Coaching Carousel: 50 Names To Watch
The 2019 college baseball coaching carousel started spinning last June when legendary Florida State coach Mike Martin announced this spring would be his last in the Seminoles’ dugout. The intrigue to this year’s carousel built in September when Pat Casey, the reigning national champion, announced his own retirement at Oregon State and Pat Bailey was tagged as the interim head coach for the 2019 season.
Now, with the end of the season upon us, the coaching carousel is getting ready to heat up in earnest. In preparation, Baseball America has for the second year in a row, put together a catalogue of 50 coaches to keep an eye on during what figures to be a busy summer of coaching changes.
Mike Martin Jr., recruiting coordinator, Florida State: For the last couple years, college baseball’s favorite parlor game has been speculating about who would replace Mike Martin at Florida State. This summer, that question will finally be answered. Rumors haven’t been hard to come by in this search, but actual information has. The process was complicated in August when Stan Wilcox left his post as Florida State’s athletic director for a job with the NCAA. David Coburn, who had no experience running an athletic department, was initially named interim athletic director, but has since been given the position permanently. All of that has made for a slow-moving search. Martin’s preference is for Martin Jr., 46. to be his successor and that endorsement carries some weight in the process, but the decision is out of his hands. Martin Jr. has a real shot at the job but there is clearly resistance to simply passing him through. He has done a great job as Florida State’s recruiting coordinator and last fall landed the No. 3 class in the country, his fifth straight top-10 class. Martin Jr. clearly knows what it takes to win at Florida State and has proven his abilities as both a recruiter and hitting coach in 22 years on staff in Tallahassee.
Link Jarrett, head coach, UNC Greensboro: If not Martin Jr., then who? The Mike Martin coaching tree is not as large as you might think considering he has held the job for 40 years and won more than 2,000 games. But Jarrett, 47, is a solid branch. He played for Florida State and spent one year on staff under Martin before moving on to Mercer, East Carolina and Auburn. He has been head coach at UNC Greensboro for seven years and, in successive seasons, led the Spartans to their first NCAA Tournament appearance and regular-season title in 20 years. It’s a big jump from UNCG to Florida State, but his head-coaching experience and Florida State ties are two items in his favor. If the Seminoles want to stay in the family without staying in the family, Jarrett is probably the best option.
Pat Casey, special assistant to the athletic director, Oregon State: If you’re looking for intrigue in this year’s carousel, look no further than Corvallis. Casey stunned college baseball when he announced his retirement in September, three months after winning the third national championship of his career. Oregon State promoted associate head coach Pat Bailey but placed an interim tag on him. If that wasn’t enough, it was later revealed that athletic director Scott Barnes inserted a clause into Casey’s reworked contract that gives the 2006 BA Coach of the Year a one-time option this June to return to his previous role as head coach. Casey, 60, is being paid handsomely in his new role as a special assistant to the athletic director, but at his retirement press conference he didn’t sound completely convicted in his decision and many around the game expect to see him back in the dugout. It’s also worth noting that if Casey does return to the dugout, something has to give on staff. Andy Jenkins was promoted from volunteer assistant to full-time when Casey retired, and he’s highly regarded as well. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s one that has to be resolved soon.
Pat Bailey, interim head coach, Oregon State: If Casey doesn’t return, the expectation is that Barnes will remove the interim tag from Bailey’s title. He’s led the Beavers to a 36-18-1 record this season and a third-place finish in the Pac-12, despite three players from last year’s national championship team being drafted in the top 40 picks and ace Kevin Abel being lost for the season to injury in March. Bailey has been on staff at Oregon State for a decade and won the 2004 NAIA national championship as the head coach of George Fox (Ore.).
Nate Yeskie, pitching coach, Oregon State: The Beavers and Barnes do have options, however. Yeskie, 44, has embraced analytics and the new-age technology and melds it with the focused, meticulous culture fostered in Corvallis by Pat Casey. That combination should continue to play well as a head coach. With so much turnover expected in the Pac-12 this year, he’s expected to be a hot name.
Andrew Checketts, head coach, UC Santa Barbara: Speaking of Pac-12 turnover, Checketts is certain to be at the top of the list for any big Pac-12 job that opens. Checketts, 43, is an Oregon native who pitched at Oregon State and was pitching coach at Oregon before taking over as head coach at UCSB. He’s done an outstanding job with the Gauchos, who hosted a regional for the first time in 2015, reached the College World Series for the first time the next season and this year won their first Big West title since 1986. He should be a slam dunk top candidate for any of the big jobs that open.
