Memphis Coach Kerrick Jackson Returns To The Dugout With A New Mission

Kerrick Jackson last month was introduced as the new coach at Memphis, marking a special day for him and his family. After a year and a half as the inaugural president of the MLB Draft League, Jackson was returning to coaching, and doing so at a program he believes can grow into a consistent power in the American Athletic Conference.

On a day that was filled with pomp, what stuck with Jackson the most was meeting a 12-year-old local player. Jackson said the player came to the press conference with his mother and then waited more than an hour after it finished to meet Jackson, who is Black.

“He wanted to come to camp,” Jackson said. “He waited around for an hour and 20 minutes after the press conference so that he could shake my hand and take a picture because the idea of there being a Black coach at Memphis was something he had to see and be a part of. That was the most important thing that happened that day.”

Jackson is the first Black coach in the program’s history, a meaningful moment in a city that is 65% Black and a university that is 40% minority. Those demographics, as well as the fact Memphis ranks in the top 12 nationally at graduating Black students, are a part of the reason Jackson left the MLB Draft League for this job. He is the chairman of the American Baseball Coaches Association’s diversity committee and the mission of improving diversity in baseball, both among players and coaches, has long been important to him. Jackson said part of his mission as a head coach will be to develop minority players and coaches.

But Jackson wouldn’t have come to Memphis if he didn’t think he could win there. That’s been something of a struggle for the Tigers in recent seasons. They haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2007, haven’t had a winning conference record in nine years in the American and haven’t won more than 30 games since 2015.

Jackson—and others in the industry—don’t think Memphis is resigned to the bottom half of the American, however. The conference is typically a multi-bid league and, with the exception of East Carolina separating itself at the top of the conference in recent years, usually has a lot of parity, meaning that a rebuild could quickly yield results. The Tigers’ FedExPark was rebuilt in 2009 and since then Memphis has installed a new turf field and a training facility, giving the program solid facilities. The rise of Vanderbilt and Tennessee have shown how much the state cares about baseball and there’s plenty of talent to go around.

“West Tennessee has always been a populated baseball area,” Jackson said. “When you look at what (Tennessee) and Vanderbilt are doing, it is becoming even more of a baseball state than it had previously. That’s what makes this the right time and right place to be involved.”

Jackson brings a wide range of experience to his new position. He most recently led the effort to get the MLB Draft League up and running. The college summer league is a joint partnership between MLB and Prep Baseball Report and this year implemented a unique arrangement as an amateur league in the first half of the season, focused on helping players preparing for the draft, before transitioning to a pro league in the second half of the season, functioning like an independent league.

Jackson said he learned a lot about being a manager during his time with the MLB Draft League.

“I consider myself organized but there were so many things flying around, I felt like I was playing whack-a-mole with one hammer and the biggest board in the world,” Jackson said. “It was definitely something that allowed me to gain another level of experience and have a different understanding of the size of that.”

Prior to taking over the MLB Draft League, Jackson was coach at Southern from 2018-20. He revitalized the program and in 2019 led the Jaguars to the NCAA Tournament, their first regionals appearance in a decade. He also previously was an agent with the Boras Corporation, a scout for the Nationals and an assistant coach at Missouri.

Jackson’s unique background makes his appointment all the more intriguing. He is now in his highest-profile job yet and how he uses his experience in that post makes him one of the most interesting first-year head coaches in college baseball.

A first-year turnaround at Memphis won’t be easy, but Jackson is looking at the long game. He sees a city and university that reflects his passion and a program ready to take the next step. For him, it was the perfect place to make his return to coaching.

“I couldn’t think of a better place to do it than here,” Jackson said.

Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone