Texas A&M Coaching Search, Job Profile And Candidates

On May 23, Texas A&M announced it was parting ways with head coach Rob Childress after his contract expired at the end of the season. The decision brings an end to a 16-year tenure in College Station that delivered significant success to the program but never resulted in the Aggies becoming a year-in, year-out national title contender. 

Under Childress, A&M went to 13 straight regionals from 2007, his second season at the helm, to 2019. He guided the team to six super regionals and two College World Series appearances, in 2011 and 2017, and to an overall record of 621-334-3.

The expectation that Texas A&M is a sleeping giant in college baseball that will eventually join the sport’s elite led many to think a change was needed. There’s no disputing that Childress had a positive effect at A&M after arriving from Nebraska, where he was an assistant under Dave Van Horn and Mike Anderson and helped open up the Lincoln to College Station coaching pipeline, which also includes current Cornhuskers coach Will Bolt and Texas A&M assistant Justin Seely. 

When Childress took over for Mark Johnson, who had a very successful run in College Station in his own right, the Aggies had missed the postseason in four of the previous six seasons. After one rebuilding season in 2006, Childress led A&M to a Big 12 Tournament title and a super regional in year two, followed by a Big 12 regular-season title and another super regional in year three. 

He also should be credited with successfully leading the Aggies through their transition to the SEC. Despite moving up in weight class, so to speak, the program didn’t miss much of a beat and was competitive right away. 

At the same time, reasonable people can make the argument that the results were slipping, even before missing out on a regional in 2021. The 2018 and 2019 seasons ended with elimination in regionals, and in 2018, the Aggies were one of the last teams in the field of 64. 

This job is one of the best to come open in recent years and some of the biggest-name coaches both in and out of the Lone Star State will undoubtedly show interest. But that’s not the same thing as saying the job is easy. 

Sure, everything A&M needs in order to win a national title is in place, but trying to go from good to great in the SEC is a tough task, and expectations are high enough that patience might be hard to come by. Fair or not, the next coach will be tasked with turning the Aggies into a power in college baseball. 

Previous Head Coach

Rob Childress: 621-334-3, 16 seasons

Job Description

The reasons why Texas A&M is seen as a college baseball goldmine are clear. It has a strong baseball tradition, it’s in the best baseball conference in the country, it’s an attractive school for students from an academic and student-experience standpoint, it’s a relatively short distance away from Texas’ major hubs of prep baseball talent, the facilities are right in line with the best in the SEC and it’s clear that the administration will spare little expense in trying to build a winner. But the climb in the SEC is tough, and becoming elite would simply make Texas A&M one of a group of premier programs in its own league. The raw materials are in place for that, but it’s a steep climb. 

Administration Will Swing for the Fences

Texas A&M is one of the few jobs in college baseball where you can be assured that the administration will take some big swings when it comes to finding its next coach. Football and baseball are apples and oranges in college athletics, but it’s hard to imagine that the school that gave Jimbo Fisher a 10-year, $75 million contract in 2017 will have any qualms about doing what it takes to get their guy in this search. This is also athletic director Ross Bjork’s first chance to make a prominent coaching selection since he was hired in 2019 and he’s sure to want to make a splash. There are no guarantees when it comes to coaching searches, but with A&M’s resources, it’s tough to envision a scenario where it’ll have to go too far down the wishlist before making a hire. 

How Long Do They Wait?

With that said, one variable at play is that the postseason is just getting started, and that means that the Aggies’ primary targets are going to be tied up for at least a couple more weeks and perhaps as long as nearly a month. That doesn’t mean that the school can’t have back-channel conversations to gauge interest while a targeted coach’s team is still playing, but it does mean the hire could be held up, and that can come with risk. If A&M waits for a coach whose team is in Omaha and feels pretty confident in getting something done, what will it be left with if that coach gets cold feet? At that point, the reality might be that it’s working with a diminished, if still extremely strong, candidate pool. This is also a unique year to be without a coach in June. After not being able to go on the road to recruit for more than a year, coaches will be allowed back out starting June 1 and the one-time transfer exception also goes into effect this year. A program without a head coach this June will be missing out on opportunities in the transfer portal and in recruiting.

