Saturday, July 7, 2012

Maryland needs a coach, among other things...

Poor Maryland. Despite one of the programs best seasons in decades (#31 in the RPI) the Terrapins fell short of an at-large bid in the Regionals, a spot in the ACC Tournament, saw their revered head coach, Erik Bakich, depart for a mid-major conference team, and this past week suffered major cuts to their athletic department.

The U of M already seemed unwilling to support their baseball program and now appears they’re simply unable to. Bakich (who left for Michigan largely because of the Wolverines commitment to baseball) was paid a shockingly low $100,000 by an ACC school and with the budget cuts it’s reasonable to assume that figure should just get lower for his successor. My prognosis of the Maryland coaching situation is a bit pessimistic, but with all the budget cuts that have taken place the Terrapins should be thankful to still have a baseball team at this point, so despite coming off a surprisingly good year, my guess is the Maryland position will be a bit difficult to fill.

On that cheery note, let’s see who could get this thankless job in College Park:

The Top Program Assistants:

I’ve decided to lump all these guys together because I think their odds of getting hired are all comparably low. A top assistant at a good program could already be making close to (or more) than the $100,000 that Bakich received, plus they’ll be coming from a school that has a decidedly larger commitment to its baseball team. Among the candidates rumored (as in, mentioned on Kendall Roger’s latest Coaching Carousel) are:

Scott Forbes, Associate Head Coach, North Carolina – Forbes may be the most qualified candidate on the list. He’s been an assistant in the ACC for well over a decade, has experience as a summer league head coach, and is an AHC at an elite program. All that may mean the Terps simply won’t be able to pay him enough to pry him from an already prestigious position. He’s also a pitching coach (and former national pitching coach of the year), the one position that could still be filled and one of the few Maryland coaches likely to stick around in College Park, Eric Milton.

Kevin McMullan, Associate Head Coach, Virginia – Another ACC AHC, McMullan is also the team’s recruiting coordinator and hitting coach (begging the questions, just what the hell does Cavaliers Head Coach Brian O’Connor do?). McMullan is immensely valuable to UVa, making it hard to imagine they’d let their coach leave for a conference foe when they can probably offer a better salary (if they’re not already).

Scott Jackson, Assistant Coach, North Carolina – Jackson may be a slightly more realistic option for Maryland since he’s a step down the payscale already yet still has an impressive resume as the Tar Heels recruiting coordinator. He also has a diverse coaching background; working as a hitting, base running, infield, and pitching coach.

Link Jarrett, Director of Player Development, Auburn – Jarrett offers a similarly impressive, still relatively young career as Jackson and what he lacks in the on-field success Jackson and the Tar Heels have had he enjoys in personal accolades, winning two Assistant Coach of the Year awards. Auburn’s lack of significant success the last few years could also make the jump to ACC Head Coach by Jarrett more likely than what you’d expect from your typical SEC assistant. Also, the guy’s name is Link. What the hell?

Chris Lemonis, Assistant Coach, Louisville – Yet another recruiting coordinator for a top-25 caliber team, Lemonis is the top assistant for the Cardinals although he doesn’t carry the “Associate Head Coach” tag, meaning he may be easier to pry away. Furthermore, he’s primarily a hitting coach, which may be what Maryland needs first and foremost (besides a strong recruiter). This is pure speculation on my part, but it’s possible all these non-AHCs could also be candidates for the UNC Greensboro job, where the program plays at fairly well respected ballpark, despite being a mid-major. So ACC team Maryland could actually find itself competing with that.

The Head Coaches:

Also being rumored are a few current and former head coaches, most of which already have comfortable positions at schools that, while small, have solidly built baseball programs.

Monte Lee, Head Coach, College of Charleston – Lee has been mentioned as a candidate, but this is one option I just can’t see. Why in the world Lee would leave the baseball hotbed of South Carolina, and a program that’s turned into a solid regional contender year after year, is beyond me. Mid-Major status be damned, right now I’d rather be coaching the Cougars than the Terrapins.

