College Baseball's Coaching Carousel: 50 Names To Watch
There have been more than 30 coaching changes in each of the last two years and college baseball again appears to be on track this year for a similar number of changes. Some of the most high-profile changes are already arranged—Gino DiMare will succeed Jim Morris at Miami and Ben Orloff will take over for Mike Gillespie at UC Irvine. Other openings have already been created, none more notably than at Mississippi State, where Andy Cannizaro’s shocking ouster in February led to this spring’s most popular parlor game, speculating about who athletic director John Cohen would tap to lead the program.
The announcement last week at Kansas State that Brad Hill, the program’s all-time winningest coach, will not return next season signaled that the coaching carousel is ready to start spinning. With that in mind, we’ve put together a catalogue of 50 coaches to keep an eye on during what promises to be a busy summer of coaching changes.
Dan McDonnell, head coach, Louisville: With Miami staying in-house for Morris’ successor, Mississippi State is likely to be this year’s biggest job opening. And with the new, $55 million Dudy Nobel Field set to be fully completed before next season, combined with the bad taste the end of Cannizaro’s tenure in Starkville left in the mouths of the program’s boisterous fans, there is an expectation that Cohen will be swinging for the fences (or calling for his hardest-throwing reliever to enter the game with a 1-2 count on a batter, as it were). McDonnell, the 2017 Coach of the Year, has been at Louisville for 12 years and has done one of the most impressive program-building jobs of the 21st century, guiding the Cardinals through the maze of conference realignment to become a power in the Atlantic Coast Conference. For his efforts, he in 2016 signed a 10-year, $10 million contract and last year an expansion of Jim Patterson Stadium was announced. But much has changed at Louisville in the last year. A men’s basketball scandal toppled longtime athletic director Tom Jurich, who was instrumental to the program’s growth. McDonnell came to Louisville after six years as recruiting coordinator at Mississippi, giving him an understanding of what it takes to win in the Magnolia State. But have the changes at Louisville left him unsettled enough to move on? It seems unlikely, but his name has been brought up throughout the spring.
Jim Schlossnagle, head coach, Texas Christian: Much of what is said about McDonnell can be applied to Schlossnagle, minus the scandal-ravaged athletic department. Schlossnagle, the 2016 Coach of the Year, two years ago got a contract extension to fend off Texas’ interest and is now signed through 2020 to a deal that reportedly pays him $1.4 million. While Chris Del Conte, the athletic director who gave him that deal, is now at Texas, TCU promoted Jeremiah Donati to replace him, giving the department continuity. Schlossnagle has been at TCU for 15 years and has built it into a Big 12 Conference powerhouse. Convincing him to leave all that behind won’t be easy.
Butch Thompson, head coach, Auburn: Almost as soon as Cannizaro’s resignation became known, Thompson’s name was floated as a potential replacement. He spent seven years as Cohen’s pitching coach and was named 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year for his work in Starkville. He left the next year to take over Auburn in the wake of Sunny Golloway’s messy firing. Thompson quickly turned the Tigers around and has them in the mix to host a regional in his third season. While the fit at Mississippi State is easy to see, he’s likely to be connected to major job openings for years to come if continues on his current trajectory.
Cliff Godwin, head coach, East Carolina: With seven years of SEC coaching experience and a super regional appearance on his resume, Godwin, 40, is perhaps the hottest name outside of the Power Five conferences. He turned down the Alabama job two years ago to stay at his alma mater. The level of programs that would be interested in him has only increased since then, however.
Greg Lovelady, head coach, Central Florida: Lovelady, 39, is the kind of young, energetic coach that many athletic directors are looking for and he has won big in his first five seasons as a head coach. He last season led the Knights to the American Athletic Conference title in his first year in Orlando and took Wright State to back-to-back regional finals. UCF is a good job and has an ascendant athletic department, but Lovelady is a rising star.
Patrick Hallmark, head coach, Incarnate Word: Rice’s decision not to extend Wayne Graham’s contract got publicly messy immediately when Graham said a former player had been campaigning for his job in recent years. Athletic director Joe Karlgaard is now in a tricky spot. Graham, who spent 27 years as head coach and won a national championship, has endorsed Hallmark, who spent 11 years on staff at Rice, as his successor. How much weight that carries remains to be seen, but Hallmark, who is in his first year as a head coach, certainly understands what it takes to win at Rice.
