OMAHA—Some teams are just happy to get here.
No one wants to say that when they get to the College World Series. Everyone's in it to win it, right?
But when the games start being played, it can be obvious which teams can win in Omaha and which ones are just happy to be here. That's been true at late and lamented Rosenblatt Stadium—think 2000 San Jose State—or here at TD Ameritrade Park.
The shining park that points the wrong way has replaced the stadium on a hill, and the Series just keeps growing as an event. College baseball is now a sport where coaches make $1 million salaries; the money in college athletics has mushroomed and changed the sport and its showplace event. And sometimes, the event is just too big for some teams.
Stony Brook in 2012 stands out for me. The Seawolves shocked many when they went to Baton Rouge and beat LSU in a super regional to get to Omaha, and they were media and fan darlings that year, with the longest line of autograph seekers for the kids from Long Island.
I'll always remember the wonder in Travis Jankowski's eyes when he talked about the scope of the event, and I'll also remember how Stony Brook school officials passed out plastic souvenir pens in the press box halfway through the Wolves' second game as they went a quick 2-and-barbecue.
Stony Brook was a good baseball program before that Series; it's a good program now. But that 52-win team has proved an outlier, as in the ensuing four years the Seawolves have made one regional appearance and had two seasons of .500 or worse.
In other words, it's hard to get here and harder to keep getting here, so getting here and winning—not just being happy to be here—matters more than anything. Here's what it would mean to win it all for all eight participants.
Arizona: The Wildcats are shooting for their fifth national title, which would break a tie with Miami and Cal State Fullerton, which like Arizona have won the CWS four times. The only schools with more championships: in-state rival Arizona State (five, last in 1981), LSU (last in 2009) and Texas ('05) with six apiece and Southern California (12, 1998).
Of course it would be the first for first-year head coach Jay Johnson, the 39-year-old in just his third season as a Division I head coach. The only other school with titles won by three coaches is USC with Sam Berry officially listed as the 1948 coach, Rod Dedeaux (listed as co-coach in '48) with 10 titles from 1958-78 and Mike Gillespie in '98.
Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers have several similarities to Stony Brook, including winning a super regional at LSU to get to Omaha.
"When I was recruited, you knew the tradition and how they were knocking on Omaha's door," senior Tyler Chadwick said, referencing 2008 (North Carolina) and 2010 (South Carolina) super regional losses. "Now leaving it, we finally got to that next level and knocked that door down."
Getting here means a lot, coach Gary Gilmore said, not just for the program, which is moving from the Big South into the Sun Belt Conference, but for the university.
"It's been 21 years of sweat and toil at a small mid-major, trying to build a program," he said. "Probably as important as it has been to our baseball program, I think honestly it's bigger to our school . . .
"I know this may sound crazy, but we may double our fan base at our university because of this experience. And every mid-major university . . . there has to be stepping stones to being something bigger than a mid-major. And going into the Sun Belt next year and starting I-A football, this is a huge, huge stepping stone for our school."
Florida: The program's first Series title in its 10th CWS trip would further establish Florida's bona fides as true national baseball power, erasing the notion that coach Kevin O'Sullivan can't win the big one. That's kind of ridiculous considering the Gators have gotten here five times since 2010 under O'Sullivan; were those super regionals not "big games"?
Florida would be the first BA preseason No. 1 team to win the national championship since 1997 (LSU). No national No. 1 seed has won it all since 1999 (Miami).
It also would tie O'Sullivan with his old Clemson fellow assistant Tim Corbin in national titles at one apiece. I propose they arm-wrestle on SEC Network to break the tie. Corbs has the better accent. Sully has the better tan. Arm wrestling seems to be the most frivolous way to break the tie, gentlemen.
Miami: Jim Morris would vault into elite territory with a third national championship to go with those he won with the Hurricanes in 1999 and 2001. The only coaches with more than three titles: Dedeaux with 10, and Augie Garrido and Skip Bertman with five. Others coaches with three: Minnesota's Dick Siebert (1956, '60 and '64), Arizona's Jerry Kindall—who of course played for Siebert on the '56 Gophers and coached winners in 1976, '80 and '86—and Arizona State's Bobby Winkles (1965, '67 and '69).
