Dennis Denning, a legendary baseball coach in Minnesota for parts of five decades, this afternoon announced plans to retire from the University of St. Thomas, effective Feb. 1, 2010.

Dennis Denning

Dennis Denning

Denning took the St. Thomas baseball program to new heights during the last 15 seasons. His Tommie teams won NCAA Division III championships in 2001 and 2009 and claimed national runner-up finishes in 1999 and 2000.

Denning, who turned 65 last week, won 80 percent of his games and recorded 901 victories at St. Thomas (1995-2009) and Cretin-Derham Hall (1978-94).  At St.Thomas, his 522-157 overall record (.769 win percentage) was the best mark since 1995 among all NCAA Division III coaches.

In each of the last 14 seasons, the Tommies have won either the regular-season or postseason title in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC).

Prior to his Tommie era, he was head coach for 17 seasons at nearby Cretin-Derham Hall High School, where his Raider teams won six Minnesota state large-class championships, 15 St. Paul City Conference titles, and amassed a 379-76 record (.833).

Denning took St. Thomas baseball on an historic trip to Havana, Cuba in January 2000 — only the third American professional or collegiate team to play in Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power nearly 40 years earlier. St. Thomas played two exhibition games against the University of Havana and hosted a return trip by a Cuban team in May 2000 that featured a game at the Minneapolis Metrodome.

“I’ve said it often, but Dennis is the best,” said St. Thomas athletics director Steve Fritz. “We knew we had something special when we hired him, and the results over these last 15 years speak for themselves.”

The coach, the leader, Dennis Denning surveys the scene of another Tommie basebal triumph.

The coach, the leader, Dennis Denning surveys the scene of another Tommie basebal triumph.

Fritz said St. Thomas expects to soon appoint an interim head coach for the 2010 season, and in fall 2010 open a search for a full-time coach.

“It takes a lot to run a successful college program,” Denning explained. “The coaching, recruiting and administrative tasks are a 12-month commitment and take an extraordinary amount of time and energy. Frankly, I don’t have the energy today to do the job at the standard I feel it deserves.

“It seems like just yesterday I left Cretin and put together our first recruiting classes with guys like Buzz Hannahan and Chris Olean. I’ll be forever grateful to the players, the coaches, the alumni, the parents, and my St. Thomas colleagues for helping us build a baseball program we could all be proud of.”

For more about Denning’s announcement at a news conference today, see the full story on the Tommie Sports Web site.

You also can read more about Denning in this July 2008 issue of Tommie Sports and a winter 2003 issue of the St. Thomas magazine.