Baseball – Former CBA Star Lillis Defends Marty Kenney Following Dismissal
Last week, Christian Brothers Academy sent out a press release celebrating the career of longtime head baseball coach Marty Kenney as his 46-year coaching career at CBA officially came to an end.
Not all of his former players and other alumni, however, were in a celebratory mood.
Kenney has not commented publicly on his parting with CBA, but a former player and current Shore Conference head coach has confirmed - as Shore Sports Network reported last week - that CBA indeed made the decision to not rehire Kenney despite his intention to return.
Ryan Lillis - a former CBA standout, Rutgers infielder and current head coach at Keansburg - said he and other Colts baseball alumni are not pleased with how things ended between their former coach and alma mater.
"It came as a shock to a lot of the alumni," Lillis said. "I can’t tell you how many I have talked to last few days. They want answers. We all want to know what is going on and we have been pretty much kept in the dark. A lot of people are upset with how it was done. It was not handled well.
"Coach has done so much for CBA and given so much to me and every player who has come through the program. He deserved to go out on his own terms and that is not what happened."
Lillis also said he felt compelled to speak publicly on CBA's decision because the press release composed by the school was unclear about why Kenney was no longer the coach. The press release did not address whether Kenney retired or the school chose not to bring him back.
"My number one concern is that Coach Kenney's character and reputation don’t suffer," Lillis said. "There was no incident that led to him being let go. (CBA) put out a press release and it didn't really get into why the decision was made so a lot of us were wondering what happened behind the scenes. I thought it was important to make it clear that coach did nothing wrong."
CBA Athletic Director Vito Chiaravalloti responded by reiterating what he said last week.
"We don't speak publicly about any conversations we have after the year and that goes for coaches and teachers," Chiaravalloti said. "There is no ill-will or animosity on our end. Coach Kenney made a lasting impact at this school and he is a good man. That should be the focus."
Kenney is still running his baseball camp over the summer, where Lillis helps as a coach on staff. According to Lillis, the two spoke on Wednesday after CBA put out the press release on Tuesday.
"Coach is such a class act - people were coming up to him and congratulating him on retiring and he just said 'thank you,'" Lillis said. "He wasn't going to make a big deal out of it."
After graduating from Rutgers, Lillis spent time as an assistant at CBA under Kenney before taking the head coaching position at North Brunswick High School. He then took a teaching position prior to the 2017-18 season and accepted the head coaching job there as well. He will head into his third season with the Titans in 2019.
Lillis and Chiaravalloti were teammates at CBA and hit back-to-back in the middle of the order in 1998, when Lillis was a senior and Chiaravalloti a junior. The two former teammates are also Nos. 2 and 3 all-time in career batting average at CBA, with Lillis hitting .497 over two varsity seasons and Chiaravalloti hitting .490 over three.
"I respect Ryan as a coach and I appreciate his point of view and the relationship he has with Coach Kenney," Chiaravalotti said. "I understand if he is disappointed that Coach Kenney is no longer the coach and my hope is that he and any other alumni who are disappointed will be able to support the next coach and the program going forward."
During his time at CBA and years after, Lillis grew close with the Kenney family, including Kenney's two sons, Marty Jr. and Chris. Both sons have been longtime assistants under their father, with Chris taking the head coaching job at East Brunswick in 2012 and Marty Jr. spending a stint as the associate head coach at DeSales University.
After Lillis's father passed away in 2006, Kenney and the program donated a bench on the spectator's side of the fence along the third base line as a memorial. Lillis has two younger brothers - Chris and Kevin - who also played at both CBA and Rutgers, both as pitchers.
"Instead of everybody chipping in for flowers, coach's idea was to put in a bench where my dad always watch the games," Lillis said. "Obviously, coach has done a lot for me as a player and a coach on the field but it's the personal stuff like that not everybody sees that really sticks with you."
Lillis was named Home New Tribune Baseball Coach of the Year in 2009 while at North Brunswick and is one of many of Kenney's former players who had always thought about one day coaching again at CBA after Kenney's career had ended. After the way things ended for his former coach, however, Lillis sees things differently.
"I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but I’m no longer interested," Lillis said. "I don’t know where those other guys stand."
Chiaravalotti said there have been alumni to apply for the job, which was posted on Friday.
"I'm sure there are alumni who feel the way Ryan does and that's disappointing to hear just based on how I feel about Ryan as a person and a coach," Chiaravalotti said. "My hope is that in time, he and anyone like him will feel differently. Our alumni are very important to us and our door will always open to them."
Lillis did say there was one way he thought the CBA administration could rectify the situation with the disillusioned alumni.
"The only way to make this situation right, as far as I'm concerned, is to hire Marty Jr," Lillis said.
Chiaravalotti said he considers Kenney Jr. a candidate for the position.
"Coach Kenney Jr. is absolutely a candidate," Chiaravalloti said. "He has a great reputation as a coach and a relationship with the school. He will be given the same opportunity as everyone else who applies and if he applies, he'd be a strong candidate."