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Retired GU coach, baseball executive Larry Koentopp dies at 82

Larry Koentopp, left, purchased the Spokane Indians baseball team in 1979.
Larry Koentopp, left, purchased the Spokane Indians baseball team in 1979.

Larry Koentopp scratched his name on baseball in Spokane with a double-edged sword.

As a coach, he ushered the program at Gonzaga University into national prominence, including four NCAA tournament appearances and two finishes in the top 30 in the 1970s.

But he was also managing partner of the ownership group that moved the city’s Triple-A team to Las Vegas, an unpopular decision in his hometown even as it proved to be sound business in both the immediate and long term.

The retired coach and baseball executive died on Saturday in Las Vegas at the age of 82, as announced by the Las Vegas Aviators baseball club. No cause of death was revealed.

Koentopp was an all-state athlete at Gonzaga Prep and a 1959 GU grad who embarked on a coaching and teaching career in Newhall, California, for eight years before returning to Gonzaga for graduate work in 1968.

By 1970, he’d become the school’s head baseball coach – and athletic director in 1972 – and turned the Bulldogs into the power in the Big Sky Conference, winning four titles before the league eliminated baseball from its championship offerings. Koentopp’s Zags won another championship after moving into the NorPac Conference.

The NCAA tournament trips came in 1971, 1973, 1974 and 1976. The 1971 team finished 15th in the final Collegiate Baseball poll of the season; the Zags were 30th in 1974.

Five eventual major leaguers played under his watch – Lenn Sakata, Tom Gorman, Rick Sweet and a pair of Spokane standouts, Mike Davey and Casey Parsons. His teams went 289-138 in his eight years.

Koentopp stepped down from the baseball job in 1977 and the A.D. post a year later to lead a group of 13 original investors in purchasing the Spokane Indians, then a member of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League. Though attendance doubled in 1979 as management increased group-ticket and giveaway promotions, the group ran into immediate financial difficulties stemming from expenditures in stadium improvements and, in 1980, lost dates due to the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

After the 1982 season – in which the Indians won the Northern Division championship – the controlling board members elected to move the franchise to Las Vegas, where the city had just built 9,500-seat Cashman Field.

“I know some people were upset with me,” he told The Spokesman-Review in 1983. “We did what we felt was the best thing. It turned out to be right.”

The Las Vegas team drew 365,000 fans that first year – a 65 percent bump from what the Indians did in Spokane – and turned an immediate profit. A pair of PCL championships in 1986 and 1988 solidified the stature of the franchise, and in 1992 the Koentopp group sold the Stars for a then-minor league record $7 million – after purchasing the Spokane club from Bill Cutler 14 years earlier for a reported $180,000.

Koentopp continued to live in Las Vegas after the sale.

He is survived by three children – daughters Kery and Juli and son Kevin – daughter-in-law Rita and a grandson, Jake, as well as a brother, Jack, and his family.

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