50 Names To Watch On The 2021 College Baseball Coaching Market
After the pandemic canceled the 2020 season, there were few coaching changes aside from retirements. That will not be the case this season and many around the country are expecting a return to a typical number of head coaching changes, which for the last several years has been around 30—or about 10% of all Division I jobs.
In preparation for those changes, Baseball America presents its annual list of coaches to watch this summer as the job market plays out.
Kevin O’Sullivan, head coach, Florida: O’Sullivan was one of the leading candidates when the Texas job opened in 2016 and, now that another of the top jobs in the country is open in LSU, his name is back in the rumor mill. Florida moved to extend O’Sullivan’s contract in the wake of Texas’ interest, signing him to a 10-year contract, worth $1.25 million a year. O’Sullivan responded by winning the national championship the following season and Florida has since built a new, $65 million ballpark. So, leaving won’t come easy for O’Sullivan, 52. But LSU would represent a new challenge and a big opportunity.
Jim Schlossnagle, head coach, Texas Christian: Schlossnagle, 48, has been in the mix for the biggest jobs that have opened in recent years but has opted to stay at TCU. It’s no different this year, as he’s one of the names to watch in the A&M and LSU search. Schlossnagle’s experience building programs and winning big in the Lone Star State makes it easy to see why both schools would be interested. For Schlossnagle, a chance to compete in the rugged SEC West would represent an interesting new challenge. But is he ready to leave TCU, a program he built? No one has yet been able to pull him away.
Tony Vitello, head coach, Tennessee: Vitello, 42, is known for his recruiting prowess, something that is crucial for success in the SEC. He’s also quickly proven himself as a head coach. In 2019, his second season, he led the Volunteers to regionals for the first time since 2005 and this year Tennessee earned the No. 3 national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Still, hiring away a sitting SEC head coach is difficult and hasn’t been done since John Cohen left Kentucky for Mississippi State, his alma mater, in 2008. But A&M and LSU have the resources to make it possible.
Cliff Godwin, head coach, East Carolina: Godwin has been a hot name in previous years but so far no one has been able to lure him away from his alma mater, including Alabama and Mississippi State. He very much wants to get East Carolina to the College World Series for the first time in program history. Would he be more open to leaving if the Pirates reach Omaha? He has a good thing going in Greenville and last July signed a contract extension through 2025, but he’ll also continue to be highly sought after in the job market. He also has ties to LSU, as he served as an assistant coach under Paul Mainieri at both Notre Dame and LSU.
Jay Johnson, head coach, Arizona: Johnson, 44, this year led Arizona to its first Pac-12 title since 2012 and in 2016 guided the Wildcats to a runner-up finish at the College World Series. He is one of the best coaches in the West and has a long, impressive track record as a recruiter that dates back to his days as an assistant at San Diego, when he brought in Kris Bryant. He’s also an excellent hitting coach and this year may have the best offense in the country. Johnson already has one of the premier Pac-12 jobs and getting him out of Tucson wouldn’t be easy. But he could be in the mix at LSU or A&M.
Erik Bakich, head coach, Michigan: Bakich led Michigan to a runner-up finish in the 2019 College World Series, but his track record as a head coach goes back much further than that run. He’s been courted before for premium jobs (South Carolina, Stanford) but chose to stay in Ann Arbor. Bakich, 43, is in a strong position already and proven he can win there. But that doesn’t mean other programs can’t try to hire him away.
Brian O’Connor, head coach, Virginia: Like O’Sullivan, O’Connor was involved in the Texas search in 2016 but chose to stay in Charlottesville. Virginia has scuffled over the last five years, twice missing the NCAA Tournament, but he’s still undeniably one of the top coaches in the country. O’Connor was an assistant coach at Notre Dame under Mainieri and has since built Virginia into one of the best programs in the ACC.
Link Jarrett, head coach, Notre Dame: LSU went to Notre Dame the last time it needed a coach, could history repeat itself 15 years later? Jarrett, 49, has certainly impressed in his two seasons in South Bend. He this year led the Fighting Irish to their first ACC title since joining the league and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015. Jarrett also impressed as a head coach at UNC Greensboro, leading the Spartans in successive seasons to their first NCAA Tournament appearance and regular-season title in 20 years. He also has significant experience as an assistant coach, working at East Carolina, Auburn, Mercer and Florida State.
