Sam Riggleman, a 40-year coaching veteran and one of the winningest coaches in NAIA history, has announced that he will retire as head baseball coach at Spring Arbor University following the 2016 season.
“Coach Riggleman has had a profound impact on the lives of so many student-athletes as well as coaches, administrators, faculty members and parents throughout his 40 years of coaching,” said Director of Athletics Ryan Cottingham. “I am grateful for the 14 years we’ve worked together at Spring Arbor University where he’s been a mentor and a friend.”
A two-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Coach of the Year, Riggleman has led the Cougars to a 358-190 (.653) record as the head coach over the past 11 seasons, and made five national tournament appearances, including a national runner-up finish in 2007. He has guided the Cougars to three regular season conference championships and two conference tournament titles.
One of the most memorable seasons for Riggleman was the 2007 campaign where he directed his team to a remarkable 48-5 record – which included an extraordinary 36-game winning streak. The Cougars, who opened the season completely off the national radar, captured the conference, regional and super regional titles before advancing to the championship game of the NAIA World Series.
That tremendous season was the beginning of an incredible three-year run for the Spring Arbor program. The Cougars posted a 40-9 mark in 2008, earning their way back to the World Series and advancing to the semifinals. In 2009, the team qualified for its third straight national tournament making an appearance in the Opening Round.
On April 28, 2015, Riggleman became the 19th coach in NAIA history to reach 1,000 career wins. The long-time mentor has been incredibly successful amassing a 1,004-639-2 (.610) record over four decades, which ranks as the fifth most wins among active NAIA baseball coaches.
Riggleman, a 1973 graduate of Spring Arbor, has made several coaching stops along the way in returning to his alma mater. Prior to his arrival at SAU, he served three seasons as the skipper at Dallas Baptist University where he led the Patriots to two appearances in the NAIA World Series, highlighted by a runner-up finish in 2000. He also spent five seasons as the front man at fellow Crossroads League member Bethel College before making the move to Dallas Baptist. He had a six-year stint at NCAA Division I Southern Illinois University from 1989-94. He started as the pitching coach at SIU before taking over the role of head coach his final four years. After getting his start in coaching at John Wesley College, Riggleman spent nine seasons as the head coach at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
Though the journey was long, it came full circle when he returned to Spring Arbor in 2002. Riggleman became just the third head coach in the program’s 52-year history in 2005 after spending the previous two seasons as an assistant under legendary coach Hank Burbridge, making it even more significant to be able to win his 1,000th game and complete his career where it all began, wearing the Cougar uniform.
“The inspiration to get into college coaching came from playing for Coach Burbridge,” said Riggleman, “so to be able to return and conclude my career at Spring Arbor University does have special meaning.”
When it is all said and done, though, it is not the wins, championships or accolades that Riggleman hopes to be remembered for, but rather the hundreds of student-athletes he has impacted over the years.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” added Riggleman. “The things we have been able to accomplish on the field have been a blast, but more importantly, the things we have been able to do with the program and the development of young men has been at the focus of all that and that, as I reflect back on my career, is the most meaningful.”
Riggleman’s passion for coaching is equaled by his passion for developing young leaders. Serving as a Special Assistant to the President of Spring Arbor University, he developed the Montana Leadership Institute, an annual one-week retreat that focuses on athletic and spiritual leadership development in SAU student-athletes.
“To have had the opportunity to lead the Montana Leadership Institute the past 10 years, with the complete support of three SAU Presidents, allowed me to exercise and develop my passion of leadership development,” said Riggleman. “If there is a legacy to be left from my years of investment at SAU, the MLI is certainly at the top of that list.”
He has been widely recognized for his leadership characteristics and was honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) as the recipient of the Ethics in Coaching Award in 2011.
“Rarely is amazing effort recognized, especially, when the recipient does not seek attention.” said Spring Arbor University President Dr. Brent Ellis. “Spring Arbor is privileged to be able to celebrate the service of Sam Riggleman. Much of Sam’s life mission has focused on mentoring, teaching, counseling, training, coaching and discipling student-athletes. Sam has served these student athletes with humility, integrity, genuineness, wisdom, courage and faithfulness.”
Ellis continued, “While we will miss Sam’s leadership, we are a better place and our student athletes are stronger people of faith and character because of Sam Riggleman. Thank you Sam for your leadership and dedication.”
On January 8, 2016, Riggleman will be enshrined into the ABCA Hall of Fame during the organization’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
In addition to the ABCA Hall of Fame, Riggleman has also been selected for membership into the hall of fames of Spring Arbor Athletics in 1998, the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) in 2007 and the NAIA in 2009.
“He has run the race with an unwavering faith and he will leave a legacy that will carry on long after his retirement. He has modeled a relentless pursuit of excellence physically, mentally, and spiritually,” said Cottingham. “He is truly going out at the pinnacle of his career! I’m so happy for Sam and his wife, Kathy, as they prepare for the next phase of their lives. I can already envision him spending more time with his grandkids, reading more books, and wading in streams with his fly fishing rod.”
Spring Arbor will begin a national search for the program’s next head coach immediately.