blankmeyer, is currently the head coach at St. John’s.
After stepping down as coach, Sheppard remained active in the Seton Hall and Essex County community. He served as the program’s Head Coach Emeritus and maintained his duties as the chairman of the Essex County American Legion organization.
With Rob, leading the way, Seton Hall baseball will continue to embody the “Never Lose Your Hustle” mantra that Sheppard Sr. established as the program’s identity in his time as coach. Not only does it apply to winning baseball games, but winning in life as well. For that, Sheppard Sr.’s legacy will live on and his memory will never be forgotten.
For those who would like to pay their respects, Sheppard’s viewing will take place on Friday, April 12, from 2-7 p.m. in Walsh Gymnasium. The Funeral Mass will be held the following day beginning at 10 a.m. in Walsh Gymnasium.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.