Pat Casey: The former Oregon State coach retired in September 2018 after 24 years as a head coach and has been working in the athletic department since. But he’s never closed the door on returning to the dugout and even at his retirement press conference it didn’t seem like he was closing the door on coaching again. If Casey, 62, is going to come out of retirement, it would have to be for the right opportunity. Would a chance to compete in the SEC be enough to bring him back to the game?
Dan Heefner, head coach, Dallas Baptist: Heefner has been a subject of just about every major coaching search in the area in recent years and he should be in the mix for A&M, as well. He’s built DBU into a regional powerhouse and has led the Patriots to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. He doesn’t have major conference experience and he’s in a comfortable spot, but at some point he might get an offer he can’t refuse.
Kirk Saarloos, recruiting coordinator/pitching coach, Texas Christian: Saarloos, 41, is one of the most respected pitching coaches in the country and has also impressed in recruiting. He’s been courted for head coaching jobs before and will continue to be in demand, though he’s in a good spot at TCU. Should Schlossnagle leave, he would likely be the next man up.
Rob Childress: Texas A&M let Childress go following this season, his 16th as head coach. While the Aggies this year finished in last place in the SEC West, Childress, 52, had previously led them to 13 straight regionals and two College World Series appearances. If he wants another job as a head coach, he’d bring plenty of winning experience to his new program.
Lane Burroughs, head coach, Louisiana Tech: Burroughs this season led Louisiana Tech to its best season in more than 30 years and has the Bulldogs as a regional host. He’s done a good job of building La Tech to this point and he also has experience in the SEC as an assistant coach. Burroughs is a part of the John Cohen coaching tree, which has been a popular one in recent job searches. It’s unlikely the A&M search would get to him, but the fallout created from it could lead to a fit.
Sean Allen, recruiting coordinator/pitching coach, Texas: Allen has spent the last nine years on staff under David Pierce, working at Sam Houston State, Tulane and Texas. Prior to joining Pierce’s staff at Sam Houston, Allen also was an assistant coach at Houston and Florida International. He has worked as both a hitting and pitching coach, in addition to being the Longhorns’ recruiting coordinator. His experience in a variety of roles should help him make the jump to being a head coach.
Jake Gautreau, recruiting coordinator/hitting coach, Mississippi State: Gautreau is one of the most respected assistant coaches in the country, both as a recruiter and as a hitting coach. He’s helped the Bulldogs to back-to-back College World Series appearances and this year signed the sixth-ranked recruiting class. SEC assistant coaches are typically popular on the coaching market and Gautreau figures to be one of the next to get a chance as a head coach.
Bill Mosiello, associate head coach, Texas Christian: Mosiello has one of the most interesting resumes in the game. He’s spent 20 years as an assistant coach—the last eight coming at TCU—at schools from coast to coast. He also was a minor league manager for seven seasons, a tenure that includes managing Mike Trout in Double-A. Mosiello, 56, is in a comfortable spot at TCU, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t leave for the right opportunity.
Reggie Christiansen, head coach, Sacramento State: Over the last decade, Christiansen, 45, has built Sac State into one of the most consistent programs in California and has led the Hornets to their only three regionals appearances in program history. His roots in California and the Midwest (as an assistant coach at Kansas and head coach at South Dakota State) make for an interesting profile.
Andy Stankiewicz, head coach, Grand Canyon: Stankiewicz has a strong resume that includes experience in pro ball, as an assistant coach in the Pac-12 and now leading Grand Canyon through a highly successful transition from Division II to Division I. This isn’t a big year of turnover on the West Coast, but a job like Utah could be what he’s looking for.
Chris Pollard, head coach, Duke: Pollard has taken a dormant program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968 and turned it into a consistent regional team. He led the Blue Devils to regionals in four of the last five seasons and this year led them to their first ACC Tournament title in program history. And that success came after he took Appalachian State to a regional final. After those turnarounds, he should be getting looks for premium jobs.
