Air Force has sent a strong message this offseason that it is serious about turning its struggling baseball program around. First the Falcons hired the well-respected Maj. Mike Kazlausky (who came with glowing recommendations from Louisiana State coach Paul Mainieri and USA Baseball general manager of national teams Eric Campbell) to take over as head coach. Then they hired Toby Bicknell away from Davidson to serve as hitting coach. On Tuesday, Air Force announced it has hired Tim Dixon away from Southern Illinois to be its pitching coach.
Dixon has an excellent reputation in the Midwest and has coached seven draft picks in his four years at SIU, including 2008 second-rounder Cody Adams. Before arriving at SIU he spent two years at Feather River (Calif.) JC and two at Pacific.
“To be a part of what the Air Force Academy represents is truly an honor and privilege,” Dixon said in a release. “Alongside everyone involved with Falcon baseball, I look forward to raising the expectations of the program to the standards of what the Air Force Academy and the Air Force represents.”
Some other coaching news and rumblings:
• Loyola Marymount officially announced its hiring of Bryant Ward as hitting coach. Ward left South Florida last month to join LMU head coach Jason Gill and pitching coach Ted Silva, both of whom worked with Ward at Cal State Fullerton in 2005-06. South Florida, meanwhile, is expected to name a successor for pitching coach Lazer Collazo in the next couple of days.
• UNC Wilmington assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Randy Hood has interest in the Winthrop head coaching job, but no interview has been formally scheduled. Winthrop's search for a replacement for Joe Hudak has moved very slowly, but the process should start speeding up now. According to Karl Lyles of the Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald, who has followed this process closely, the Eagles will stop accepting applications on Wednesday, and they hope to have their head coach in place by Aug. 1.
Lyles told me today that he spoke with former big league lefthander Frank Viola, and Viola said he is interested in the job. Viola's daughter plays volleyball at Winthrop, and he has attended five or six Winthrop baseball homestands over the past few seasons. Viola is currently coaching with Leesburg in the Florida Collegiate Summer league. A three-time major league all-star, Viola also pitched in the College World Series with St. John's.
Other candidates for the job include North Carolina pitching coach Scott Forbes, Art Inabinet of Division II power Francis Marion (S.C.) and Kenny Thomas of D-II South Carolina-Aiken. Forbes also could be in the mix for the South Carolina pitching coach job, although the front-runner for that job seems to be Louisville pitching coach Roger Williams. Both Forbes and Williams served alongside South Carolina assistant Chad Holbrook at UNC. Holbrook, meanwhile, is close to being named head coach-in-waiting at South Carolina, according to multiple South Carolina beat writers.
• I caught up with new Notre Dame coach Mik Aoki recently. Here are some of his thoughts:
On leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big East: "If you think of Notre Dame and its tradition of athletics in the NCAA, I think certainly an extremely strong argument can be made that Notre Dame is the biggest brand name in college athletics. Maybe the Big East doesn't have as much cachet from a baseball standpoint as the ACC, but the Big East is still pretty good. Looking at a Louisville team that has basically lived inside the top 15 since Dan (McDonnell) got that program going. UConn had a great year last year, and St. John's to me might be a top 15 team next year. They are really, really good, and they got that thing going. Pitt made a strong run at the beginning of the year. I felt this way when I was at BC and we were in Big East—I think the Big East is a little under-appreciated conference. And from a name-brand standpoint, this is a place where we can compete for championships.
On the challenges of winning at a cold-weather school: "The biggest thing to me in cold weather is, if you're in a cold-weather climate, you need to have the facilities to train in cold weather. Notre Dame does, and BC did. We've got the ability to pitch to hitters and for hitters to see live at-bats and do all those things. The crux of this game comes down to that sort of confrontation between the pitchers and the hitter. If you can develop those things, you might be a week or two behind the team aspect of seeing a fly ball in blue skies, etc., but that stuff is going to catch up pretty quickly. What should be attractive to kids when they're considering schools is a program that allows them to win at as high a level as they can, and a program that will develop their abilities and go on to play pro baseball. Notre Dame, go back four years they were the Big East regular-season champs; go back eight years they were in Omaha."
On the advantages of coaching at an academically rigorous school: "The big part of choosing the school should be getting the very best education you can possibly get. It doesn't get too much better than Notre Dame. Granted we do obviously shrink our pool of kids we can go and recruit for this place vs. 90 percent of the other schools in America. But the thing that people miss with that whole thing is the kids who have the grades to get into a place like Notre Dame or Stanford or Boston College, they're sort of pre-disposed to want to go to a place like this anyway. Very rarely do you see a kid with 1350 on his SATs and top 15 in his class opt to go to a junior college. It's the finding them that's a challenge, not as much the selling it to them."
On moving to a better place to raise his family: "I think it's going to be a good move for my family. BC is an awesome place, the cold weather is whatever, to me it doesn't make a whole heck of a lot of difference. In some ways I wish it was in a place with a lesser cost of living, and i could have afforded to live two or three miles from campus. I don't know who the highest paid coach in college baseball is, I'm guessing it's Augie (Garrido). But i'm guessing if Augie was making the same thing at Boston College, he would have a hard time living in Chestnut Hill. it's just a high-rent district. I've got a young family, three kids under 5, and to have them grow up on a campus like Notre Dame and to be able to afford to grow up where it would be easy to take advantage of that—come and go easily, not have to fight the afternoon commute or morning commute or what have you—it's a really big deal for my wife and me. If my son has a play or a game, I can go catch a little of it and still make it back for BP."
On new Boston College coach Mike Gambino: "I'm thrilled for that hire. I think it's perfect. BC is one of those places that represents some different challenges, and Mike being an alum, Mike having coached there, I think he's really familiar with those challenges. I think Mike will do a great job, he's a kid who's highly organized, he has a huge motor in him to go and do it. BC's a place you need that, you need a big motor, you need to have a passion for the place. The passion has to ooze out of you, and he does. That kid absolutely bleeds maroon and gold, and I think that he will represent the same types of values that served both Pete (Hughes) and me well there. I'm excited for Mike, I'm excited for BC, and I know there's probably going to be a little trepidation on the part of our players and some of the incoming kids that are there. But I think he's the perfect guy at the perfect time, and I'm really thrilled that he was the guy that they chose."
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