Ohio State Baseball Coaching Search, Job Profile And Candidates

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Ohio State on Monday announced it had fired coach Greg Beals after 12 seasons. The Buckeyes were 346-288-1 under Beals overall and 141-139 in Big Ten play. 

The change was something of a surprise given the recent success Ohio State had under Beals. After OSU missed regionals in his first five seasons at the helm, the Buckeyes made the trip to the postseason in 2016, 2018 and 2019, and the 44 wins celebrated by the 2016 team are tied for fifth all-time in a single Ohio State season.

Those looking to poke holes in what Beals did at Ohio State, however, can certainly do so by pointing out that the Buckeyes never won the Big Ten regular-season title and finished better than fourth just twice. They also went just 2-6 in regionals and never reached a regional final. 

The results of the last two seasons were disappointing as well. In 2021, a promising Ohio State team featuring three starting pitchers drafted in the top 11 rounds—Seth Lonsway, Garrett Burhenn and Jack Neely—went 22-20, finishing sixth in the Big Ten and well out of the postseason picture. And this past season, things bottomed out with the Buckeyes going 20-30 and 8-14 in the Big Ten, placing them 11th in the league. 

In terms of getting to the postseason over the last six years, Ohio State under Beals was one of the most consistent teams in the Big Ten, but taking that next step was the issue. It’s obvious Ohio State wants more from its baseball program moving forward, and that sets clear expectations for Beals’ successor. 

Previous Head Coach

Greg Beals: 346-288-1, 12 seasons

Job Profile

Ohio State is one of the Big Ten’s historical baseball powers, and while its place in the hierarchy slipped as the Big Ten improved in the sport over the last two decades, it should still be considered one of the very best jobs in the conference. Ohio State has national brand cache, which its rival Michigan has shown can have value when recruiting outside of the natural footprint. Bill Davis Stadium isn’t the crown jewel of the Big Ten the way it was when it opened 25 years ago, but it is still a very good facility that can bring in big crowds and could comfortably host regionals, as it has in the past. Making the postseason is also a very achievable goal, as the Big Ten now annually puts three to five teams into regionals. Over the last decade, several Big Ten schools have invested heavily in baseball and seen it pay off. Ohio State has the resources to push back to the top of the conference. This search is an important part of that.

What does an Ohio State search look like?

It’s hard to know exactly how an Ohio State search will take shape because it’s not something we’ve seen recently. Not only did Beals have a relatively long tenure in the grand scheme of things, but his predecessor Bob Todd was in the job for 22 years before him. Beals, as an Ohio native and the coach at Ball State at the time of his hiring at OSU, was a natural geographic fit. We don’t have a ton of clues as to whether Ohio State will use a similar approach this time or look more nationally. 

What are the expectations?

Because of the relative success Beals enjoyed at OSU, we know the standard the administration wants to set is high. But how high? Is it just to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten less often? Not go more than a year without making a regional? Or did they look at Michigan coming one game short of a national title in 2019 and Maryland heading toward a top-eight seed this season and decide that it’s time to compete on that level? The types of candidates that float to the top for this opening might tell us something about those expectations. 

What will Ohio State be willing to pay?

According to 2021 data from Athletic Director U, Beals’ total compensation for that season was just shy of $345,000. For fans of programs in the the other major conferences, that number might not impress, but the Big Ten lags behind in coaching salaries and that number placed Beals fourth in the conference. Notably, though, that still put him nearly $300,000 shy of Michigan coach Erik Bakich’s compensation. Does the new coach come in about where Beals was or does Ohio State make a move to make its compensation more on par with its chief rival?

Roster Outlook

There are things to like about Ohio State’s returning core, should they choose to eschew the transfer portal and stay in Columbus. Top hitter Marcus Ernst and leading home run hitter Zach Dezenzo are both listed as seniors, but both have a fifth year of eligibility left if they choose to exercise it and if Dezenzo doesn’t instead choose to move on for a professional opportunity, which he’ll almost certainly have. Outfielder Kade Kern, going into his third season, should be a lineup stalwart and he may go into the 2023 season as the Big Ten’s best position player prospect. On the mound, closer Ethan Hammerberg will likely have his shot at pro baseball, but returning starters Wyatt Loncar and Isaiah Coupet bring experience and high-end ability to the table. With a 6.51 team ERA in 2022, though, don’t be surprised if that unit looks much different in 2023. 

