Michigan Baseball Coaching Search, Job Profile And Candidates
Michigan coach Erik Bakich on June 16 was officially announced as the new coach at Clemson, returning to a program where he served as a volunteer assistant in 2002.
That brings an end to a 10-season run for Bakich as the head coach at Michigan. The Wolverines went 328-216 overall during his tenure and 140-93 in Big Ten competition.
Michigan reached five regionals under Bakich, including in each of the last three seasons, and in 2019, it went to the College World Series and came one win short of winning the program’s first national championship since 1962. The Wolverines were also ranked No. 1 in the country early in the 2020 season before the pandemic canceled the campaign.
More broadly, Bakich returned Michigan to prominence within a Big Ten that only got increasingly competitive during his time in Ann Arbor and his teams showed that the Wolverines could once again be a major player on the national scene.
His departure leaves big shoes to fill, but his work over the last 10 seasons ensured that he’s leaving things in good shape for his successor.
Previous Head Coach
Erik Bakich: 328-216, 10 seasons
Michigan is in the argument for the best job in the Big Ten. Ray Fisher Stadium is still one of the best facilities in the conference, Michigan’s national brand is such that it allows the program to recruit beyond its geographic area and its success within the league, both historically and recently, is second to none. There are tough parts about the job, like the fact that you’re never going to be able to change the realities of weather in Michigan in February, March and early April. That doesn’t make the job any different than any other in the Big Ten, but it is a hindrance to Michigan competing alongside the other major conferences for trips to the College World Series. The next coach will have everything necessary to keep Michigan as a perennial regional contender, and Bakich showed that it can also be an Omaha-caliber program when the stars align.
Will Bakich’s compensation be matched?
According to 2021 data from Athletic Director U, Erik Bakich led all Big Ten coaches at public institutions in total compensation that year at $637,000, which was nearly $300,000 more than the next-highest earner in the conference. If Michigan goes into this search committed to keeping compensation at that level, money certainly won’t be a sticking point for prospective hires. But is that the starting point for the next hire or was that level of compensation reserved for Bakich as Michigan worked to keep him in place following the Omaha trip?
How important will Midwest ties be?
When Bakich arrived in Ann Arbor, he didn’t have any Midwest ties. He’s an East Carolina grad who had been an assistant at Clemson and Vanderbilt and a head coach at Maryland, but he worked out well. At the same time, there’s something to be said for having experience in an area that presents specific challenges, and there is no shortage of good candidates that would provide that. This could be a job search where there are two distinct groups of candidates—national candidates that are simply among the best options and hyper-local candidates that are proven in the region.
There will be some fairly serious rebuilding to be done in the Michigan lineup, which was quite good in 2022. Five of the top seven players who started 59 or more games last season are a risk to leave. Joe Stewart and Matt Frey are out of eligibility, Clark Elliott is a virtual lock to be a high draft pick and both Jimmy Obertop and Ted Burton could be drafted high enough to be enticed to sign. Tito Flores and Riley Bertram are the other two regulars and both have eligibility remaining to return. On the mound, starter Cameron Weston and swingman Jacob Denner are potential draft picks, but Chase Allen and Connor O’Halloran returning provides reason for optimism as the new coaching staff works to lower the team ERA, which was 7.00 last season. The assembled talent and the recent recruiting classes suggest that the 2023 Wolverines will be in the mix in the upper third of the Big Ten, but they won’t necessarily be a ready-made title contender next season, either.
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Michigan has perhaps the Big Ten’s best job, combining high-end resources with a good facility and a strong national brand. Finding the right replacement for Bakich, who brought the program back to the national stage, won’t be easy, but athletic director Warde Manuel is working from a strong position.
Michigan has two strong candidates on major league staffs, in Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter and Padres hitting coach Michael Brdar. Fetter and Brdar are both Michigan alums, coached under Bakich and have quickly garnered respect as coaches. Fetter served as the Wolverines’ pitching coach for three years, including the 2019 CWS season, before he was hired away by the Tigers. Brdar, 28, spent two seasons on staff, including the 2019 season as the volunteer assistant. Hiring coaches away from big league jobs isn’t easy, but both Arizona (Chip Hale) and Rice (Jose Cruz Jr.) did so last year and the pull of an alma mater is strong.
Connecticut’s Jim Penders has been at his alma mater for 19 years but he has a connection to Manuel, who spent five years as UConn athletic director, and is coming off a super regionals appearance, adding juice to his candidacy. Penders has won big at UConn and transformed the program, this year coming one win away from a trip to Omaha. There’s little doubt that he’d continue to win at Michigan, but is he ready to leave Storrs?
Central Michigan’s Jordan Bischel is the MAC’s best rising coach and has been in the mix for multiple jobs already this offseason. He’s led the Chippewas to the last two NCAA Tournaments (their first appearances since 1995) and has won two MAC titles in his first four years. Bischel, 40, has been a head coach for 10 years, working his way up from NAIA to Division II to Division I, giving him a blend of youth and head coaching experience. He isn’t a Michigan Man, but he’s certainly proven to have an ability to win in the state.
The last time Michigan went booking for a baseball coach, it turned to Maryland. Could history repeat itself in 2022? Maryland coach Rob Vaughn is coming off a banner season that saw the Terrapins win the Big Ten title—their first conference title in 51 years—and host a regional for the first time ever. He’s expressed a desire to be a program builder for the Terrapins, but Maryland is not an easy job and its facilities need an upgrade to keep up with the top of the Big Ten. The Terrapins’ two previous head coaches parlayed their success into other jobs—Bakich at Michigan and John Szefc at Virginia Tech. Could Vaughn, 34, follow a similar path?
Louisville assistant coach Eric Snider has plenty of Big Ten experience, having spent 16 years at Illinois before moving to Louisville following the 2014 season. He’s one of the most well-respected assistants in the country and has consistently ranked well when Baseball America has surveyed head coaches, asking which assistant coach will become the best head coach. He’s in a good spot at Louisville, but Michigan is an attractive opening.