T.J. Bruce, head coach, Nevada: Bruce, 39, has put together a solid tenure in six years at Nevada. He’s led the Wolfpack to two Mountain West titles in the last three years and this year has them in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000. He also spent four years as UCLA’s recruiting coordinator and was part of the 2013 national championship team before taking over at Nevada. Bruce was in the mix for Pac-12 jobs a couple years ago, but would Utah interest him?
Alex Sogard, head coach, Wright State: The last three Wright State head coaches have left for jobs in major conferences: Rob Cooper (Penn State), Greg Lovelady (Central Florida) and Jeff Mercer (Indiana). Sogard, 33, figures to follow a similar path. In 2019, his first season as head coach, he led the Raiders to 41 wins and a first-place finish in the Horizon League. They again won the HL this season, dominating the league with a 28-4 record and are back in the NCAA Tournament. Sogard is the sixth-youngest head coach in the country but both Lovelady and Mercer were also very young when they moved on.
Robert Woodard, head coach, Charlotte: Woodard, 36, this season led Charlotte to its first-ever Conference USA title and first conference title since 2013. It’s unlikely he moves on now—this is just his second season as a head coach, he’s a Charlotte native and the program and job have real upside—but Woodard also is a rising star in the industry both for his work as a pitching coach and now his fast start at Charlotte.
Scott Jackson, head coach, Liberty: Jackson has in five seasons at Liberty won more than 150 games and back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament. This is just the second time in program history that the Flames have made consecutive appearances in regionals. Jackson is in a good spot and can choose any further moves carefully.
Shaun Stiffler, head coach, Virginia Commonwealth: In nine years as the Rams head coach, Stiffler, 42, has led them to super regionals and three regular-season conference titles in four seasons (2017, 2019, 2021). In making VCU a consistent contender in the Atlantic 10 Conference, he’s established himself as one of the best young coaches in the country and more high-end interest should follow.
Omar Johnson, head coach, Jackson State: Johnson has been the head coach at Jackson State since 2007 and has not had a losing season in 15 years. He’s led the Tigers to two NCAA Tournaments (2013-14), but this year’s team was one of his best. The Tigers went 24-0 in Southwest Athletic Conference play and won 30 games for the eighth straight season, before being upset in the SWAC Tournament title game. Johnson’s teams play an exciting, aggressive style of baseball that regularly puts them among the national leaders in stolen bases. He’s got a good thing going at Jackson State, which has newfound juice with Deion Sanders taking over the football program, but if Johnson wants a new challenge, he deserves a long look.
Jordan Bischel, head coach, Central Michigan: Bishel, 39, has a unique combination of youth and experience. He’s already been a head coach for nine seasons and has won in NAIA, Division II and now Division I. In three seasons at CMU, he’s won nearly 100 games, made two regionals appearances (its first since 1995) and won back-to-back Mid-American Conference titles. With a history of quick turnarounds, Bischel makes for a strong candidate.
Casey Dunn, head coach, Samford: In 17 years at Samford, Dunn, 44, has won more than 500 games and has led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament three times. He combines experience and youth and while Samford hasn’t had a full-on breakout season, Dunn has built it into one of the top programs in the Southern Conference. With Alabama-Birmingham open across town, Dunn is a name to watch.
Jose Vazquez, head coach, Alabama State: Vazquez was promoted to head coach five years ago to succeed Mervyl Melendez and has won two Southwestern Athletic Conference regular season titles. Vazquez is a strong recruiter who helped Melendez build powerhouses at Bethune-Cookman and Alabama State and now has kept the Hornets as one of the top programs in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Matt Bragga: Three years ago, Bragga was the hot name on the coaching market after leading Tennessee Tech to a super regionals appearance. He landed at Rice, replacing Wayne Graham. It’s never easy replacing a legend and Bragga struggled to do so in Houston, going 51-76-1 in three seasons. But two of those seasons were marred by the pandemic and he’s still the same coach that went 445-383-2 at Tennessee Tech, finishing his tenure with back-to-back regionals appearances. Bragga, 48, would bring plenty of experience and a strong offensive approach to a new program.
