They may not wear many championship rings, but Houston's Todd Whitting and Tulane's David Pierce have been winners all their lives. Both of these American Athletic Conference coaches were interviewed for the Texas baseball job Saturday, according to several reports including the Austin American Statesman.
The two Texas natives are in stark contrast to the names in the rumor mill just a few days ago. Texas was originally pursuing coaches who have already sealed their legacy somewhere else, whether it be Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan, or UCLA’s John Savage. In Whitting and Pierce, Texas has two local products whose best coaching days appear to be ahead of them.
Whitting and Pierce, ages 45 and 53, respectively, may not be young, but the two are up and comers nonetheless. Whitting just finished his sixth year as a college baseball head coach, while Pierce has completed only his fifth.
Houston was downright bad in Todd Whitting’s first two years, as the Cougars were a combined 45-67-1 in 2011 and 2012. However, Whitting led Houston to their best record in 24 years in 2013 when the Cougars went 36-22, but missed the NCAA tournament. In 2014, Houston appeared in their first Super Regional in 11 years, and in 2015, the Cougars hosted a regional for just the third time in program history (though they didn’t make it out). Whitting’s Houston team beat Texas 3-2 in 2016, but despite winning 36 games, the Cougars did not make the tournament.
Whitting is currently the highest paid coach in the AAC, making a base of $300,000 annually. It’s a large sum of money, but don’t expect Houston to be able to offer a raise anywhere near the realm of TCU’s 1.4 million a year extension to Jim Schlossnagle.
David Pierce has been a dark horse to take the Texas job since the beginning of the search. Now, with many coaches bowing out to be the next Longhorn baseball coach, Pierce has become the favorite. We penned him as a top five candidate on May 31st, and he remains a likely choice nearly three weeks later, which is an eternity in college search time.
Pierce has more diverse ties to Texas than perhaps any other college baseball coach. What do I mean by that? Pierce has been a player at Wharton junior college and the University of Houston, a head coach at Houston's Dobie High School (whose nickname, if I may add, is the Longhorns), an assistant coach at Houston, a hitting, pitching and later assistant coach at Rice, and a head coach at Sam Houston State. In Pierce's first recruiting class a Tulane, three of his six recruits were from the Houston area. Pierce could definitely rejuvenate recruiting at Texas, where TCU currently reigns supreme.
Pierce has led his teams to NCAA tournaments in all five of his years as a head coach, but never to a Super Regional. In 2016, his Tulane squad found its way into the top 10 for much of the season, but was upset in a regional final against Boston College. That said, Pierce was instrumental in Rice's 2003 National Championship, and has proven that he can not only develop both hitters and pitchers, but also be a winner as well.
Pierce was strongly considered for the Alabama vacancy, but the Tide ultimately went with Louisiana Tech's Greg Goff. Whether this was Alabama or Pierce's choosing is not confirmed. Pierce may have been waiting for the Texas job, but one major issue that might've held Alabama back from hiring Pierce is that he has nearly a $1 million dollar buyout, according to New Orleans' newspaper, The Advocate.
David Pierce may be a stronger candidate than Whitting, but Pierce's buyout on top of the $300,000 already owed to Augie Garrido might make the Green Wave skipper less alluring. Texas may not want to spend another million just to terminate Tulane's contract with Pierce, before presumably paying him close to another million for his new Texas contract.
Another interesting fact that may concern Texas fans more than Mike Perrin, is that Pierce's teams have been generally on the decline in batting average. Transforming Texas into a team that can get on base will be key for a roster losing its best power hitter in Tres Barrera, and the Longhorns struggled mightily at the plate even with him this year. Sam Houston State hit .292 in Pierce's first year, but declined in both of his last two years. At Tulane, Pierce's team hit .253 in 2015, and only .246 in conference play in 2016. However, Tulane did smash a whopping 66 home runs last season, even though their field is relatively large (400 ft center field, 370 ft power alleys). By comparison, Texas had only 34 homers on the year.
If Perrin doesn't hire Whitting or Pierce in the next week or so, it may be because the Texas athletic director wants to interview coaches still playing in the College World Series. Perrin expressed a desire to do this on Friday on the Longhorn Network, but this was before TCU announced a massive extension for Jim Schlossnagle. If Perrin does interview coaches in the College World Series, it will likely be Josh Holliday of Oklahoma State and/or Tim Tadlock at Texas Tech.
The only other name that could possibly still be in consideration is Dallas Baptist's Dan Heefner. However, there have been virtually no rumors or news surrounding Heefner with regards to the Texas job. He may still be a candidate, but its possible that Perrin values Whitting or Pierce's experience at a more traditional baseball program, or simply that Heefner wants to remain in his close knit, Christian community.
Otherwise, this coaching search finally has some clarity. Mike Perrin has a massive decision looming over him in his first head coaching search. It hasn't been easy -- already, as many as eight coaches have pulled their names out of consideration for the Texas job. However, Perrin's stress should be relieved knowing that coaches as prestigious as Todd Whitting and David Pierce would likely jump at the chance to coach for the Longhorns.