T.J. Bruce, head coach, Nevada: This year’s first firing came when Long Beach State let go of Troy Buckley in April. One of the clear favorites to take over the Dirtbags is Bruce, 37. He played at Long Beach and served there as an assistant coach for four years. Bruce has plenty of connections to the school, but he’s also one of the game’s bright young coaches. He spent four years as UCLA’s recruiting coordinator and was a part of the 2013 national championship team before taking over as head coach at Nevada in 2016. He led the Wolfpack to the Mountain West title in 2018, though they took a step back this season.
Dave Serrano, analyst, Baseball America: Serrano, the 2007 Coach of the Year, had a wealth of success as head coach at UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton, leading both programs to College World Series appearances. His six years at Tennessee didn’t produce similar success but Serrano’s reputation as a coach remains strong, especially out West. It didn’t take long after Buckley was fired for Serrano’s name to come up for the Long Beach job and with as much movement as is expected in that part of the country, that likely won’t be the only place he’s connected.
Reggie Christensen, head coach, Sacramento State: Bruce is an obvious candidate at Long Beach, but the Dirtbags will have no shortage of interested parties. Christensen has quietly built Sacramento State into one of California’s most consistent programs and has led the Hornets to their only two regionals appearances in program history. Christensen is putting together another solid season and whether it’s at Long Beach or somewhere else in the Big West or Mountain West, he will draw looks.
Eric Valenzuela, head coach, Saint Mary’s: Valenzuela, 40, has invigorated Saint Mary’s, a program that before he arrived had just two winning seasons since 1991. He led the Gaels in 2016 to their first NCAA Tournament appearance and they’ve become consistent contenders in the league. Valenzuela has strong Southern California connections from his playing days and time as an assistant coach at San Diego and San Diego State, and a return would be right in his sweet spot.
Jim Schlossnagle, head coach, Texas Christian: Schlossnagle has been in the mix for the biggest jobs that have opened in recent years but has opted to stay at TCU. He has a considerable contract and it’s not clear that any job that will open would make the kind of financial commitment necessary to lure Schlossnagle, 48. Even after a couple of subpar seasons by TCU’s lofty standard, he’s one of the biggest names in the industry and if there is an opening that would be willing to step up, Schlossnagle has shown in the past that he’s willing to listen.
Cliff Godwin, head coach, East Carolina: Godwin has been a hot name in previous carousels but so far no one has been able to lure him away from his alma mater, including Alabama and Mississippi State. He very much wants to get East Carolina to the College World Series for the first time in program history. Would he be more open to leaving if the Pirates reach Omaha? He has a good thing going in Greenville, but he’ll also continue to be highly sought after in the job market.
Tony Vitello, head coach, Tennessee: Vitello, 40, has quickly made an impression since taking over at Tennessee two years ago. He this year has the Vols on the cusp of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005 and has a strong reputation as a recruiter. It’s difficult to hire away sitting SEC head coaches – it hasn’t happened since John Cohen went from Kentucky to Mississippi State more than a decade ago – but Vitello has turned some heads and Tennessee lags behind in the facilities race, creating a dynamic where it might be possible.
Steve Rodriguez, head coach, Baylor: Rodriguez has an excellent track record as a head coach, first at Pepperdine, his alma mater, and now at Baylor, which he has in regionals for the third straight year. It would take a lot to pull him out of Waco, but if big Pac-12 jobs do open, he would be a natural fit.
Shawn Stiffler, head coach, Virginia Commonwealth: In seven years as Rams head coach, Stiffler, 40, has led them to super regionals and their first two regular season conference titles since 2003 (2017 and 2019). In making VCU a consistent contender in the competitive Atlantic 10 Conference, he’s established himself as one of the best young coaches in the country and more high-end interest should follow.
Brian Green, head coach, New Mexico State: The Aggies have put up eye-popping offensive numbers during Green’s tenure in Las Cruces and they’ve been a consistent force in the Western Athletic Conference, reaching regionals in 2018 and claiming this year’s Western Athletic Conference title. Green has been an assistant at both UCLA and Kentucky, adding some cache to his resume, and he figures to be a popular name this summer.
Steve Owens, head coach, Bryant: Owens, 53, has built Bryant into one of the most consistent programs in the Northeast. He’s won eight straight regular season titles in the Northeast Conference and this year won 40 games for the fourth time at Bryant. With his track record of winning (which dates back to his days at Cortland State (N.Y.), which he took to four Division III World Series) and developing talent at places off the beaten path, he presents an attractive package to athletic directors.