Lance Berkman, head coach, Second Baptist School (Houston): Graham has not revealed which former player he was referring to when he said one had been campaigning for his job, but it has long been rumored that Berkman has been angling to be Graham’s successor since his playing career ended. After it was announced Graham’s contract would not be renewed, Berkman publicly expressed interest in the opening. Berkman served as a student assistant coach at Rice during fall ball in 2014, when he was finishing his degree, but that arrangement didn’t even make it into the spring. He has coached at Second Baptist School in the Houston area for three years and in 2016 won a state title. The track record of all-stars taking over their alma maters is mixed. Tony Gwynn elevated San Diego State, taking the Aztecs to three regionals in 12 years after they had not made the NCAA Tournament for 12 years before his arrival. Darin Erstad last year led Nebraska to a Big Ten title and made regionals three of the last four years, though the Cornhuskers have never repeated the heights they reached under Dave Van Horn. Troy Percival has found little traction since taking over UC Riverside four years ago and has not yet had a winning season. Would Berkman be able to deliver results to a program that wants to get back to regularly winning regionals and more?
Kirk Saarloos, pitching coach, Texas Christian: Saarloos, 38, ranked second on last fall’s survey of the assistant coaches with the brightest futures as head coaches. He rocketed to the top of the assistant coaching ranks after his playing career, which included seven years in the big leagues, ended. With his time at Cal State Fullerton and TCU, Saarloos would be a fit nearly anywhere in the country. The opening at Rice would seem to be a good fit, but he’s in a good spot at TCU and can afford to be particular about his next step.
Rob Walton, pitching coach, Oklahoma State: Walton, the 2016 Assistant Coach of the Year, is in his sixth year as Oklahoma State’s pitching coach, a role he has excelled in. But he also has nine years of head coaching experience at Oral Roberts, where he went 367-167 and made the NCAA Tournament every year. He’s back at his alma mater and has been an integral part in the Cowboys' resurgence under head coach Josh Holiday, but Walton would be an outstanding fit at a school such as Kansas State, if he wants to get back into head coaching.
Mike Clement, hitting coach, Mississippi: Clement has been a Division I assistant coach for 11 years and has developed a strong track record as a hitting coach across stops at Ole Miss, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Texas-San Antonio. This year he has helped the young Rebels’ hitters come into their own and they rank second in the SEC in batting average. Clement only spent two years at Kansas State, but that time included 2013, when the Wildcats won the Big 12 and their first ever regional. That and his ties to Texas, a key recruiting area for K-State, make him an attractive candidate for the Wildcats.
Mike Martin Jr., recruiting coordinator, Florida State: Speculating about Mississippi State’s opening may be college baseball’s favorite parlor game this spring, but Florida State’s eventual succession plan remains a constant point of discussion around the country. Mike Martin, 74, has not made any public indication about his plans for the future, but his contract expires following this season and he now holds college baseball's all-time wins record. If he wants to keep coaching, he’ll be back for his 40th season as head coach, but if he decides it’s time to retire, it’s less clear how much say he’ll have in choosing his successor. Martin Jr. and Mike Bell give Florida State two strong internal candidates, but will the Seminoles stay in the family when the time comes?
Mike Bell, associate head coach, Florida State: Regardless of what happens this summer at Florida State, Bell, 45, is a name to watch. He 18 months ago was a finalist at Stetson before pulling his name out of consideration. He would make sense for numerous jobs this summer if he’s willing to leave his alma mater. He’s been an assistant coach in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC and helped guide teams to Omaha from all three conferences.
Scott Forbes, associate head coach, North Carolina: Head coach Mike Fox’s contract is up at the end of the season. After 20 years at the program’s helm and with the Tar Heels on track to be a top-eight seed for the second year in a row, Fox likely will get to make the call as to whether he returns next season or not. If he doesn’t, Forbes, 43, is expected to be his successor, whenever that day comes. He twice finished in the top five of Baseball America’s survey of assistant coaches with the brightest future as head coaches and has been an assistant at UNC for the last 13 years.
Todd Whitting, head coach, Houston: Whitting has built Houston into the most consistent program in the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars have won either the regular season or tournament title in four of the last five years and in 2014 reached super regionals. Coaches from the American have filled two of the biggest job openings in the last two years as Texas hired David Pierce from Tulane and South Carolina plucked Mark Kingston from South Florida. Whitting himself was in the mix for the Texas job and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him this summer pop up in the Mississippi State search.
Dan Heefner, head coach, Dallas Baptist: Heefner has garnered significant interest in recent years, reportedly turning down Baylor in 2015 and interviewing at Texas the next year. He is one of the most respected coaches in the country and over the last decade has built DBU into a mid-major power. Heefner, 40, will continue to remain a hot name for big jobs, but he’s in a good spot and can pick his next move carefully.
