Image credit: Michigan coach Erik Bakich and Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin (Photo by Teddy Cahill)
There is ample evidence that the quality of college baseball across the nation has never been better, but one clear thing you can point to is the sheer number of programs that are currently enjoying or are not far removed from their best run of success.
That’s also expressed in the number of sitting head coaches that you could argue for being the best coach in the history of the program, whether it’s a coach who has taken an already successful team to another level or a coach who took a moribund program and brought it to life.
While some coaching hires pay immediate dividends or flame out right away, it typically takes time to fully judge the result of a particular hiring. These are the 25 hirings since 2000 that have paid off in the biggest way.
1. Tim Corbin, Vanderbilt (2002)
The difference between Vanderbilt baseball before and after Tim Corbin’s arrival is like the difference in night and day. The program went to the NCAA Tournament just three times in its history prior to Corbin taking over in 2002. Since then, he has developed Vanderbilt into one of the preeminent programs in the country and a two-time national champion.
2. Kevin O’Sullivan, Florida (2007)
O’Sullivan has taken the program from a very successful one that was a regular in regionals and occasionally competed for national titles to one that is always in regionals, expects to reach the College World Series and won the first national championship in program history in 2017. He’s led the Gators to seven College World Series appearances.
3. Brian O’Connor, Virginia (2003)
After serving on Paul Mainieri’s staff at Notre Dame, O’Connor took over at Virginia in time for the 2003 season and has since delivered the best run of success in program history. In 2009, he took the Cavaliers to the College World Series for the first time. They’ve made three more CWS appearances since then and won it all in 2015.
4. Dan McDonnell, Louisville (2006)
Louisville in 2007, McDonnell’s first year on the job, made its first College World Series appearance and only its second regional appearance, and it has continued as a national title-contending program since then. The Cardinals have missed the postseason just once since McDonnell arrived and have been to the CWS four times since 2013 alone.
5. John Savage, UCLA (2004)
Prior to Savage’s arrival, UCLA had its moments, like a standout 1997 team that featured future big leaguers like Troy Glaus and Eric Byrnes, but the perception was that the program was a perennial underachiever. That’s changed under Savage, as the Bruins have been to the College World Series three times and in 2013 won a national title.
6. Jim Schlossnagle, Texas Christian (2003)
After engineering an impressive turnaround at Nevada-Las Vegas, Schlossnagle has done the same and then some at Texas Christian, taking the Horned Frogs from an also-ran to an upstart mid-major program in Conference USA and the Mountain West to a national power as a member of the Big 12.
7. Tim Tadlock, Texas Tech (2011)
It’s a tough task to take a program in a major conference and elevate it to a new level when the competition around it is as tough as ever, but that’s what Tadlock has done in turning Texas Tech into the preeminent program in the Big 12. He took the Red Raiders to their first College World Series in 2014 and has repeated the feat three times since then.
8. Paul Mainieri, Louisiana State (2006)
LSU was a national power before Mainieri arrived from Notre Dame, but at the time he took the job, it was a program in need of a steadying force after several years of inconsistency. Mainieri has been that, as he’s led the Tigers to five College World Series appearances and a national title in 2009.
9. Dave Van Horn, Arkansas (2002)
Legendary Arkansas coach Norm DeBriyn put Razorbacks baseball on the map, but Van Horn, who was hired in 2002 after taking Nebraska to two CWS appearances, has taken the program to the next level. He has led Arkansas to Omaha six times and to a place as one of the most consistent power programs in the country.
10. Erik Bakich, Michigan (2012)
From 2010-2012, Bakich laid the foundation for Maryland teams that would end up going to back-to-back super regionals in 2013 and 2014 under John Szefc, and in 2013, he began the process of building the Michigan program back into a national title contender, culminating in the Wolverines coming one win short of said championship in 2019.
11. Mike Bianco, Mississippi (2000)
When Bianco was hired at Mississippi, the Rebels had been to the postseason just twice since 1977. But since 2001, Bianco’s first season, the team has been a mainstay in regionals, has won six regionals, and in 2014, made it to the College World Series for the first time since 1972.
12. Chris Pollard, Duke (2012)
To say that Duke baseball hadn’t accomplished much in the years before Pollard arrived in 2012 would be an understatement. It hadn’t been to a regional since 1961 and it had finished over .500 in conference play just once since 1963. As it stands today, Duke has been to the postseason in three out of the last four full seasons, has been to back-to-back super regionals and is firmly entrenched as a Top 25 program.
