Texas Longhorns baseball's coaching search thus far has inadvertently served as a campaign to get the nation's top coaches more money. The athletic directors from Louisville, TCU, and Florida are all giving their respective coaches massive pay bumps and extensions as a reaction to the rare Texas opening.
Last week, Louisville's Dan McDonnell signed a deal to make him the highest paid coach in college baseball, and will earn more than $10 million over the next ten years. Yesterday, TCU's AD Chris Del Conte confirmed that Jim Schlossnagle has agreed to an extension "in principle" and that all that needs to be done is "dotting the I's and crossing the T's." Then last night, Kendall Rogers of D1baseball.com reported that his sources are "very confident" that the Longhorns' most likely target, Florida's Kevin O'Sullivan, will remain a Gator. Though the TCU and Florida deals aren't confirmed, Texas' coaching vacancy will result in a pay raise of millions of dollars for all three men.
So what does this mean for Texas? Ultimately, probably that the Longhorns won't get a power conference coach whose team is in the top 10 in the nation. Texas was able to lure Augie Garrido from highly successful Cal State-Fullerton in 1996, but college baseball was different then. In 2016, the sport is much less top heavy, making the Texas name hold less weight.
And maybe that's okay. Some would argue that David Pierce of Tulane and Dan Heefner of Dallas Baptist University leading their small schools to regional appearances is a greater accomplishment than Kevin O'Sullivan taking the Gators to Omaha. Coaches who do a lot with a little are appealing to the Longhorns, because their potential could grow exponentially if they are given top recruits, top coaches, and top facilities at Texas.
After the reassignment of longtime Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido, Burnt Orange Nation published a list of five coaches who could replace the legendary skipper. At the time, we had no idea who was a serious candidate, and who had no intentions of leaving for Austin.
Less than two weeks later, there is much more clarity as to who won't be the fifth Texas baseball head coach since 1911. Wading through the "could be's" is much more difficult, because coaches will be much less vocal about wanting to leave their schools than they will be about loving where they already are. That said, we feel confident that the next Texas baseball coach will still be from our original Top 5 list.
Below is an update on the job candidates, from most likely to least likely to end up a Longhorn:
David Pierce, Tulane
2016 NCAA tournament results: 2-2, eliminated in regional against Boston College.
What the athletic director is saying: "I think the most important thing for coach Pierce is to have a chance for continued success. And, that’s my job."
Dark horse for the Texas job is HC of Tulane is David Pierce. Was told his name has been the talk of many in Austin. #winner— Skippers Dugout (@SkippersDugout) June 6, 2016
David Pierce isn't a huge name in college baseball yet, but the Tulane head coach has had success everywhere he has gone. His Tulane team eliminated a highly touted Ole Miss 6-5 in the tournament, but wasn't able to escape the regionals, as they fell to underdog Boston College twice.
With strong ties to the state of Texas, Pierce emerged as a dark-horse candidate -- and now, the favorite candidate-- for the Texas job. He has only been at Tulane for two years, so it would be an early departure, but Pierce only stayed at his first job at Sam Houston State for three seasons. A former Rice assistant, Pierce had once been pegged as 80-year-old Rice head coach Wayne Graham's eventual replacement, but it would be hard for Pierce to say no to Texas.
Tulane may not have the resources to keep their head coach if Texas comes knocking. Pierce signed a contract extension for an unspecified amount back in December, but it likely doesn't even come close to the seven figures Augie Garrido was making annually at Texas. Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen made a peculiar comment that he wants to make Pierce's job "the best outside of the Big 12 or the SEC." This essentially acknowledges the obvious, which is that Tulane would have trouble matching an offer from a power conference school, much less a traditional powerhouse like Texas.
Brian O'Connor, Virginia
2016 NCAA tournament results: 0-2, eliminated from regional in two games despite hosting.
What the athletic director is saying: "We don’t take for granted anything in intercollegiate athletics and we want to make sure that he, as the head baseball coach, understands our willingness to stretch and to do the things that keeps us ahead of the curve, so to speak."
Virginia's Brian O'Connor seems unlikely to leave UVA, even after a disappointing early exit from the NCAA tournament. He is set to bring back a talented roster next year and claims to have work left to do at Virginia. Even still, his name has frequently been mentioned as a candidate to be the next Texas head coach.
In fact, Horns247 mentioned him as a top candidate after the O'Sullivan news:
A source with knowledge of the situation told Horns247 recently that there's mutual interest between Texas and Virginia's Brian O'Connor. It would be tough to pull O'Connor from Virginia, where he won the national championship last season. O'Connor is well paid and has everything he needs to compete for championship annually. But the best thing for Texas is that the Cavaliers' season is over and there's nothing holding the Longhorns and athletic director Mike Perrin back from pressing ahead if O'Connor is indeed the a prime target.
For now, let's keep him in the medium likelihood.
Dan Heefner, Dallas Baptist
2016 NCAA tournament results: 3-2, eliminated by Texas Tech in regional final.
What the athletic director is saying: N/A.
(Skip to 1:40 to see Heefner discuss job openings.)