Mark Calvi, head coach, South Alabama: Calvi has a good thing going at South Alabama, where his athletic director is tuned in to the game (Joel Erdmann played baseball in college and was two years ago the baseball committee chairman) and he has built a consistent Sun Belt Conference contender. Calvi also spent six years as an assistant coach under Ray Tanner at South Carolina, where he won a national title. With that resume it’s no surprise that he’s drawn significant interest in the past—last year he turned down the Tennessee job—and that will continue to happen. It’s easy to see the Mississippi State search affecting him, either directly or indirectly.
Chris Lemonis, head coach, Indiana: Lemonis, the 2013 co-Assistant Coach of the Year, has a strong pedigree as McDonnell’s former recruiting coordinator at Louisville and he has found success as a head coach at Indiana. He hasn’t had a truly breakthrough season at Indiana yet—he hasn’t made a super regional or won the Big Ten—but it’s only a matter of time before that happens. Were McDonnell to leave Louisville, Lemonis would be a natural pick to succeed him.
Nick Mingione, head coach, Kentucky: Like Thompson, many were quick to connect Mingione to Mississippi State in the wake of Cannizaro’s resignation. Mingione came to Kentucky after eight years as an assistant coach under Cohen and last season instantly found success, winning the program’s first ever regional in his first year as a head coach. But Mingione, 39, publicly said he didn’t see himself leaving for Mississippi State and called Lexington his family’s home. This isn’t the last time he’ll be connected with a big-time job, but he’s unlikely to move this summer.
Erik Bakich, head coach, Michigan: Bakich, 40, has garnered significant interest in recent years—he was last year connected with both South Carolina and Stanford—and last year signed a five-year contract extension. This year’s likely openings don’t seem to be good fits for Bakich, but as one of the country’s top young coaches, his name is going to continue to come up for elite jobs.
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 an ACC title contender. He led the Blue Devils to regionals in 2016 and this year has them in contention to host a regional. And that success came after he took Appalachian State to a regional final. After his latest turnaround, he should be getting looks for premium jobs.
Matt Deggs, head coach, Sam Houston State: Deggs has one of the most interesting back stories of any coach in the country. He was once a fast-rising assistant at Texas A&M but was fired in 2011, when his drinking problem got out of control. He was out of the game for a year before Louisiana-Lafayette gave him a second chance. He has taken full advantage of it and was hired as head coach at Sam Houston State two years later. He last year led the Bearkats to super regionals and then raised his profile further when his emotional press conference after they were eliminated at Florida State went viral. He has very openly talked about his journey in the last year, becoming something of an inspirational speaker. Along the way, Sam Houston State has kept winning and is on track for another Southland Conference title. Deggs’ path has been unusual, but he is once again a fast-rising coach.
Andrew Checketts, head coach, UC Santa Barbara: The West Coast’s coaching carousel is tough to get a read on this year. It could be a robust job market or very quiet, depending on the decisions of a few Pac-12 Conference schools. If there are openings, however, Checketts is sure to get looks. The Gauchos have endured a couple disappointing seasons since their 2016 College World Series appearance, but Checketts still took the program to unprecedented heights in 2015-16 and has proven to be an outstanding recruiter.
Kevin McMullan, associate head coach, Virginia: McMullan, the 2009 Assistant Coach of the Year, has twice been voted by head coaches as the assistant coach with the brightest future as a head coach—first in 2012 and again this fall. He has been Virginia’s recruiting coordinator for the last 15 years and helped the Cavaliers to the 2015 national championship. If anyone can hire him away from Charlottesville, there’s little doubt that school would see outstanding results.
Nate Yeskie, pitching coach, Oregon State: Yeskie is regarded as one of the best pitching coaches in the country and Oregon State’s incredible 2017 season, when it led the country with a 1.93 team ERA and 0.98 team WHIP, made that readily apparent. Yeskie, 42, has embraced analytics and the new-age technology and melds it with the focused, meticulous culture fostered in Corvallis by Pat Casey. That combination should continue to play well as a head coach.
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.
Bill Mosiello, associate head coach, Texas Christian: Mosiello has a lengthy resume that includes time as an assistant coach at schools across the country, from Cal State Fullerton to Tennessee. He also has been a junior college coach and famously was one of Mike Trout’s minor league managers. Like Saarloos, he’s in a good spot at TCU and can afford to be particular about his next step.