Kevin McMullan, associate head coach, Virginia: McMullan, the 2009 Assistant Coach of the Year, has been voted by head coaches as the assistant coach with the brightest future as a head coach each of the last two times Baseball America has held the survey. He’s been Virginia’s recruiting coordinator for the last 15 years and helped the Cavaliers win the 2015 national championship. McMullan is clearly comfortable in Charlottesville, but there’s little doubt he’d be successful as a head coach and would be a strong fit anywhere in the Midwest or along the East Coast.
Mitch Gaspard, volunteer head coach, Georgia: A season ago, Pete Hughes, the former Virginia Tech and Oklahoma head coach, held this job for a year and wound up getting hired as Kansas State’s head coach. Gaspard also has head coaching on his resume (seven years at Alabama) and spent two seasons as associate head coach at Kansas State before coming to Athens. His tenure at Alabama wasn’t spectacular, but for a school looking for an experienced, steady hand, Gaspard would be a good fit.
Bryant Ward, recruiting coordinator, UCLA: Ward has become one of the best recruiting coordinators on the West Coast, first at Loyola Marymount, where he landed the school’s first Top 25 class in 15 years, and then at UCLA, where he has continued the Bruins’ strong tradition on the recruiting trail. With UCLA having a spectacular season, Bryant’s stock has received an extra boost. John Savage’s assistant coaches have a strong track record as head coaches and Ward could well add a branch to Savage’s coaching tree this summer in the Big West or West Coast Conference.
Jason Kelly, associate head coach, Washington: As pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, Kelly has played a key role in Washington’s success, including the Huskies breakthrough run to the College World Series last season. He landed back-to-back Top 25 recruiting classes in 2015 and 2016, the first Top 25 classes in program history. He has California ties from his days at Cal Poly and Chico State and could be in the mix for openings back in Southern California, but he’s also been tied to the opening at Washington State.
Kirk Saarloos, pitching coach, Texas Christian: Saarloos, 39, ranked second on last fall’s survey of the assistant coaches with the brightest futures as head coaches. He rocketed to the top of the assistant coaching ranks after his playing career, which included seven years in the big leagues, ended. With his time at Cal State Fullerton and TCU, Saarloos would be a fit nearly anywhere in the country. He’s been in the mix for some premium jobs already and will continue to be, but he’s in a good spot at TCU and can afford to be particular about his next step.
Mark Wasikowski, head coach, Purdue: The Boilermakers took a step back this year after their impressive 2018 season in Wasikowski’s second year in West Lafayette that saw them finish second in the Big Ten and reach regionals for just the third time in regional history. Wasikowski has spent most of his coaching career on the West Coast, including 15 years in the Pac-12. With so much movement expected out West and his track record for recruiting in that part of the country, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get in the mix.
Dan Heefner, head coach, Dallas Baptist: Heefner has garnered significant interest in recent years, reportedly turning down Baylor in 2015 and interviewing at Texas the next year. He has over the last decade built DBU into a mid-major power and this year won his second Missouri Valley Conference title. Heefner, 41, will continue to remain a hot name for big jobs, but he’s in a good spot and can pick his next move carefully.
Pat Hallmark, head coach, Incarnate Word: Hallmark spent 11 years on staff at Rice before taking over at UIW. He’s quickly turned the Cardinals into a contender in the Southland Conference after four straight losing seasons before he arrived in San Antonio. Hallmark’s pedigree and the speed of the turnaround make for an attractive combination.
Matt Deggs, head coach, Sam Houston State: Deggs has one of the most interesting back stories of any coach in the country. He was once a fast-rising assistant at Texas A&M but was fired in 2011, when his drinking problem got out of control. He was out of the game for a year before Louisiana-Lafayette gave him a second chance. He has taken full advantage of it and was hired as head coach at Sam Houston State two years later. He in 2017 led the Bearkats to super regionals and then raised his profile further when his emotional press conference after they were eliminated at Florida State went viral. He has very openly talked about his journey since then, becoming something of an inspirational speaker. Along the way, Sam Houston State has kept winning and he’s won three straight Southland Conference titles. Deggs’ path has been unusual, but his stock is once again on the rise.
Erik Bakich, head coach, Michigan: He’s been in the mix for some big jobs in recent years including South Carolina and Stanford but has ultimately chosen to stay in Ann Arbor. Bakich, 41, is an excellent coach with an impressive resume and has Michigan positioned for a regionals bid. It doesn’t seem like any of the likely open jobs will seriously tempt him, but that could change.
