TROY, N.Y. – Long-time Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) head baseball coach Karl Steffen has announced he is retiring following a distinguished 34-year career that boasts 30 winning seasons, 852 victories, 19 NCAA Tournament appearances, 10 Regional Championship games and two trips to the NCAA Division III Championship.
A Troy, N.Y., native, Steffen has led Rensselaer since 1985, posting an 852-470-3 (.644) record over 1,325 games. His teams won at least 20 games in 28 seasons and earned 30 victories seven times, including a school-record 37 wins in 2009. In fact, the Engineers established new school single season records for wins nine times under Steffen, who guided the team to 13 Liberty League regular season titles since the conference was established 23 years ago.
"It is with deep emotions that I announce my retirement," Steffen said. "As long as I can remember, my life has revolved around working with teams and the game of baseball. I can honestly say I looked forward to coming to work every day and I appreciate everything my players, assistant coaches and all those at Rensselaer have done for me. This was truly a labor of love."
"I want to say 'thank you' for all of the support I have experienced while working at Rensselaer. I have genuinely enjoyed being a college baseball coach and will miss my team and co-workers."
"I wish to offer my deepest appreciation and gratitude to Karl for his significant contributions to RPI during his tenure," Associate Vice President & Director of Athletics Dr. Lee McElroy said. "In speaking with alums and current student-athletes from our baseball program, they articulate Karl's outstanding teaching and coaching strategies that have made major impacts on their lives. We wish Karl and his family nothing but the best as they move on to the next stage of their journey."
Steffen became Rensselaer's head coach in September 1984 and immediately led the team to a 14-9-1 record and an ECAC Tournament appearance. Following a 6-16 mark in 1986, his teams won at least 20 games in 28 of the next 29 seasons. The 1987 team set the school record for wins with 20 (20-8) and qualified for the ECAC Tournament. The 1989 (21-15) and 1990 (28-12) teams subsequently set new standards and both played in ECAC Tournaments. The 1990 squad also qualified for the NCAA Tournament - the first invitation in school history.
Following a 23-win 1991 campaign (23-13-1) that included another ECAC Tournament appearance, RPI tied the school record with 28 victories (28-10) in 1992, which culminated with post-season berths from both the ECAC and NCAA. The national tournament showing began a streak of 13 consecutive years for Steffen and his teams, which went on the average 27 victories (354-157) with only one team registering fewer than 24 wins in that span.
The 1996 team established a record for victories with 29 (29-5) on its way to the program's first Division III Championship appearance. That team finished seventh in the nation, capping a season in which it compiled a 26-3 regular season mark, including a win over the defending Division II National Champions, and had the best pitching staff in Division III in terms of earned run average.
Steffen's team in 1997 was his first to break the 30-win plateau (31-8), led by a second straight NCAA earned run average statistical championship – the only time in NCAA history - at any level - that a school has led the nation in team ERA in back-to-back years. The Engineers were 12-0 in the Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association and the 1998 team repeated that performance, as well as the 31-8 season mark, which put the Engineers at 91-21, including a 33-0 league mark, from 1996 to 1998.
The school's single season victory record stood until 2002 when Steffen brought his second team to the NCAA Championship, where it won its 33rd game (33-11) before losing a pair of one-run games, both in dramatic fashion. RPI finished fifth in the nation, which remains the highest ever.
RPI won its eighth consecutive regular season conference title in 2003 (11-1) before winning the league's inaugural post-season tournament and playing in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th straight year. The 2004 season led to another league tournament title and a national tournament qualification.
The 2006 Engineers set the school record for wins (34-11), including a school record 17-game winning streak, and played in the NCAA Tournament – the 18th consecutive year RPI played in the post-season. That mark lasted just two seasons as Steffen's 2008 squad finished 36-12 and won the conference tournament before advancing to the NCAA Regional Championship game. A return to the regional title contest took place the following season, as did school records for victories in a season and in conference play as Rensselaer went 37-13 and 20-3 - both of which remain intact.
From 2010 to 2015, RPI went 153-85, including a 30-win season in 2013 (30-15), and made NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013 and 2015 following Liberty League Tournament wins. In the 2013 league playoffs, the Engineers won three straight games and outscored the opposition 23-1 in the process. The 2015 team (29-17) advanced to the NCAA Regional Championship game.
Steffen went on to lead the Engineers to league playoff appearances in two of the last three seasons.
With 852 victories, Steffen was among the top 10 Division III active coaches at the end of the 2018 season. He was also in the top 20 all-time in career victories. His teams had the 18th highest winning percentage among Division III programs in the 1990s (.709; 272-111) and ranked 26th in the 2000s (.690; 294-132). From 1998 to 2009, the Engineers were listed in the final Division III Collegiate Baseball Poll eight times.
Steffen's teams have rewritten the school's record book, including all of the team's batting records and the majority of fielding and pitching standards. In addition, players coached by Steffen hold nearly all of the school's individual marks while six were individual champions in NCAA statistical categories.
He mentored more than 20 National All-Americas, nearly 100 NCAA All-Region Team selections, almost 150 All-League honorees and a dozen who were CoSIDA National Academic All-Americas.
Steffen has coached a dozen players who went on to play professionally, including four — Doug Drumm, Dave Lohrman, Bill Snyder & Travis Teeter — who were drafted in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Nine of his former student-athletes have been inducted into the Rensselaer Athletics Hall of Fame.
A 1978 graduate of Ithaca College, Steffen was a three-time All-Conference selection and was twice named All-District. After college he continued his career in the Cape Cod Summer League, where he compiled a 7-0 record in 1977 in route to winning Most Valuable Pitcher honors.
The New York Yankees selected Steffen, a graduate of Troy High School, in the 19th round of the 1978 MLB draft. He played Class A ball for the Oneonta Yankees for one year before being promoted to Class AA the following season.
An inductee of the Albany Twilight Baseball League Hall of Fame as well as the Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame, Steffen has been the league Coach of the Year four times and the Regional Coach of the Year twice. He has also been honored by his fellow Rensselaer coaches with the Marvin T. Anderson Award, given to the coach who most exemplifies the spirit of RPI Athletics, five times.
Steffen has also been the recipient of the Student Affairs Service Award for his teaching skills and tireless effort on behalf of Rensselaer Student Life. In addition to coaching baseball, he served as the Intramural Director for many years.
Steffen's last day on campus is Friday. A search for his replacement is being conducted.