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New recruits lay strong foundation at Santa Clara

By John Manuel

Sure, Arizona State signed 26 players during the November signing period, including Canadian lefthander Adam Loewen. And yeah, Texas got No. 1 prospect Scott Kazmir, and Florida State got a commitment from super shortstop B.J. Upton.

Southern California (shortstop Sergio Santos, catcher Jeff Clement) and Georgia Tech (righthander Jason Neighborgall) all had high-profile signings as well. But so did Santa Clara, with first-year head coach Mark O’Brien making an immediate impact in his efforts to revive a once-proud program.

The Broncos have reached 11 regionals since 1959, finishing second in the 1962 College World Series and making five straight trips from 1968-72. But the program hasn’t won the West Coast Conference since two-way star Mike Frank led the way in 1997, forcing the release of coach Mike Cummins in the offseason.

O’Brien, a former Stanford assistant and veteran of the Bay Area scene, hit the ground running, hiring experienced assistants such as Tom Myers (formerly of UC Santa Barbara) and Mike Oakland (Cal Poly) to share recruiting duties. Their first class includes 10 players, led by Top 100 prospects like righthanders Andrew Slorp (No. 62) and Scott Lonergan (No. 94).

Other headliners in the class include shortstop Michael Lange (West Covina, Calif.), catcher Michael McColgan (La Canada, Calif.,) and Slorp’s teammate from Bellarmine High in San Jose, outfielder/lefthander Jason Matteucci.

"I think these guys can make an impact for us," O’Brien said. "I’ve seen Slorp since his sophomore year in high school, and he’s got a prototypical pitcher’s body. He’s developed a nice slider and is a good competitor. And I’ve known Scott since he came to our camps at Stanford as a freshman. He was 5-foot-11, 150 (pounds) and now he’s 6-4, 200. To watch him pitch now is unbelievable."

What’s unbelievable is that the Broncos were able to secure such commitments without a big-name coach, big-name conference affiliation or haughty recent track record. It’s the kind of class that can go a long way toward re-establishing a program.

"I think it says a lot for the school that we were able to bring in this kind of class," said Myers, the team’s pitching coach. "Mark is approachable, he’s there for the kids and he can relate to them. We have a young staff, but we’re respected by kids because we’ve all had some success."

Bringing that kind of success to Santa Clara–the kind approaching the big-name schools–begins with recruiting. The Broncos’ new staff is off to a strong start.

Tripping In Texas

When a recruiting coordinator and full-time assistant coach leaves one major Division I program to become a volunteer coach at another program, it looks a little odd.

Apparently, something was odd about Trip Couch’s position at Texas. The former Houston assistant, who coached all-conference Cougars pitchers like Shane Nance and Kyle Crowell, has left his job as Texas’ volunteer assistant coach under a cloud of scrutiny.

The Longhorns athletic department admitted in late November it was responding to an NCAA inquiry regarding Couch’s outside employment record. As a volunteer assistant, Couch was not paid by Texas and like other volunteer assistants had to hold another job.

Couch was working for a local beverage distributor in October when the NCAA notified the Texas athletics department that Couch’s employment record was suspect. "By definition, a volunteer coach may not be on the athletics department payroll," a university release states. "Any compensation from a job arranged by the athletics department must be commensurate with the duties performed, and the time devoted must be consistent with that of others receiving similar compensation."

After a visit from an NCAA enforcement staff member, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds initiated an investigation within the athletic department. The department has retained Austin attorney Knox Nunnally to oversee the investigation and has asked employees, including head baseball coach Augie Garrido, to withhold comment until Nunnally completes his work.

Houston television station KRIV, citing an October letter obtained under the Texas Public Information Act, reported the NCAA was investigating the "permissibility of recruiting activities" by Couch.

"My initial assessment of the investigation to date is that there was no preconceived intent on the part of any UT staff member to violate NCAA rules regarding volunteer coaching positions," Nunnally said.

Couch joined Texas in January 2001 and was included in Houston’s 2001 media guide as well as Texas’ guide. Cougars assistant coach Todd Whitting, who worked with Couch for five years, says the split was amicable.

"He left a couple of weeks before the season, but he left on good terms with coach (Rayner) Noble," Whitting said. "It was an opportunity for him to go work with coach Garrido and be in a different system. I think Trip looked at it as a good opportunity."

Couch has taken a job back in Houston as director of marketing for Baseball USA, a youth baseball organization that has helped foster youth programs in the Houston metropolitan area. A call to his office was not returned.

AROUND THE NATION

• A series of "major infractions" led the NCAA to place Howard on probation in five sports, including baseball, which will have minor scholarship cuts. The NCAA cited a lack of institutional control. In one incident, a baseball player was enrolled in six hours of summer classes, despite the fact he wasn’t on campus for the summer. The cost of those courses was paid through a loan deposited in his account.

• Six baseball players were named to the West Coast Conference’s top 50 athletes list: former big league outfielder Bill Bean (Loyola Marymount), Padres minor leaguer Taggert Bozied (San Francisco), knuckleballer Tom Candiotti (Saint Mary’s), the late Tim Layana (Loyola Marymount), current Pepperdine assistant Steve Rodriguez (Pepperdine) and former Astros ace Mike Scott (Pepperdine).

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