Jim Foster, head coach, Army: Foster is in his third season as head coach at Army and this season has the Black Knights in regionals for the second year in a row for the first time since 2012-13. He previously was the pitching coach at Boston College, where helped the Eagles reach super regionals in 2016 and helped develop Justin Dunn into a first-round pick. He also spent nine years as head coach at Rhode Island, winning a pair of Atlantic-10 Conference titles. In short, he’s won a lot at schools that aren’t traditional powers. Any bigger job in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic would do well to consider Foster.
Greg Lovelady, head coach, Central Florida: Lovelady, 40, is the kind of young, energetic coach that many athletic directors are looking for and he has won big at the outset of his head coaching career. He last season led the Knights to the American Athletic Conference title in his first year in Orlando and took Wright State to back-to-back regional finals. UCF is a good job and has an ascendant athletic department, but Lovelady is on the rise as well.
Chris Pollard, head coach, Duke: Pollard has taken a dormant program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968 and turned it into a consistent regional team. He led the Blue Devils to regionals in two of the last three years and should have them back again this season. And that success came after he took Appalachian State to a regional final. After those turnarounds, he should be getting looks for premium jobs.
Todd Whitting, head coach, Houston: Whitting has built Houston into the most consistent program in the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars have won either the regular season or tournament title in four of the last six years and in 2014 reached super regionals. Coaches from the American have moved up to major jobs in recent years including David Pierce at Texas and Mark Kingston at South Carolina. Whiting has the chops to join them in the Power Five, but the right jobs may not come up this summer.
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Derek Matlock, head coach, Texas-Rio Grande Valley: Matlock, 51, came to UTRGV from West Virginia, where he served as recruiting coordinator and helped put together much of the roster that has the Mountaineers rolling this season. He’s also quickly turned UTGRV around and the Vaqueros this spring tied for the Western Athletic Conference regular season title in Matlock’s second season. His quick success as a head coach and recruiting prowess in Texas makes for an intriguing combination.
Andy Stankiewicz, head coach, Grand Canyon: Stankiewicz has a strong resume that includes experience in pro ball, as an assistant coach in the Pac-12 and now leading Grand Canyon through a highly successful transition from Division II to Division I. He’d make sense for any of a number of West Coast jobs but getting him to leave GCU may be difficult.
Kerrick Jackson, head coach, Southern: In his second year at Southern, Jackson completed one of the biggest turnarounds in the nation. After winning just nine games a year ago, the Jaguars this year are 32-22 and won the SWAC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. Perhaps just as importantly, Southern had a perfect APR score last year after just a couple years ago being ineligible for the postseason due to its poor RPI. Jackson previously was an assistant coach at Missouri and worked for Boras Corp., making for an interesting all-around resume.
Justin Haire, head coach, Campbell: Haire has quickly risen through the coaching ranks, going from NAIA assistant coach to Division I head coach in a decade. He’s done strong work in his five years as the Camels’ head coach, leading them to back-to-back Big South titles and NCAA Tournament appearances. Haire has also increased the talent level of the roster and the Camels this year will have players drafted in the top 10 rounds for the first time since 2002. It won’t be long before Haire, 38, is in the mix for bigger jobs.
Casey Dunn, head coach, Samford: In 15 years at Samford, Dunn has won nearly 500 games and this year led the Bulldogs to their first ever Southern Conference regular season title. Dunn, 42, combines experience and youth, not all that unlike Matt Bragga a year ago. Samford hasn’t broken through to quite the level Tennessee Tech did last year, but a Cinderella NCAA Tournament run would certainly capture attention.
Steve Holm, head coach, Illinois State: Holm made quite the splash in his debut season as a head coach, leading Illinois State to a share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title and has it in line for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010. Before taking over Illinois State, Holm was an assistant at Purdue and Sacramento State, giving him a wide range of experience. It’s rare for a head coach to only stay one year in a job, but Holm’s instant success with a team that won only 22 games a season ago has turned some heads.
Jose Vazquez, head coach, Alabama State: Vazquez was promoted to head coach three years ago to succeed Mervyl Melendez and has won the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular season title in back-to-back years. Vazquez may need more seasoning as a head coach before he makes a jump but given the success Vazquez has had in recruiting and the way Melendez has recruited to Florida international since arriving there, an athletic director could be tempted to give Vazquez a shot.