The Candidates 

Ohio State makes for a very interesting job profile. It’s one of the biggest brands in college athletics and it has some of the best facilities in the Big Ten. It isn’t short on cash, and it looks like more is coming once the Big Ten’s new TV deals land. Consistently winning big in the Big Ten isn’t easy, but the Buckeyes have real upside.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith typically prioritizes head coaching experience in his job searches (though promoting football coach Ryan Day a few years ago bucked that trend). That doesn’t mean assistant coaches won’t get looked at here, but Ohio State has the ability to go big with this hire.

If Ohio State wants to make a splash, it wouldn’t come much bigger than Georgia coach Scott Stricklin. It would take a home run swing to pull Stricklin out of the SEC and the Buckeyes would have to ante up, but they have the muscle to do so. Stricklin, 50, is an Ohio native who played and coached at Kent State, and he was in the mix when Ohio State hired Beals. He lost out on the job then but led the Golden Flashes to the College World Series two years later and then landed at Georgia after the 2013 season. The Bulldogs are on track for their third NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years under Stricklin and while they haven’t won a regional, they did host twice. He’s expressed some complaints with Georgia’s facilities relative to the rest of the SEC, though there’s hope a renovation could begin soon. Is that dissatisfaction, combined with the lure of home, enough to pull him out of the SEC? No head coach has voluntarily left the conference in at least 50 years, and it seems unlikely that trend is going to be broken.

A more realistic splashy hire for Ohio State would be Tracy Smith. He led Indiana to the 2013 CWS and won the Big Ten in back-to-back years before he was hired away by Arizona State following the 2014 season. Smith, 56, had mixed success with the Sun Devils, making four regionals in seven years. He never won a regional and never finished better than third in the Pac-12 and was fired last year. While that fell short of Arizona State’s historic level of success, there’s no doubting Smith’s ability, especially in the Midwest. He’s won more than 800 games in his career and led three programs to a total of nine regionals in 25 years as a head coach. He has strong Big Ten and Ohio ties (he played and coached at Miami (Ohio)) and a return to the Midwest would make a lot of sense.

Maryland coach Rob Vaughn is having a banner season this year. He led the Terrapins to the Big Ten title—their first conference title in 51 years, has them on track to host a regional for the first time in program history and was named Big Ten coach of the year. Maryland, however, 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—Erik Bakich at Maryland and John Szefc at Virginia Tech. Could Vaughn, 34, follow a similar path? He’s the youngest head coach in a major conference, a fact that could work for or against him in a job search.

It would be natural for Ohio State to look to the Mid-American Conference for candidates, as it did when it hired Beals. Central Michigan’s Jordan Bischel is the MAC’s best rising coach. 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.

Virginia associate head coach Kevin 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 18 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. He interviewed with Ohio State the last time the Buckeyes’ job was open. Ohio State would do well to go down that road again.

Michigan associate head coach Nick Schnabel would make for an interesting candidate. Schnabel, the 2019 Assistant Coach of the Year, has helped Bakich build Michigan and lead the Wolverines to a runner-up finish at the 2019 CWS. As recruiting coordinator, he put together the Wolverines’ 10th-ranked 2017 class, the highest-ranked class in Big Ten history, and he ranked third on the 2020 version of the vote by head coaches for the assistant coach with the brightest future as a head coach. He’s a strong head-coaching candidate. But would Ohio State reach across its rivalry for a Michigan assistant coach?

Then-Louisville assistant coach Chris Lemonis was involved in the search the last time the Ohio State job was open and it only makes sense that the Buckeyes would look at his successor on Dan McDonnell’s staff, Eric Snider. He’s been the Louisville recruiting coordinator for eight years, following 16 years at Illinois, giving him extensive experience in the Midwest and Big Ten. He earns praise for his ability as a recruiter and hitting coach.

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