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Josh Jordan, associate head coach, Duke: Jordan, the 2018 Assistant Coach of the Year, has been with Duke coach Chris Pollard for the last 15 years, dating back to their Appalachian State days. He has been a key part of Duke’s rise and his 2016 recruiting class was just the program’s second ever Top 25 class. Jordan’s role in the almost unprecedented success at Appalachian State and Duke should capture the attention of athletic directors.
Ben Greenspan, associate head coach, Arizona State: Greenspan, 37, has spent the last 13 seasons working as an assistant coach under Tracy Smith at ASU and Indiana. In that time, he’s built a long track record both as a hitting coach and a recruiter, aiding in the development of players such as Spencer Torkelson, Kyle Schwarber, Hunter Bishop and Alex Dickerson. That experience should play well as a head coach.
Nate Thompson, recruiting coordinator/hitting coach, Arkansas: Thompson is in his fourth season at Arkansas and has helped the Razorbacks develop into this season’s top-ranked team. His track record as a hitting coach is impressive and goes back to his time at Missouri State, and he has also proven himself as a recruiter. Thompson checks a lot of boxes and will eventually become the newest branch of Dave Van Horn’s coaching tree.
Carl Lafferty, recruiting coordinator, Mississippi: SEC assistant coaches are always in demand on the job market and Lafferty is among the best. He is the longest-tenured assistant in the league, having spent 15 years at his alma mater. Lafferty’s experience in the league and the success of Ole Miss’ top-ranked 2016 recruiting class, the first No. 1 recruiting class in school history, give him a strong resume.
Jeff Palumbo, associate head coach, East Carolina: Palumbo is in his seventh season at ECU and has helped the program develop into the class of the American Athletic Conference. He’s twice landed top 25 recruiting classes—the only two in program history—and those classes have delivered for the Pirates.
Kevin McMullan, associate head coach, Virginia: McMullan, the 2009 Assistant Coach of the Year, has been voted by head coaches as the assistant coach with the brightest future as a head coach each of the last three times Baseball America has held the survey, most recently in 2020. He’s been Virginia’s recruiting coordinator for the last 17 years and helped the Cavaliers win the 2015 national championship. McMullan is clearly comfortable in Charlottesville, but there’s little doubt he’d be successful as a head coach.
Mitch Gaspard, recruiting coordinator/hitting coach, Louisiana Tech: Gaspard, 56, has 13 seasons of experience as a head coach—six at Northwestern State (2002-07) and seven at Alabama (2010-16)—and led his teams to regionals five times. Since resigning from Alabama in 2016, he’s worked as an assistant at Kansas State, Georgia and now Louisiana Tech. He’d be a good fit for a program looking for an experienced, steady hand.
Bryant Ward, recruiting coordinator, UCLA: Ward has become one of the best recruiting coordinators on the West Coast, first at Loyola Marymount, where he landed the school’s first Top 25 class in 15 years, and then at UCLA, where he has continued the Bruins’ strong tradition on the recruiting trail. John Savage’s assistant coaches have a strong track record as head coaches and Ward figures to one day add a branch to his coaching tree.
Nate Yeskie, associate head coach, Arizona: Yeskie, 46, is one of the best pitching coaches in the country and has helped Arizona to a significant improvement on the mound in his two seasons in Tucson. He previously spent 11 seasons at Oregon State, helping reside over the Beavers’ remarkable run from 2017-19 that included the 2018 national title and Adley Rutchman’s emergence as the 2019 Player of the Year. Yeskie’s approach and embrace of new analytics and technology should help him eventually transition to running a program.
Nick Schnabel, associate head coach, Michigan: Schnabel, the 2019 Assistant Coach of the Year, has played a key role in building Michigan’s program. As recruiting coordinator, he put together the Wolverines’ 10th-ranked 2017 class, the highest-ranked class in Big Ten history, and the rest of the roster for the 2019 CWS runners-up. He has coached all along the East Coast, from Chipola (Fla.) JC to Army, and has helped the Wolverines recruit nationally.
