LYNCHBURG, Va. - Matt Royer has proven to be a big hit in every baseball program he's put his cleats into.
First, as a grad assistant and junior varsity coach at the University of Arizona, later as the head coach at Spring-Ford High School, then as the head coach at Harper Junior College and three four-year colleges - Wheaton (Mass.), Kutztown and Liberty (Va.).
Royer has amassed more than 600 career wins, and received countless Coach of the Year honors.
And even though he guided the Liberty University Flames to more wins in the past three seasons than in any three-year period in the history of the program - not to mention four Big South Conference playoff appearances and three runnerup finishes in just five seasons - it wasn't good enough.
Liberty athletic director Jeff Barber fired Royer last Friday afternoon.
The university, on both its Web site and in a release printed by the Associated Press last week, stated Royer had resigned. However, it was evident the 48-year-old Royer - a graduate of Spring-Ford and, ironically, Liberty University - in no way walked away from the program he almost single-handedly turned around.
"I can't lie, but if I'm going to tell the truth then I'm not going to be as classy as I want to be going out," Royer said Monday. "(Barber) told me they want to go in a different direction. They want to bring in someone who has been to a College World Series or Super Regional. They want someone who has been there."
"We evaluated the program last year, and we talked again this year," Barber told the Lynchburg News & Advance last Saturday. "We both agreed that we needed a change in direction. (Royer) felt like he wanted to resign."
Barber, who previously worked as an administrator in the Southeastern Conference - a tradition-rich baseball alignment - admitted he wasn't satisfied with Liberty's three runnerup finishes and four playoff appearances in the Big South Conference under Royer's reign.
"We want to win this conference and we want to go on to the College World Series," Barber told the Lynchburg News & Advance. "We want to find the right coaching staff to allow us to get there."
Royer actually got a late start at Liberty, arriving on campus the first day of classes in the fall of 2002. He inherited a program that graduated 17 letter-winners and returned just one starter, but managed 17 wins that following spring. His second team improved to 25-30.
In 2005, the Flames posted a 36-19 mark, and last year set a school-record for wins in a season after finishing up 39-21. This past spring, the Flames were 36-25 and dropped a one-run thriller to nationally-ranked Coastal Carolina in the conference final.
Regardless, Royer will be Liberty's third head coach replaced in just over a year - the second by Barber, who was the third athletic director Royer worked under. In football, former University of Virginia assistant coach Dan Rocco was brought in prior to last year's season. In men's basketball, former University of New Mexico head coach Rich McKay was brought in prior to last winter's season.
"You look at McKay and Rocco and you can see what we're looking for," Barber told the Lynchburg Press & Advance. "That's a coach who has major Division I experience, preferably one that's been a part of a program that's been to the College World Series, or has been to the super regionals. You can't deny how important that is, to find somebody (who's) been there and done it."
According to sources, Liberty graduates and former Major League players Sid Bream, Lee Guetterman and Randy Tomlin may be looked at as Royer's replacement, though none have experience as a Division I head coach. Rod Delmonico, a graduate of Liberty who was recently let go as the head coach at Tennessee, is another possible candidate.
Royer, a starting infielder for the Flames from 1977-79, obviously won't be one in the field of candidates.
"I'm not stunned, but I am disappointed," Royer said. "I'm fine, but I feel I got fired because of some people complaining and never having the opportunity to sit down and talk to anyone.
"I don't have any plans right now. I just want to get it right because I can't be bouncing my family around. But I am excited about what God has next for us."
+ + +
Royer's record at Liberty was 153-132, 111 of those wins coming in the last three seasons.
Royer was 20-2-1 guiding the junior varsity team at Arizona, where he earned his master's degree. He returned to Spring- Ford, his alma mater, from 1985 through 1989, and led the Rams to a pair of Pioneer Athletic Conference titles and the 1988 District 1-AAA championship as well as a third-place finish in the PIAA tournament.
In 1990, Royer posted a 25-18 mark at Bryant Junior College, then spent the next three years at Wheaton College, where he was 47-61 overall. In 1994, he took over the program at Kutztown and guided the Golden Bears into the national spotlight.
In his nine seasons, Kutztown won three Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference titles, two NCAA Division II North Atlantic Regional championships,and two NCAA Division II World Series appearances (finishing fifth and seventh). Royer, named the PSAC East Division Coach of the Year as well as the university's Male Coach of the Year four times each, was 271-176 overall at Kutztown.