GLENDALE — Steve Rousey sensed uncertainty when he went in for his end-of-the-season evaluation.
Having coached the Cal State University Northridge baseball team to its first winning season since he took over the program in 2002, Rousey's uncertainty was warranted, as the university elected to end the La Crescenta resident's tenure as Matadors coach, choosing not to renew his contract after its expiration this season.
"I sensed something was up when I walked into the meeting Wednesday," Rousey said Thursday. "I didn't know what they were going to say because there was some uncertainty in that my one-year contract was coming up.
"It was eight years of learning and I felt like we were getting momentum toward the end of the last three years."
Rousey, 47, compiled a record of 169-278-1 overall and 48-129 in the Big West Conference, which features top teams such as Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine. The Matadors finished with a losing record from 2003-09 before going 29-27 and 9-15 in conference this past season.
CSUN Athletic Director Rick Mazzuto said Thursday that the program is seeking to move in a new direction.
"We went through an annual evaluation," said Mazzuto, who added the university has begun its search for a replacement and will look to make a hire by July. "I spoke to Steve and told him what our plans were and told him we would not be picking up his contract.
"His contract expires at the end of June. He's a fine person and he worked hard here for a long period of time. I thought there's potential for greater success [with the program]."
Rousey was named head coach at CSUN on Aug. 5, 2002. He had served as the team's interim coach for nearly two months prior after spending the two previous seasons as an assistant coach at CSUN. He became the seventh coach since the program's inception in 1959.
Rousey inherited a CSUN squad that captured the Big West Conference title the previous season and reached the NCAA first-round regional under Mike Batesole, who left to take a similar position at Fresno State. Rousey also coached at L.A. City College and served as an assistant coach at Long Beach State. In Rousey's two years as an assistant coach at CSUN, the Matadors were 75-39 and gained national prominence by being ranked as high as 15th by Baseball America in 2002.
"When I took over the program, the cupboard was bare and we had to restart," Rousey said. "But, we were able to come along and get it to where we put together one of our best recruiting classes going into next season.
"I'm disappointed that we will not have the chance to bear the fruits of our labor because I think the program is ready to take off."
Many local athletes played under Rousey at CSUN, including his son, PJ He brought in players from Glendale Community College, including Al Quintana, Eddie Camacho, Ivan Lopez and Keith Bowman and saw former Crescenta Valley High graduate Bryan Longpre transfer to CSUN from Grossmont College prior to the 2009 campaign.
Longpre, who just completed his senior season, said Rousey's dismissal caught him off guard.
"He's probably the main reason why I went to CSUN," said Longpre, a pitcher who went 2-1 with a 4.54 earned-run average and 27 strikeouts to 12 walks this season. "I had offers from other schools but wanted to play for him.
"I was a little surprised he was let go because we had a winning season. He was fair and stern when he needed to be and I owe all of my success to him."
Rousey helped pitch Cal State Fullerton to the 1984 NCAA championship, spent parts of five seasons in the Seattle Mariners and Montreal Expos organizations and coached in the Cape Cod League.
During the last five summers, Rousey ran the annual Northridge Baseball Camp. Bringing in participants from the area and surrounding communities, Rousey and his assistants worked with campers on the fundamentals of the sport to help them prepare for the possibility of competing at the high school level and, perhaps, beyond.
Going forward, he said he hopes to coach again.
"Baseball and teaching are my passion," Rousey said. "Given my druthers, I'd like to continue to do what I love."