Dan Fitzgerald, associate head coach, Dallas Baptist: Fitzgerald was the head coach at Des Moines (Iowa) JC for five years before moving to DBU for the 2013 season and he may soon be leading a program again, this time at the Division I level. His prowess as a recruiter and his role in helping make DBU one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the country should be attractive to athletic directors. It doesn’t hurt that the Patriots have won back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference titles.
Derek Simmons, volunteer assistant coach, Indiana: Simmons, 34, has built an impressive, varied resume as an assistant coach, working at Central Michigan, Kennesaw State, Alabama, Kent State and Indiana. His time at Kennesaw State is especially relevant this summer following the retirement of longtime coach Mike Sansing. Simmons was on staff for the Owls’ super regional run in 2014 and their ASUN Conference regular-season title in 2016. His energy and success on the recruiting trail makes him a strong candidate for a variety of jobs, but especially at a place that he knows as well as Kennesaw State.
Gary Henderson, associate head coach, Utah: Henderson, 60, was Kentucky’s head coach from 2009-16 and served as Mississippi State’s interim head coach for almost the whole 2018 season, leading the Bulldogs to Omaha. He’s spent the last two years at Utah, serving under Bill Kinneberg, who retired following this season. Henderson’s experience makes him a quality candidate at Utah and beyond.
Jim Foster, head coach, Army: Foster, now in his fifth season in West Point, has led Army to three straight Patriot League Tournament titles. It is the first time in program history that the Black Knights have made three straight regionals appearances. Foster, 49, previously was the pitching coach at Boston College, where he helped the Eagles reach super regionals in 2016 and helped develop Justin Dunn into a first-round pick. He also spent nine years as head coach at Rhode Island, winning a pair of Atlantic-10 Conference titles. In short, he’s won a lot at schools that aren’t traditional powers.
Jim Chester, head coach, Gardner-Webb: Chester made an impressive rise through the lower levels of college athletics before arriving two years ago at Gardner-Webb for his first Division I job. He’s won everywhere he’s gone, now including Gardner-Webb. He this year led the Runnin’ Bulldogs to a third-place finish in the Big South Conference, the program’s best finish since moving up to Division I. Chester’s fast rise may not be done yet.
Justin Blood, head coach, Harford: Blood in 2018 led Hartford to its first America East Conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. While the Hawks haven’t risen to those heights since, he has built a solid, consistent program in 10 years as head coach. Now, however, all of that is in doubt as Hartford has announced its intention to move its athletic department to Division III within the next three years. The news has been met with pushback by many in the campus community but reversing the decision won’t be easy. Blood, 41, stands out not only for his head coaching experience, but also his acumen for pitching development.
Patrick Hallmark, head coach, Texas-San Antonio: Hallmark, 47, spent 11 years on staff at Rice before beginning his head coaching career, starting at Incarnate Word and then moving across town to UTSA. Hallmark quickly improved both programs and knows what it takes to build a winner.
Justin Hill, head coach, McNeese State: Hill over the last eight years has built McNeese into a Southland Conference power, winning back-to-back tournaments and the regular-season title in 2017. He this year guided the Cowboys through an incredibly trying year as they dealt with setback after setback, but still finished the season with a title. Hill, 41, could follow in the footsteps of the likes of Tony Robichaux, Mike Bianco and Todd Butler from McNeese to a bigger program.
Lance Rhodes, head coach, Southern Illinois: Rhodes, 35, is in just his second season as a head coach but what a season it’s been. SIU won its most games since 1990 and played deep into May with a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament. Rhodes came to SIU after stints as an assistant coach at Missouri and Southeast Missouri State, experience that adds weight to his resume.
David Miller, head coach, La Salle: In four seasons, Miller has helped La Salle take several steps forward. That work culminated with this year’s team, which has set the program record for wins and advanced to the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament for the first time since 2013. All that good work comes to a halt next month, however, as the program will be eliminated. Miller, 47, has spent his whole coaching career in his hometown of Philadelphia and has shown he can be successful in challenging circumstances.