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Long Beach State Baseball Coaching Search, Job Profile And Candidates

BlairField_LongBeach.jpg
Blair Field (Photo courtesy of Long Beach State)

On the evening of April 11th, Long Beach State announced it had fired head coach Troy Buckley in the middle of his ninth season at the helm.

Buckley’s ouster came just two seasons after Long Beach won the Big West Conference for the first time since 2008, earned a top-eight overall seed and advanced to a super regional, and at the end of a run that led to three postseason appearances, all clustered in a four-year span from 2014-2017.

Though the Dirtbags were just 5-26 at the time Buckley was relieved of his duties and were coming off of a 27-30 season in 2018, he was not fired for on-field results. The562.org later reported Buckley was fired after a university investigation into an incident when he had to be restrained in an altercation with another university employee.

The 2017 super regional appearance was the clear high-water mark for Long Beach under Buckley, even if it ended in a tough Game 3 loss to rival Cal State Fullerton. The 2016 regional appearance saw the Dirtbags advance to the Coral Gables Regional final as the No. 3 seed before losing to host Miami, and in 2014, they lost in the Gainesville Regional final to an upstart No. 4 seed, College of Charleston.

But in the big picture, Buckley is now the second head coach who, despite successes while in the role, hasn’t quiet been able to live up to the standard set by program legend Dave Snow, who took the team to the College World Series four times from 1989-2001 and only missed out on regionals twice in his 13 seasons in the position.

In the long term, Long Beach State is looking for a head coach to lead it back to Omaha for the first time since 1998, but in the short term, it simply needs someone to help get the ship turned around after a demoralizing 14-41 season in 2019.

Previous Head Coach

Troy Buckley: 260-231-1, nine seasons

Job Description

Long Beach State is a program that is tough to get a feel for in 2019. During the Snow era, it was a player on the national stage and one of the West Coast’s biggest powers. The Dirtbags have also continued to produce premium big league talent in the 21st Century, and their alumni have accumulated more WAR than any other school in the Field of 64 era (since 1999). It plays in historic Blair Field, giving it a facilities advantage, and there’s plenty of talent in Long Beach’s backyard. But things haven’t come as easily since Snow left, and in today’s college sports landscape the Big West isn’t in an easy position. Long Beach hasn’t made the CWS since 1998 and has now missed regionals eight of the last 11 years. Are the Dirtbags a college baseball giant that has fallen back asleep? Or were the successes of previous eras partially a product of a specific time and place that you can’t count on recreating in 2020 and beyond?

Candidates

T.J. Bruce, head coach, Nevada

It would be hard to artificially engineer a young coach’s resume for this job that would be better than the Bruce’s. He played at Long Beach State for Weathers in 2004, and then coached under him in 2005 as an undergrad and then again from 2007-2010. But he also has a national title on his resume, as he moved on from Long Beach at the end of the 2010 season to work under John Savage at UCLA, where he helped the Bruins to a national title in 2013. Now, he’s the head coach at Nevada, where his teams have gone 115-110 over four seasons, including a conference championship season in 2018 and a 37-win campaign in 2016.

Reggie Christiansen, head coach, Sacramento State

Christiansen has led a quietly consistent Sacramento State program for the last nine seasons. During that time, the Hornets have suffered just one losing season, his first at the helm, and have collected 294 wins, an average of 33 per season. Along the way, he’s led Sac State to three regional appearances, including one in 2019 to cap off another 40-win season.

Brian Green, head coach, New Mexico State

If Long Beach wants to go against the grain of its typical pitching and defense persona, Green is an intriguing option. In his five seasons as the head coach at New Mexico State, his teams have been known for explosive offenses, including a 2019 team that hit .356/.469/.573 as a group. His experience as an assistant in a lot of difference places, including Oregon State, San Diego, Hawaii, UCLA and Kentucky, also might suggest that he’s prepared to win games with a lot of different types of players and in different types of ways. (Editor's note: Green was hired at Washington State on June 3.)

Dave Serrano, college baseball analyst, Baseball America

Serrano has a serious track record of success not only on the West Coast, but more specifically, in the Big West. From 1997-2004, he was on staff at Cal State Fullerton as the Titans made four CWS appearances and won a national title in 2004. As the head coach at UC Irvine from 2005-2007, he took the Anteaters to two regionals and got them to their first CWS in his final year. Then, he took over at Cal State Fullerton after George Horton left for Oregon and led the Titans to three super regional appearances and one CWS from 2008-2011. He then took over at Tennessee and while his six years in Knoxville did not produce similar results—he went 157-163—few can match his level of experience and success over the course of his career.

Eric Valenzuela, head coach, Saint Mary's

Valenzuela, 40, has invigorated Saint Mary’s, a program that before he arrived had just two winning seasons since 1991. He led the Gaels in 2016 to their first NCAA Tournament appearance and they’ve become consistent contenders in the league. Valenzuela has strong Southern California connections from his playing days and time as an assistant coach at San Diego and San Diego State, and a return would be right in his sweet spot.

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Uniquely Positioned

It’s now been more than 20 years since Long Beach State went to the CWS. It’s only won three Big West titles in that same time span. Yes, it has a big lead in WAR produced by its alumni in the super regional era, and Dirtbags like Garrett Hampson and Jeff McNeil keep getting to the big leagues, but it hasn’t produced a first-round pick since the Rays took Evan Longoria third overall in 2006 and hasn’t had a second-round pick since 2010. College sports have changed a lot this century, and while the Big West has remained competitive in baseball at the top end, its as much of an outsider as it ever has been in the current power structure, where TV money has helped the Pac-12 and even Mountain West ramp up. For the last two years, it has been a one-bid league.

But the Long Beach brand is still solid. Blair Field just got a significant facelift, helped by significant donations from Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki and Jered Weaver. There is a ton of talent in Southern California, and while the competition for those recruits is intense, there are a lot of players who want to be Dirtbags. So, on balance, where does that leave the Long Beach? It depends on how you look at the situation. The new coach will surely view it optimistically, but there are real challenges to returning the program to its previous heights.

A Good Time to Reboot

Fair or not, Long Beach will always be measured in relation to its chief rival, Cal State Fullerton, and right now, that makes it a decent time to press the restart button. Fullerton stumbled to a 27-26 record in 2019 and missed regionals for the first time since 1991. The Titans have fallen victim to some of the same factors described in the passage above, but to this point, have managed to carry on as a consistent postseason player and Omaha contender. Now that they’ve taken a clear step back, perhaps an opportunity is presented for Long Beach to work on equal footing with Fullerton as it begins a new chapter in the program’s history.

Roster Breakdown

Top starting pitcher Adam Seminaris (4-9, 3.35) is slated to be back in the fold, as is catcher Chris Jimenez, who hit .300 in 90 at-bats in 2019, and veteran starting pitcher Zak Baayoun (3-9, 5.54) and top hitter Jacob Hughey (.324/.387/.404) both have eligibility remaining. As a result, there is potential for some foundation pieces to remain in place, but given how the last couple of seasons have gone, it’s easy to imagine the LBSU roster looking quite different on Opening Day of the 2020 season.

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