Jeff Duncan, head coach, Kent State: If Miami (Ohio) is the cradle of coaching for football, fellow Mid-American Conference school Kent State holds that distinction in baseball. Ohio State’s Greg Beals, Georgia Tech’s Danny Hall and Georgia’s Scott Stricklin all have ties to the school and Duncan, 40, figures to follow them to the Power Five level sooner or later. In six years at Kent State, he has averaged 36 wins a year and has led the Golden Flashes to three regular-season titles and two MAC Tournament titles. An Arizona State alumnus who has coached in the SEC and the Big Ten, Duncan has ties to nearly every part of the country.
Matt Riser, head coach, Southeast Louisiana: Riser was the youngest Division I coach in the country for the first couple years of his tenure at Southeastern and, at 34-years old, he’s still among the youngest. He’s done impressive work with the Lions, leading them to the NCAA Tournament three times in his six seasons at the helm and Southeastern has become one of the most consistent programs in the Southland during his tenure. That body of work is sure to draw interest from larger schools sooner or later.
Bobby Barbier, head coach, Northwestern State: Northwestern State is a hotbed for coaches, incubating the likes of John Cohen, Mitch Gaspard, Dave Van Horn and Jim Wells, all of whom went on to have success in the SEC. Barbier last year led the Demons to the Southland Conference Tournament title and went 1-2 in the Corvallis Regional. This season didn’t have the same kind of special ending, but Barbier, 34, still figures to follow the trail blazed out of Natchitoches, La., sooner or later.
Carl Lafferty, recruiting coordinator, Mississippi: SEC assistant coaches have been in hot demand in recent years. Lafferty is the longest tenured assistant in the league, having spent 13 years at his alma mater. Lafferty’s experience in the league and the success of Ole Miss’ top-ranked 2016 recruiting class, the first No. 1 recruiting class in school history, give him a strong resume.
Josh Jordan, associate head coach, Duke: Jordan has been with Pollard for the last 13 years, dating back to their Appalachian State days. He has been a key part of Duke’s rise and his 2016 recruiting class was just the program’s second ever Top 25 class. Much like Pollard, Jordan’s role in the almost unprecedented success at Appalachian State and Duke should capture the attention of athletic directors.
Nick Schnabel, assistant head coach, Michigan: As recruiting coordinator, Schnabel assembled Michigan’s tenth-ranked 2017 recruiting class, the highest ranked recruiting class in Big Ten history. He has coached all along the East Coast, from Chipola (Fla.) JC to Army, and has helped the Wolverines recruit nationally.
Dan Fitzgerald, associate head coach, Dallas Baptist: Fitzgerald was the head coach at Des Moines (Iowa) JC for five years before moving to DBU for the 2013 season and he may soon be leading a program again, this time at the Division I level. His prowess as a recruiter and his role in helping make DBU one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the country should be attractive to athletic directors. It doesn’t hurt that the Patriots this year won the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time since 2016.
Sergio Brown, recruiting coordinator, Arizona: Brown came to Arizona with Jay Johnson three years ago and has played a key role in the Wildcats’ success in that time. The Wildcats have landed three straight Top 25 recruiting classes and been among the Pac-12’s most consistent teams. Brown has 15 years of experience as an assistant coach on the West Coast and would be a strong candidate for in that part of the country.
Lance Rhodes, recruiting coordinator, Missouri: Rhodes, 33, is a fast riser who has done strong work alongside Steve Bieser at Southeast Missouri State and Missouri. As a pitching coach, he mentored All-American Joey Lucchesi at SEMO and has recruited at a high level at Missouri. His midwestern ties are strong and he could be a fit for an athletic director looking for a young, up-and-coming coach.
Chad Caillet, associate head coach, Southern Mississippi: Caillet has been on staff at his alma mater for more than a decade, helping Southern Miss become one of Conference USA’s powerhouses. In that time, he’s developed a strong reputation as a recruiter and a hitting coach. Before returning to Southern Miss, he was head coach at Meridian (Miss.) JC for one season, giving him some experience running a program.
Derek Simmons, recruiting coordinator, Kent State: Simmons, 32, is one of the hot, young assistant coaches in the country. He has experience at Central Michigan, Kennesaw State and Alabama and has now spent two seasons at Kent State. He also has been a regular with USA Baseball during the summer. Simmons doesn’t have to be in a rush to get to a head coaching role, but his energy and success on the recruiting trail make him an intriguing candidate for mid-major openings.
Eric Snider, recruiting coordinator, Louisville: Snider came to Louisville in July 2014 after 16 seasons at Illinois. He’s a highly respected hitting coach and recruiter who ranked fifth on last year’s survey of assistant coaches with the brightest futures as head coaches. Snider is well connected in the Midwest and would be a good fit anywhere in the region if he wants a shot as a head coach.