The 2012 coaching carousel started spinning less than an hour after after West Virginia ended its regular season Saturday with a 5-4 loss to South Florida. Mountaineers athletic director Oliver Luck announced that the university would not renew head coach Greg Van Zant's contract.
"Greg has spent a total of 26 years with the Mountaineer baseball program, including the last 18 as head coach, and we appreciate his many years of service to West Virginia University," Luck said in a statement. "During his time here, he has contributed to our baseball program as a student-athlete, assistant and head coach, and we wish him the best."
Van Zant posted a 528-451-1 record in his 18 seasons as head coach, including a 23-32 record this season. The Mountaineers won 35 or more games in 2006, '07 and '08, but they haven't been to a regional since 1996, Van Zant's second year as coach.
But as Van Zant told reporters after Saturday's game but before his dismissal was announced, West Virginia has not invested heavily in its program during his tenure.
"You're going to have success based on how well the school supports you," he said, per West Virginia Illustrated. "We've been in the Big East 17 years and we've only had eight and a half scholarships, and we've never been fully funded. You can go get a coach from wherever and they're just going to come from programs that have been fully funded that have success. You're only as good as your support.
"I think our school is going to make a commitment to baseball and we'll see what happens."
With West Virginia set to enter the Big 12 next season, the school might indeed be poised to ramp up its support for the baseball program. Its on-campus park—Hawley Field—could use additional seating, in addition to other improvements.
"I think we can easily play at Hawley Field," Van Zant said. "There's nothing wrong with playing Big 12 games at Hawley Field. We could play here right now. We need a major upgrade to the facility or a new facility, mainly to recruit with. It's not that we can't play the games here—this is a beautiful ballpark, we just need new dugouts and a clubhouse. I've been saying that for 15 years."
It's a shame Van Zant did not get to show what he could do with a full array of 11.7 scholarships and a better facility. His successor faces an uphill battle, leading a geographically disadvantaged program with substandard facilities into the Big 12. But if the university is serious about committing more resources to baseball, it will be interesting to see what kind of candidates West Virginia can attract.
One obvious possibility is former Arizona State coach Pat Murphy, who remains eager to return to the college coaching ranks. Hiring Murphy would be a bold move in light of the way his tenure ended at Arizona State, but the Mountaineers would be hard-pressed to find a more proven winner who might be receptive to their overtures. That kind of hire that would make a splash as the program transitions to the Big 12.