Like Arizona, Miami is gunning for its fifth national title; this one would give the Atlantic Coast Conference back-to-back championships.
Oklahoma State: Just getting here set one Omaha record. Josh Holliday pilots the Cowboys to the Series just like his father Tom did in 1999. They're the first father-son tandem to lead teams to the CWS; both did it for the same school. (The only other analogue I can find is in men's basketball is John Thompson and his son John III, who both took Georgetown to Final Fours.)
And a title, which eluded the father both as a head coach and as an OK State assistant in the program's glory days under Gary Ward—10 trips from 1981-96—would be the program's first since 1959. Think that would open some pocketbooks for improvements at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium?
The younger Holliday, a catcher/third baseman on the '99 team, sounded like a future coach even when he played. He's already a hot coaching commodity and would be hotter after a title, as would his top assistant, former Oral Roberts head coach Rob Walton.
Texas Christian: TCU won national championships in football (as voted on in national polls) in 1935 and '38 but has no national titles in post-war NCAA history. A baseball title, in the program's third straight trip so the Series, would make the program a household name, much as Rice's '03 title stamped the Owls as a national power.
Coach Jim Schlossnagle, 45, also would edge into college coaching's all-time elite. He enters the CWS with a 640-299 record as a head coach, a .682 winning percentage, heading for elite territory. (For comparison's sake, Garrido, the winningest coach in history, retired with a .679 winning percentage.) It's hard to undersell Schlossnagle's resume, and a title would put him in Corbin/Brian O'Connor territory as one of the faces of the modern college game.
Texas Tech: Tim Tadlock would get his due. Like Rice's Wayne Graham, he was a national championship junior-college coach, winning back-to-back NJCAA World Series at Grayson County (Texas) JC in 1999-2000, where the coached future big leaguers such as John Lackey and Brandon Fahey.
He was then a successful assistant coach at Oklahoma as a member of Sunny Golloway's 2010 CWS club. "I'm not sure the lightning monitor was working," Tadlock remembered about that trip, when the Sooners' game with South Carolina was interrupted by lightning and rain. "I thought to myself: 'If there's a place to go, this is where I want to go, right here in this third-base (coaching) box. I'm dead serious. Old Rosenblatt, last year (of the ballpark), just get me right here. This would be good.'"
Tadlock now has brought the Red Raiders to Omaha twice in three years, the first two trips in CWS history for the program. He graduated from Tech in 1992 and knows what a title would mean to the school.
"Sheryl Swoopes in 1993 and (coach) Marsha Sharp won the national championship," he said. "They got back to town, I think there's 60,000 people in Jones Stadium waiting for them. And on top of that, you multiply that times one of the biggest alumni bases in the state of Texas other than the University (of Texas) and maybe A&M . . .
"At the same time, you're a long way from that happening . . . But if it happens, you're welcome to come. I mean, it would be a big party."
UC Santa Barbara: UC Santa Barbara has won national titles in water polo (1979) and men's soccer (2006), but a CWS title would be of a different order for radio host Jim Rome's alma mater.
In his fifth season as a head coach, Andrew Checketts already had established himself as one of the West Coast's hottest properties before this trip. A former Oregon State righthander, Checketts served as an assistant coach at Riverside (Calif.) CC under longtime head coach Dennis Rogers, was the pitching coach for a loaded 2007 UC Riverside staff and an assistant for three years at Oregon under George Horton.
How good was '07 Riverside? Those Highlanders had three future big leaguers in Joe Kelly (closer), Dan Runzler and Marc Rzepczynski as well as 2007 first-rounder James Simmons. He coached another future big leaguer, Scott McGough, at Oregon, while mentoring the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 draft, righty Dillon Tate, with the Gauchos last year.
Checketts, 40, develops pro talent and wins college games, including improbable ones such as this year's super regional at Louisville. It's hard to find a young coach with a better resume who hasn't won a national title; put one on his resume, and every football-rich program in the country should want him.