The bright lights of Austin would be the antithesis of Dan Heefner's life at Dallas Baptist University. Heefner appears comfortable living life out of the spotlight. The man who played college baseball in Kankakee, Illinois enjoys his quiet life in Cedar Hill, Texas with his wife and five young children. Staying at a Baptist school may also be highly important to Heefner, whose faith is central to his identity. At DBU, Heefner has developed a "Patriot Discipleship program" and has also sponsored several mission trips off the field. If Heefner desires a tightly knit Christian community, he may not necessarily find it as the Longhorn's coach.
However, though Heefner has taken Dallas Baptist unbelievably far given an undergraduate enrollment of less than 3,500, he hasn't been able to make it to Omaha. In 2015, Dallas Baptist hosted a regional, but didn't advance despite a roster packed with future pros. This year as a two seed in their region, the Patriots again failed to make it to the Super Regional.
Heefner is the face of Dallas Baptist, and has coached there for 12 years -- a very long time for someone still in his thirties. Could Heefner be tired of being a big fish in a little pond? With exponentially higher ranked recruits and fantastic facilities and staff, Heefner could take Texas to limitless heights, opposed to at DBU where he may be near the ceiling already.
Jim Schlossnagle, TCU
2016 NCAA tournament results: 3-0. will play Texas A&M in Super Regional.
What the athletic director is saying: "He's a Horned Frog."
Source familiar with Texas search says TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle has agreed in principle to extension to stay at TCU.— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) June 9, 2016
Jim Schlossnagle has always been at the top of the "Augie's replacement" list. In fact, back in February BON writer Abram Orlansky predicted Schlossnagle to be the Longhorns' head coach in 2017 in our baseball season preview. Alas, it does not appear that it was meant to be. Reports today stated that Schlossnagle has received a pay bump and an extension "in principle" to remain the Horned Frogs' head coach.
Though it would be a surprise if Schlossnagle was a Longhorn next year, the door is not entirely closed. Kirk Bohls of the Austin-American Statesman claimed that a source "familiar with the Texas coaching situation" said that Schlossnagle "would have listened--and still might" to discussion regarding the coaching vacancy, but was not contacted by Texas. However, it is unlikely that Texas would poach a division rival who just received an extension, especially when other highly coveted coaches may have higher interest.
Kevin O'Sullivan, Florida
2016 NCAA tournament results: 3-0, will face off against Florida State in Super Regional.
What the athletic director is saying: "When you have a good one you work like heck to keep them. We have a pretty good track record of that."
O'Sullivan wouldn't say whether Texas has contacted him or not #Gators— Kevin Brockway (@gatorhoops) June 8, 2016
Kevin O'Sullivan's Florida Gators are on fire right now, clinching a Super Regional in a 10-1 beat down against Georgia Tech. So why would the coach of the No.1 overall seeded team be interested in coming to Texas? Besides the obvious pay raise of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, the belief was that O'Sullivan may crave a stronger fan base and more support for better facilities and program improvements.
Football reigns supreme at both Florida and Texas, but at Texas, baseball is also a traditional powerhouse, while at Florida the sport is somewhat of an afterthought. Even at the Florida hosted NCAA tournament regionals, there were hundreds of empty seats that would've likely been filled if O'Sullivan's team was in burnt orange at UFCU Disch-Falk field.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley told the Orlando Sentinel, "I expect him to be our baseball coach for a long time." Unfortunately for Texas, it looks like Foley was right. O'Sullivan did not dispel rumors of his leaving with the kind of swiftness and clarity of someone like Dan McDonnell of Louisville. However, Kendall Rogers of D1baseball.com reported that O'Sullivan will remain at Gainesville and is off the board for Texas.
Dan McDonnell, Louisville
2016 NCAA tournament results: 3-0, will take on UC Santa Barbara in Super Regional.
What the athletic director is saying: "I will go down fighting to keep him. He's turned himself into an icon in this community."
Dan McDonnell’s new @UofLBaseball contract is worth a base of $1 million annually makes him nation’s highest paid college baseball coach.— Eric Crawford (@ericcrawford) June 1, 2016
When asked about the coaching vacancy at Texas, Dan McDonnell stated "I don't own cowboy boots and my wife loves Louisville." Though cowboy boots are not a prerequisite for survival in Austin, the Louisville coach meant what he said when he told the media he wasn't leaving. Just last week, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich offered an unheard of $10 million dollars over 10 years to McDonnell, making him college baseball's highest paid coach. In the midst of another successful tournament run, there is close to a zero-percent chance that McDonnell follows Charlie Strong from the 502 to the 512.
Other names to consider
Spike Owen, Keith Moreland, and even Texas pitching coach, Skip Johnson
Former MLB and Texas stars Spike Owen and Keith Moreland have reportedly expressed interest in the job, but AD Mike Perrin has stated he wants someone with college coaching experience.
Ultimately, at this point, it appears that the Texas job is David Pierce or Dan Heefner's for the taking. Unlike other schools who gave their coaches huge pay raises, Tulane and Dallas Baptist don't have the budget to keep their coaches simply by offering competitive extensions. If Pierce and Heefner stay put it's because their personal attachments outweigh the financial and status boost. Dan Heefner may not want to move his young family and forfeit the comfort of a Christian community that he helped build from the ground up. David Pierce may be waiting for the Rice job, and may not want to abandon Tulane after only two seasons.
Coaching searches are vague and frustrating. But there's still every reason to believe that Texas will end up with a winner.