Rice Taps Matt Bragga As Head Coach
Rice on Friday landed one of the hottest names on the coaching market when it hired Matt Bragga away from Tennessee Tech. Bragga, 45, will succeed longtime coach Wayne Graham, whose contract expired this year and the school decided earlier this spring not to retain.
“Matt Bragga is the right person to carry on the terrific legacy and national prominence of Rice baseball,” Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard said in a statement. “He has 19 years of head coaching experience and has driven success at multiple levels of college baseball. Everyone we spoke with said that the reason Tennessee Tech has been so successful in recent years is Matt’s ability to identify and develop talent, inspire young men and teach the game of baseball.”
Bragga this season significantly elevated his profile as he led Tennessee Tech to a 53-12 record and the first super regional appearance in program history. The Golden Eagles last Saturday beat Texas in the first game of the Austin Super Regional before losing the next two games to fall one victory shy of the College World Series.
The Golden Eagles were the first Ohio Valley Conference team to reach super regionals and to win more than 50 games. They entered the Top 25 for the first time in program history and they put together a 28-game winning streak, this year’s longest winning streak in the country. Tennessee Tech had a pair of All-American sluggers – first baseman Chase Chambers and DH Kevin Strohschein – and two pitchers drafted in the top 10 rounds – closer Ethan Roberts and ace Travis Moths.
Bragga built Tennessee Tech into an OVC juggernaut over the last 15 years in Cookeville, Tenn. He took over the program in January 2004, just before the start of the season and the Golden Eagles went just 46-109 in his first three years, but he turned the program around. He leaves Tennessee Tech as the second-winningest coach in program history with a record of 446-392-1, won six OVC championships and made the NCAA Tournament three times in his tenure.
Prior to taking over at Tennessee Tech, Bragga spent three years as an assistant coach at Birmingham Southern (Ala.) and four years as the head coach at Bevill State (Ala.) JC. He is known for his ability as a hitting coach and his enthusiastic coaching style.
Bragga is a departure from the Rice family and Graham’s coaching tree. Graham had publicly endorsed Incarnate Word head coach Patrick Hallmark, his former assistant, and Lance Berkman, former All-Star and Rice alumnus, had also publicly thrown his hat in the ring.
Rice wound up casting a wide net, however, that led it to hiring Bragga. He takes over a program that this season missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995. The Owls went 26-31-2 and finished seventh in Conference USA.
Rice has made 10 super regional appearances and won the national championship in 2003 but has not advanced past regionals since 2013. CUSA has changed dramatically over the last decade as the storm of conference realignment has raged, but Rice, with its jewel of a stadium in Reckling Park and location in the heart of the recruiting hotbed of Houston still has the attributes of a powerhouse program. Now it will be up to Bragga to return the Owls to prominence.