Eric Snider, recruiting coordinator, Louisville: Snider came to Louisville in July 2014 after 16 seasons at Illinois. He’s a highly respected hitting coach and recruiter who ranked fifth on the survey of assistant coaches with the brightest futures as head coaches. Snider is well connected in the Midwest and would be a good fit anywhere in the region.
Jeff Duncan, head coach, Kent State: If Miami (Ohio) is the cradle of coaching for football, fellow Mid-American Conference school Kent State holds that distinction in baseball. Ohio State’s Greg Beals, Georgia Tech’s Danny Hall and Georgia’s Scott Stricklin all have ties to the school and Duncan figures to follow them to the Power Five level sooner or later. He is in his fifth year as head coach and while the MAC Tournament has been something of a bugaboo for the Golden Flashes, they are averaging a 37-19 record during his tenure and are rolling toward their third straight regular-season title. An Arizona State alumnus who has coached in the SEC and the Big Ten, Duncan has ties to nearly every part of the country.
Matt Bragga, head coach, Tennessee Tech: The Golden Eagles broke through last season with a 41-21 season, both the Ohio Valley Conference’s regular season and tournament titles and a win against Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional. Tennessee Tech has already clinched another regular-season title this year, put together a 28-game winning streak and is ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in program history. All of that has significantly elevated Bragga’s profile. The bigger programs in the region are unlikely to open this summer, but his ability to win without many bells and whistles should be attractive to major-conference programs without strong baseball traditions.
Link Jarrett, head coach, UNC Greensboro: Jarrett last season guided UNCG to the Southern Conference Tournament title and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years. He this year led the Spartans to their first regular-season conference title in 20 years. That kind of success, as well as his experience as an assistant coach at Auburn and Florida State, has him on the rise. Jarrett’s name figures to pop up in connection with any big opening in the Southeast over the next few years.
Darren Baker Using Strong Cape Performance To Make His Own Name
Darren Baker, the son of Dusty Baker, is establishing his own name in the baseball world with a standout performance in the Cape Cod League.
Sergio Brown, recruiting coordinator, Arizona: Brown came to Arizona with Jay Johnson three years ago and has played a key role in the Wildcats’ success in that time. The Wildcats have landed back-to-back Top 25 recruiting classes and been among the Pac-12’s most consistent teams. Brown has 15 years of experience as an assistant coach on the West Coast and would be a strong candidate for any opening in that part of the country.
Carl Lafferty, recruiting coordinator, Mississippi: SEC assistant coaches have been in hot demand in recent years. Lafferty is the longest tenured assistant in the league, having spent 12 years at his alma mater. Outside of Mississippi State, this figures to be a quieter year in the SEC, but 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.
Bradley LeCroy, recruiting coordinator, Clemson: Assistants from the Atlantic Coast Conference haven’t been hired away at the rate of SEC assistants, largely because the ACC has been more static in recent years. LeCroy has 11 years of experience at Clemson and has proven to be an excellent recruiter. The track record of Jack Leggett’s former assistant coaches is a strong one and LeCroy will get a chance to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Tim Corbin and Kevin O’Sullivan sooner or later.
Josh Jordan, associate head coach, Duke: Jordan has been with Pollard for the last 12 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. Much like Pollard, Jordan’s role in the almost unprecedented success at Appalachian State and Duke should capture the attention of athletic directors.
Nick Schnabel, assistant head coach, Michigan: As recruiting coordinator, Schnabel assembled Michigan’s tenth-ranked 2017 recruiting class, the highest ranked recruiting class in Big Ten history. He has coached all along the East Coast, from Chipola (Fla.) JC to Army, and has helped the Wolverines recruit nationally.
Chad Caillet, associate head coach, Southern Mississippi: Caillet has been on staff at his alma mater for more than a decade, helping Southern Miss become one of Conference USA’s powerhouses. In that time, he’s developed a strong reputation as a recruiter and a hitting coach. Before returning to Southern Miss, he was head coach at Meridian (Miss.) JC for one season, giving him some experience running a program.
Pete Hughes, volunteer assistant, Georgia: After getting ousted from Oklahoma after last season despite making regionals, Hughes found a spot on staff at Georgia. He has 21 years of head coaching experience and has won a lot, including Virginia Tech’s only two regional appearances this century. Hughes isn’t the next hot thing many athletic directors are looking for these days, but any school that’s looking for an experienced, steady hand to lead its program would do well to consider Hughes.