13. John Cohen, Mississippi State (2008)
Cohen could have been a contender for this list based on his tenure at Kentucky, which he led to the SEC title in 2006. At Mississippi State, his alma mater, he continued the high standard set by his predecessor Ron Polk and was well thought of enough that he has since been promoted to athletic director. On the field, the Bulldogs finished as runners up in the 2013 College World Series and in 2016 won their first SEC championship since 1989, during Cohen’s playing days.
14. Tracy Smith, Indiana (2005)
By leading the Hoosiers to the College World Series in 2013 and to a national seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Smith not only elevated the Indiana program to a new level, but also arguably raised the ceiling for what could and should be expected of Big Ten baseball teams. The Big Ten has enjoyed outstanding growth in the sport over the last decade, and Smith deserves a lot of credit for that with what he did at IU.
15. Andrew Checketts, UC Santa Barbara (2011)
At UC Santa Barbara, Checketts has developed a Big West power from scratch. The Gauchos had made the NCAA Tournament just twice in 20 years before he was hired, but he quickly turned them into a winner. Checketts led UCSB to regionals in his second season, in 2016 it broke through to the College World Series and in 2019 it won its first Big West championship since 1986.
16. Scott Stricklin, Kent State (2004)
Now the coach at Georgia, Stricklin served in the same role at Kent State from 2005-2013 and got the Golden Flashes to heights they had never seen before, which is saying a lot for a proud program like that one. Specifically, he led the 2012 team to the College World Series and an elimination game win over No. 1 Florida.
17. Dan Heefner, Dallas Baptist (2007)
When Heefner took over at DBU for the 2007 season, the Patriots were an independent program with no history at the Division I level. Just one season later, he led them to their first regional appearance, and since then, has built the program into one of the most consistent mid-major outfits in college baseball.
18. Randy Mazey, West Virginia (2012)
When West Virginia moved from the Big East to the Big 12, it was easy to assume that the Mountaineers would be overmatched, but thanks to Mazey’s work, that hasn’t been the case. WVU got to a regional in 2017 for the first time since 1996 and then hosted one in 2019, giving the program its best run of form since the 1980s.
19. Andy Lopez, Arizona (2001)
Lopez brought Arizona back to the peak of college baseball in 2012 with the program’s first College World Series championship since 1986. He led the Wildcats to regionals eight times and Omaha twice, in addition to posting a .601 winning percentage over 14 seasons.
20. Jim Penders, Connecticut (2003)
Penders deserves a lot of credit for not only turning UConn into the most consistent program in the Northeast, but also leading it through a transition from the Big East to the American and back to the Big East without missing a beat, and also for getting a much-needed new facility built on campus, setting the Huskies up for success well into the future.
21. Josh Holliday, Oklahoma State (2012)
Consistency is the best word to describe Oklahoma State baseball under Holliday. The Cowboys have been to the postseason every year since he took over for the 2013 season, and in 2016, he got the team back to the College World Series for the first time since 1999, when Holliday played for his father Tom Holliday at Oklahoma State.
22. Butch Thompson, Auburn (2015)
Before Thompson arrived at Auburn, regional appearances were no sure thing. In fact, when he took over ahead of the 2016 season, the Tigers had reached the postseason just twice in the previous decade. Now, Auburn has been to regionals in three of Thompson’s four seasons at the helm and returned to the CWS in 2019 for the first time since 1997.
23. Steve Owens, Bryant (2010)
Just simply keeping a team competitive when moving up from Division II to Division I is difficult, but Owens, now at Rutgers, pulled that off and then some as Bryant made the move a little more than a decade ago. He took over in Bryant’s third year as a DI program and its second year in the NEC and proceeded to win at least a share of the NEC regular-season title in eight of the nine seasons he was there.
24. Mike Batesole, Fresno State (2002)
A national championship in 2008 is enough reason for Batesole to be on this list, but his accomplishments with Fresno State go beyond that. The Bulldogs made regionals six out of seven years as members of the WAC from 2006-2012, and they have more recently found their footing in the Mountain West, winning regular-season titles in 2016 and 2019.
25. George Horton, Oregon (2007)
After going to six College World Series and winning the 2004 national title with Cal State Fullerton, Horton took on a new challenge in 2007 with the restarting of the Oregon program. Horton had the Ducks in the postseason in year two, had them in a super regional in year four, and overall, had the Ducks in regionals in five of the first seven seasons he was there, an incredible run for a program entering on the ground floor.