The Texas Longhorns baseball coaching search has been far from fruitful. Though the popular sentiment after Texas' continual misses has been "they will still land a great coach", the general tone surrounding the ‘Horns is now that of desperation. This morning, Kendall Rogers of d1baseball.com reported that Oregon State head coach Pat Casey will stay put after being courted by Texas athletic director Mike Perrin in the past couple of days.
It doesn't appear that Texas will land an up and comer from a small school, nor a skipper from a program with a historical prestige as high as the 'Horns. Rather, Texas will get someone in between, likely someone who has succeeded at a large school, but at a program without enough budget or passion for baseball to keep their head coach. That man looks to be UCLA's John Savage.
Here's the pluses and minuses of hiring Savage:
- His small-ball playing style would be conducive to a speedy team not bringing back much power.
- He has experience coaching at a major school.
- Turned UCLA from 15-41 in his first year in 2005 to winning a championship in 2013.
- Has had recruiting success. UCLA was the number six overall recruiting class in 2015, and Savage's California ties would benefit Texas.
- Has had experience as a pitching coach at USC, and was a former pitcher himself. Savage is known as one of the best pitching coaches in college baseball. He would help a young bullpen that struggled last year and is losing their leader, Ty Culbreth.
- UCLA has struggled nearly as much as Texas has in recent years. In 2014, the Bruins went 25-30-1. They rebounded in 2015 by making it to an NCAA regional, but in 2016, they finished at 25-31.
- The Bruins' success occurred when college baseball was limiting power. Now they are promoting it. Starting in 2011, baseball began using less hitter-friendly bats. It may not be a coincidence that 2011 was the first year UCLA won the Pac-10. True, the Bruins' downward slide began in 2014, one year before flat-seamed balls were integrated to enhance power. However, the flat-seamed balls can't be helping the team's strategy, which focused on pitching far more than hitting.
- UCLA's team batting average has been ranked 245th or worse in batting average in four of the last six years. There were 295 Divison 1 baseball programs in 2016.
The joke that Texas should hire UCLA's coach to make their coaches "Strong, Smart, and Savage" looks to be finally becoming a reality. That said, Savage was probably not Mike Perrin's first choice, or even in his top five for that matter.
We've already seen the "Texas effect" in action, where schools with deep pockets have shelled out millions to prevent their baseball leaders from flirting with the Longhorns. It's what's made Louisville coach Dan McDonnell a 10-million dollar man, kept Jim Schlossnagle a Horned Frog rather than a Horn, and most recently, helped LSU's Paul Mainieri earn a significant pay boost, even though the state of Louisiana facing a $1 billion shortfall this year.
Texas has now hired a head-hunting firm to assist in finding the right man for the job. So, why has the search been so complicated and difficult? Maybe because major schools are fighting to be one of the few programs to make money from baseball.
Though the average Division I baseball team operated at a $700,000 loss in 2012, LSU has a waiting list for season tickets at their usually full 10,326-person capacity stadium. Their beautiful Alex Box Suites go for about $35,000 for a season. Simply put, LSU cannot afford a rebuilding year, or worse, a downhill slide of their program. Offering Paul Mainieri a pay raise is worth it in an age where the top schools are able to squeeze money out of baseball.
Other schools, like Louisville, offer free admission to nearly every home baseball game. For a developing university like U of L, the baseball program offers exposure. Louisville's successful athletics have helped them into the mostly academically prestigious ACC, and transform from a largely commuter school to a sprawling, diverse university.
It is now a challenge to poach a coach, even from a non-traditional baseball school, because the college game is less top heavy than it used to be. Today, Louisville is paying their coach a million dollars a year for ten years. In 1996, the last time Texas was hiring a coach, Louisville baseball was about to begin their first season at the not-so-glamorous Derby City Field, with a capacity of only 2,000 in solely bleacher seating.
The 1996 final college baseball standings showed LSU, Miami, Florida, Clemson, Florida State, and Alabama to be in the top six. In Omaha this year, teams like UC Santa Barbara, Coastal Carolina, and once athletically inferior Texas schools like Tech and TCU all find themselves in the field.
The reasons for why Texas hasn't pursued Dallas Baptist's Dan Heefner and Tulane's David Pierce appear more personal than financial. Heefner has an attachment to DBU, as he has been with the school since they were an independent club. He may simply desire being a small school hero rather than facing a big school challenge. As for David Pierce, it's possible that he simply isn't the favorite for Texas yet. He also may be waiting for the Rice job to open up after Wayne Graham retires, as he has coached at the school before.
Though it hasn't been successful, the baseball coaching search has picked up pace in the past few days. Expect to hear news of Texas' new hiring within the next week as Mike Perrin continues to aggressively search for just the fifth Texas baseball coach since 1911.