Roster Breakdown

Texas A&M is in the SEC, so there are talented players on this roster, but relative to the rest of the league, it was clearly a step behind this season. There will be plenty of roster turnover ahead of next season, which can cut both ways. A new coach would probably like to have at least a handful of high-end returning talents, but on the other hand, it will maximize his opportunity to start molding the roster to his liking right away. It’s expected that the top three arms on the team, righthander Bryce Miller and lefthanders Dustin Saenz and Jonathan Childress, will be off to pro baseball this summer. Lefthander Chris Weber is also something of a draft risk, and top reliever Chandler Jozwiak is a senior as well. Offensively, top hitters in first baseman Will Frizzell and outfielder Ray Alejo are also expected to depart. Getting outfielder Austin Bost back would give the lineup at least one returning thumper and shortstop Kalae Harrison, who handled a major role as a freshman this season, looks the part of a foundational player for the next couple of years, but make no mistake, this will be a rebuilding job right out of the gate. 

The Candidates

Childress’ contract situation made it easier to make a move, but athletic director Ross Bjork wouldn’t have moved on from a coach of Childress’ stature if he didn’t think he could hit a home run with his replacement. So, now, Bjork has to swing for the fences.

That means looking at the top of the industry for candidates. A&M can pay big and shouldn’t need to slide too far down its list. Still, hiring a coach for a major power is rarely as easy as expected—look no further than protracted recent searches at Mississippi State, Southern California and Texas for evidence of that.

The top targets for A&M will be Texas Christian’s Jim Schlossnagle and Texas Tech’s Tim Tadlock. Both have won and won big in the Lone Star state. The Aggies are very familiar with Schlossnagle’s success, as they were beaten in super regionals back-to-back years by his Horned Frogs in 2015-16. Tadlock has built a monster program at Texas Tech, his alma mater, and has led the Red Raiders to four of the last six College World Series—only two fewer CWS appearances than A&M has in its history.

Schlossnagle and Tadlock would be clear home run hires. They’re not without their downsides and Tadlock would have to make the difficult decision to leave his alma mater. But A&M has the resources to make it worth their while and provides a solid foundation to be competitive in the rugged SEC.

Tennessee’s Tony Vitello merits a long look. Vitello, 42, is known for his recruiting prowess, something that is crucial to success in the SEC. He’s also quickly proven himself as a head coach. In 2019, his second season, he led the Volunteers to regionals for the first time since 2005 and this year Tennessee is 42-14, won the SEC East for the first time since 1997 and is in line to host a regional. Still, hiring away a sitting SEC head coach is difficult and hasn’t been done since John Cohen left Kentucky for Mississippi State, his alma mater, in 2008. 

East Carolina’s Cliff Godwin has already turned down Alabama and Mississippi State to remain as the head coach of his alma mater and has made it clear that he wants to lead the Pirates to their first CWS appearance. But if A&M could persuade the 43-year-old, he would certainly fit the bill for the job. He has extensive SEC experience as an assistant at Louisiana State and Mississippi. A&M can’t offer Godwin the comforts of home, but it’s a job Godwin would have to seriously consider if offered. 

Godwin’s former college teammate, Michigan’s Erik Bakich, has previously turned down overtures from premium programs (South Carolina and Stanford) to stay at his current job. But A&M may be a different story. Bakich, 43, led Michigan to the College World Series finals in 2019 and has SEC experience as a former Vanderbilt assistant coach. There aren’t many boxes he wouldn’t check.

Dallas Baptist’s Dan Heefner has been a subject of just about every major coaching search in the area in recent years and he should get a look here, as well. Heefner has built DBU into a regional powerhouse and has led the Patriots to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. He doesn’t have the major conference experience of other candidates, but his track record of success in the area is impressive. 

One wild card is Pat Casey. The former Oregon State coach retired in September 2018 after 24 years as a head coach and has been working in the athletic department since. But he’s never closed the door on returning to the dugout. It would be a big change, but would the chance to compete in the SEC lure Casey, 62, to College Station? 

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