Mitch Gaspard, associate head coach, Kansas State: The former Alabama coach has spent the last two seasons on staff at Kansas State. If the Wildcats want to stay in-house to replace Brad Hill, Gaspard would be the choice. His solid, if unspectacular, seven-year run at Alabama should also get him looks elsewhere.
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. He’ll likely be connected to any job that opens in the Pac-12. Antelopes men’s basketball coach Don Majerle was also this year a hot name on the coaching market but ultimately stayed at the school. Getting Stankiewicz to leave GCU may be similarly difficult.
Darin Hendrickson, head coach, Saint Louis: Hendrickson has been a head coach since 1996, rising through the Division III, junior college and Division II ranks before reaching Saint Louis in 2008. In the last 11 years, Hendrickson has led the Billikens to the NCAA Tournament twice and won four straight A-10 titles from 2012-15. That resume should be attractive to any program in the heartland with an opening.
Eric Valenzuela, head coach, Saint Mary’s: Valenzuela, 39, in his first five season has invigorated Saint Mary’s, a program that before he arrived had just two winning seasons since 1991. He in 2016 led Saint Mary’s to its first NCAA Tournament appearance and West Coast Conference championship and the Gaels have become consistent contenders. He is one of the West Coast’s brightest young head coaches.
Lane Burroughs, head coach, Louisiana Tech: Cohen’s assistant coaches have been one of the hottest commodities in the few coaching carousels. Including Mississippi State interim head coach Gary Henderson, four SEC head coaches are former Cohen assistants. Could Burroughs follow in the footsteps of Thompson, Mingione and Brad Bohannon? He has done well in his two seasons at LaTech, winning more than 35 games in back-to-back years.
Steve Trimper, head coach, Stetson: Trimper took over at Stetson in December 2016 following the retirement of longtime coach Pete Dunn. He’s quickly found success with the Hatters and this year has them in the mix to host a regional. This year’s incredible season—Stetson looks to be on pace for its most wins since it won 48 in 2000—combined with his 20 years of head coaching experience should have him on the radar for a variety of programs.
Mark Martinez, head coach, San Diego State: Martinez took over the program in 2015 after nine years as Tony Gwynn’s assistant. He has led the Aztecs to two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last three years. This year, SDSU was ranked for the first time since 2009 and has a chance to win its first regular season conference title since 2004. That should have Martinez on the radar of Pac-12 athletic directors.
Matt Riser, head coach, Southeastern Louisiana: Riser was the youngest Division I coach in the country for the first couple years of his tenure at Southeastern and, at 33-years old, he’s still among the youngest. He’s done impressive work with the Lions, leading them to the NCAA Tournament three times in his first four years. That body of work is sure to draw interest from larger schools sooner or later.
Andy Sawyers, head coach, Southeast Missouri State: Sawyers is in his second season at Southeast and while his overall record is about .500, he has the Redhawks on track this season to finish near the top of the Ohio Valley Conference. He will likely get consideration from Kansas State, where he twice served as an assistant coach, sandwiched around four years at Texas A&M.
Jose Vazquez, head coach, Alabama State: Vazquez was promoted to head coach two years ago to succeed Mervyl Melendez and this season won the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular season title. Vazquez may need more seasoning as a head coach before he makes a jump, but given the success Vazquez has had in recruiting and the way Melendez has recruited to Florida international since arriving there, an athletic director could be tempted to give Vazquez a shot.
Derek Simmons, recruiting coordinator, Kent State: Simmons, 31, is one of the hot, young assistant coaches in the country. He has experience at Central Michigan, Kennesaw State and Alabama and is in his first year at Kent State. He also has been a regular with USA Baseball during the summer. Simmons doesn’t have to be in a rush to get to a head coaching role, but his energy and success on the recruiting trail make him an intriguing candidate for mid-major openings.
Shawn Stiffler, head coach, Virginia Commonwealth: Stiffler has spent the last 12 years at VCU—six as an assistant and six as head coach. The Rams have become one of the Atlantic 10 Conference’s most consistent programs and they are this season on their way to their fifth straight 35-win season. He in 2015 led VCU to super regionals and in 2017 won their first regular season conference title since 2003.
Gary Henderson, interim head coach, Mississippi State: Henderson resigned after eight years as head coach at Kentucky following the 2016 season and headed to Mississippi State to reprise his role as Cohen’s pitching coach—his position at Kentucky prior to taking over the program’s helm. He has had plenty of head coaching experience to draw on this spring as interim head coach and he has handled the Bulldogs well. It’s unlikely that he’ll get the job on a permanent basis, but if this year has rekindled his desire to be a head coach, his SEC experience would be an asset.