Coach Madison Reflects On Both Professional Career and Edmonson County Roots
Darren Doyle, story: photo courtesy of K. Madison:
Retired University of Kentucky baseball coach Keith Madison, a Brownsville native and ECHS graduate, has been announced as one of this year's inductees to the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame.
Coach Madison was head baseball coach at UK for 25 years (1979-2003), leading the Wildcats to 737 wins, third-most in SEC history when he retired, and second-most wins for any coach in any sport in UK history behind Adolph Rupp. Madison was 26 when he took over at UK, the youngest Division I head baseball coach in history at the time, and coached 17 players who eventually played in the majors, including 2006 Cy Young winner Brandon Webb.
"I was stunned," Coach Madison told the Edmonson Voice when he heard the news about his upcoming induction. "I didn’t even know that I had been nominated. After the initial shock, the emotions I felt were humbleness and gratitude."
Madison, a 1969 graduate of Edmonson County High School, had what he described as an "incredibly rewarding" path from his home in Lindseyville to bringing success to the University of Kentucky for 25 years.
"After being released by the Reds in ’74, I had to make some serious plans," he said. "I now had a wife but no job. Thankfully, I had attended Western Kentucky University during the off season of my baseball career and graduated the same year I was released from the Reds. Coaching was something I could pour all of my energy into and utilize the knowledge I had gained from the Expos' and Reds' coaches and field managers."
Madison's coaching beginnings started in Lake Wales, Florida, thanks to one of his cousins, Kenneth Ashley, who was teaching in the Polk County School system. He encouraged Coach Madison and his wife, Sharon, to start careers in education there. After two years at the high school level, a big break came when a graduate assistant-ship was offered him at Mississippi State University under legendary coach Ron Polk.
While finishing up graduate school at there, he began exploring coaching opportunities at the college level.
"I was hoping for an assistant coach position at a four-year school or perhaps a head coaching opportunity at a junior college," he said. "One day toward the end of the baseball season at Mississippi State, Coach Polk told me the University of Kentucky job was “open” and he suggested that I apply. My response was, “Coach, I’m 26 years old. Cliff Hagan (Athletic Director) isn’t going to hire someone my age.” Coach Polk simply said, "send your resume, I’ll give him a call.” I sent the resume to Mr. Hagan, but before I could hear back I was offered a junior college coaching position in Illinois. I didn’t want to give up on the dream for coaching for the Wildcats so I called Mr. Hagan from my mom and dad’s house in Lindseyville and actually got through to him. I told him that I had sent my resume to him a few weeks earlier and was in Kentucky visiting my parents. He said, “can you be in my office at 10:00 tomorrow morning?” Needless to say, I made the trip. The rest is history. I became the youngest baseball coach in Division l baseball and stayed there for 25 years. The interview process and then getting the call a few days later from Cliff Hagan was surreal. I had heard my father tell stories about the great Cliff Hagan and his prowess on the basketball court, and I now I will be working for him and coaching in the SEC. Prior to the interview, the only time I had been to Lexington was when my mom and dad took us to the Kentucky High School State Basketball Tournament. It was overwhelming for a boy from Edmonson County. Fortunately, I had coaches, teachers, and family members who believed in me…probably more than I believed in myself."
Coach Madison said he could sum up his stellar career at UK In one word, "relationships."
"The players and assistant coaches were what it was all about," he said. "Seeing the players improve and reach many of their goals was rewarding. I realized soon into my coaching career that I wasn’t meant to be a Major League Baseball player, I was meant to coach. I stay in touch with many, if not most, of my former players. It’s so special to see them now as successful businessmen, teachers, coaches, doctors, attorneys, but more importantly, good husbands and good fathers. Of course, not all of them are success stories and that is heartbreaking to see them go through difficult times. It’s almost like family. I loved the competition, loved the player development, but the relationships last a lifetime."
These days, you'll likely find him working for a faith-based non-profit organization, SCORE International, a ministry that specializes in short-term mission trips to third world countries. There, he travels with coaches, teams, and business men, where they conduct free baseball clinics, give food, clothing, and baseball equipment to kids in need. He also publishes a magazine called "Inside Pitch" with Cincinnati Reds broadcaster/commentator Chris Welsh.
Coach Madison also reflected back on his athletic career at ECHS more than 50 years ago, where he played baseball, basketball, and ran track. Football was not yet a high school sport in Edmonson County at that time.
"My baseball coach was Kaye Don Van Meter, a quiet, strong leader that had a major impact on my life," he said. "Charles Alexander was an assistant coach in baseball and basketball. He played both sports at Campbellsville University, so he was definitely instrumental in my development. Pete Clemons was my basketball coach and taught me both mental and physical toughness. We had some good teams with Tracy Meredith, Carlton Alexander, Tommy Houchin, Ed Rich, and others who were good players. I took something from every coach, including my junior high coach, Gerald Meredith, and my Little League coach, David Webb. David and I maintained a close relationship until the day he passed. I was blessed to have coaches who were not only good coaches, but good people. I’m thankful for all of them."
He coached nine UK All-Americans, 20 first-team All-SEC selections, 89 SEC academic honors award-winners and led UK to two NCAA appearances. In 1999, he was pitching coach for Team USA; in 2007, he was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Fame; and in 2013 earned the Lefty Gomez Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to amateur baseball.
Madison is a former president of the ABCA and currently chairman of the board.
The 2021 Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame Inductees and their families will be honored on Sept. 7, 2021, at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville. For more info, contact Julie Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org / (502) 587-6742.
"Everyone needs someone to believe in them," Coach said. "I was fortunate to have a wonderful mother and father who believed in me and supported me. They made sure that church came before sports. They instilled in me the importance of faith in Christ and treating people with respect. I had numerous teachers and coaches who taught the same values. My parents, each coach, each teacher, each former player, assistant coach, and each teammate are a huge part of this honor. I am very thankful and I know this could not have happened without God opening the doors."