Oregon Baseball Coaching Search, Job Profile And Candidates
Oregon on Tuesday announced it and George Horton agreed not to exercise the mutual option in his contract for the 2020 season, bringing an end to his term as coach in Eugene. Horton led the Ducks for 11 seasons, leading them to five NCAA Tournament appearances and one super regional.
Horton was hired in 2007 to lead Oregon as it reinstated its baseball program following nearly 30 years of dormancy after it was dropped in 1981. He came to Eugene with strong credentials, having won the 2004 national title and been named 2003 Coach of the Year.
Horton had quick success at Oregon, leading it to a 40-win season and a regional appearance in 2010. The Ducks hosted a super regional in 2012 but were upset by Kent State. They won a program-record 48 games in 2013 and were the No. 8 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, but were upset in regionals by Rice.
The 2012-13 seasons represented the high-water mark for Oregon under Horton. It made regionals the next two years but saw its win total and position in the Pac-12 standings decline each year. Oregon hasn’t made a regional since 2015 and finished under .500 in each of the last two years, going 27-29 this spring.
Now, Oregon is back on the job market for the first time in more than a decade. It likely won’t find a coach as accomplished as Horton, who has won more than 1,000 games in his career. But it has a chance to reinvigorate a program that could use some upward momentum.
Previous Head Coach
George Horton: 378-278-1, 11 seasons
Oregon is a good job, but just how good is a bit of an unknown. The Ducks haven’t had to look for a head coach since hiring Horton away from Cal State Fullerton to restart the program just a few years after he had won a national championship. At the time, the prospect of restarting a Pac-10 program with a new stadium and the Oregon brand near peak cool was an exciting challenge. Now, Oregon hasn’t been to the postseason since 2015 and Oregon State has only revved up more, winning another national championship in 2018. To make matters worse, Washington has spent the last decade strengthening under Lindsay Meggs, making life tougher in the Pacific Northwest, and schools like Stanford and UCLA are increasingly pushing north to recruit the area’s premium talent such as Corbin Carrol, Tim Tawa and Michael Toglia. It’s still a Pac-12 job and will draw some good candidates, but the reality is this is a tricky job in 2019.
Andrew Checketts, head coach, UC Santa Barbara: As an Oregon native who pitched at Oregon State and served as pitching coach at Oregon before taking over at UCSB, Checketts, 43, is a natural fit. He’s won big with the Gauchos, taking them to the College World Series in 2016 and this year leading them to their first Big West title since 1986. Oregon represents a step up to be sure, but he’s also in a good situation at UCSB and can be particular about his next move.
Brian Green, head coach, New Mexico State: Oregon built PK Park as a pitchers’ haven, and the Ducks have mostly been a pitching-first team since the reinstatement. If they want a change in style, Green would bring a dynamic offensive approach to Eugene. This is a big jump, but Green was an assistant coach at both Kentucky and UCLA, and at Kentucky he crossed paths with Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, who was an assistant athletic director at the time.
Mark Wasikowski, head coach, Purdue: Wasikowski spent five years as an assistant coach at Oregon, leaving to take over at Purdue before the 2017 season. He last year led the Boilermakers to a second-place finish in the Big Ten and the third NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. They took a step back this season, and maybe that takes some of the shine off, but Wasikowski, 48, knows what it takes to win in Eugene.
Nate Yeskie, pitching coach, Oregon State: Yeskie is one of the most well-respected assistant coaches in the nation and in 2018 ranked 10th when Baseball America surveyed head coaches and asked which assistant coaches had the brightest futures as head coaches. The question here is whether Yeskie, 44, would be willing to change sides in the Civil War rivalry, a flip that feels unlikely.
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Whoever the next head coach is will inherit a young roster. The Ducks had a dozen juniors and seniors and they figure to at least lose infielder Spencer Steer, their leading hitter, and hard-throwing righthander Ryne Nelson to the draft. Righthander Kenyon Yovan, their Opening Day starter, is more of a question mark after being limited to two innings this season by a hand injury, and draft-eligible sophomore outfielder Jonny DeLuca seems likely to return after hitting .239/.319/.381. There will be talent on the roster next year, but Oregon will need better luck with injuries to take a step forward.
Oregon is the second Pac-12 job to open, joining Washington State, which got a jump on the carousel by firing Marty Lees last week before the final weekend of the regular season. Oregon State is also in some respects open, after Pat Casey retired unexpectedly in September and Pat Bailey was promoted to head coach on an interim basis. And there remains a watch on at Southern California, which didn’t have a winning record for the fourth year in a row. There may not be a ton of crossover in candidates among those schools, but there figures to be some and getting a quick start may be important.
Oregon State Factor
While Oregon has scuffled over the last four years, Oregon State, its archrival, has been operating at an elite level. The Beavers won 56 games in 2017 and clinched the Pac-12 title in Eugene. They won the national title in 2018 and are again hosting a regional this season, despite losing three top-40 draft picks from their lineup and a Hall of Famer from their dugout. To make matters worse, Oregon State has owned the head-to-head series recently, going 12-2 against Oregon in the last three years. The Beavers are among college baseball’s royalty right now so catching them isn’t a realistic goal in the immediate term, but the Ducks’ next coach is going to have to find a way to tighten up this series.