Mike Kennedy, Head Coach, Elon – Kennedy has been with the Phoenix for 16 years with consistent success for a mid-major team, and is a former player for the school. Although Elon may not be as prestigious as North Carolina, Virginia, or even College of Charleston, no other coach on this list may be more deeply entrenched with his program. Kennedy likely only leaves the Phoenix if he gets an offer that’s too good to refuse. Despite U of M’s budget problems there’s an outside chance of Kennedy getting a decent offer. Since the Terps are likely to lose nearly their entire coaching staff to Michigan they may put a premium on a candidate that can bring a coaching staff with him. 

Joe Sottolano, Head Coach, Army – Sottolano is in a similar situation as Kennedy, having a long history with his program. However he’s not an alumnus of the school so his ties may not be as strong as Kennedy’s. He also may be more willing to depart since he comes from a military academy, where achieving much success outside the conference is less likely than for a typical mid-major. One last major factor: For over six years during Sottolano's tenture as the Army HC, his Athletic Director was current Maryland AD Kevin Anderson. Lord knows what this means or if these guys actually like each other (although, come to think of it, Kendall Rogers probably knows) but this could certainly help Maryland attempt to undo those ties Sottolano and Army have.

Frank Anderson, Former Head Coach, Oklahoma State – This could be a match made in purgatory. Anderson is currently unemployed, after getting the axe from Oklahoma State just a few weeks ago, after being a coach in the Texas/Oklahoma region for over two decades. An outfielder in college, Anderson has experience as a pitching coach. Geographically it may be a mismatch and PR-wise it may just look bad for an ACC school to hire a coach deemed unworthy of coaching in the Big XII. Still, if Maryland is simply looking for anyone who knows how to run a baseball team, a recent firee (not a real word) could be the perfect candidate to offer a modest salary to. The real question could be if Anderson is willing to move halfway across the country to try and right a wayward ship.  

The Eric Miltons:

The sad thing about most of these candidates is that if they fail, well, they’d obviously be fired within a few seasons, but even if they find success at Maryland, the position would almost certainly be a stepping stone job. A chance to put “Head Coach for ACC school” on their resume before trying to move onto something bigger and better. It’s possible the Maryland AD will find some young, idealistic candidate who wants to rebuild the program all by himself, and if that’s the case then Maryland should by all means give that man the job, however it’s unlikely they’ll find this given the bleak situation in College Park.

There is one candidate that is unlikely to bolt after a few seasons, but he’s also probably the least qualified man for the job.

Eric Milton, Interim Head Coach, Maryland – That title is a little misleading, as Milton has held the position for about a week and his college coaching resume consists of less than one calendar year as a volunteer assistant with the Terps. Despite this, he may end up being the last man standing after Bakich assembles his staff out in Ann Arbor. Milton is an alumnus, if that counts for anything, but the biggest factor supporting Milton’s chances at the gig is the fact that an inexperience, in-house, hometown hire such Milton could also come the most cheaply.

As great a hitter as Tony Gwynn was, he just has never been a terribly successful college head coach. Some have questioned whether a man without Gwynn’s iconic status would have been fired by now. For my money, it seems that the folks at San Diego State have resided themselves in the idea that, with Gwynn, they can pretty much put the program on autopilot. No need to shake up the coaching staff or pump more money into the program (I say that, admittedly, without knowing SDSU’s baseball budget) just let Gwynn write his own ticket and let the recruiting pitch simply be “Want to play for a Hall of Famer?”

Not that Milton is on the same level as Gwynn, either in terms of major league talent or popularity, but it’s possible Maryland could take a similar route as SDSU and simply hire someone with strong ties to the program who could make up for his lack of experience and the school’s lack of success by simply telling high schoolers “want to play for a former All-Star?” The department’s budget issues may leave them little choice. 

Before the College World Series I gave my odds for each team winning the title; this time I’m taking the more lazy route and simply ranking the candidates in order of likelihood to get the job.

1. Joe Sattolano
2. Frank Anderson
3. Eric Milton
4. Scott Jackson
5. Chris Lemonis
6. Link Jarrett
7. Mike Kennedy
8. Kevin McMullen
9. Monte Lee
10. Scott Forbes

UPDATE (7/19): Maryland has their man, hiring Kansas State Associate Head Coach John Szefc. Szxfecfsdsd was #11 on my list, so, yeah. Nailed it.