In my time on this earth, there have been only two men at the helm of the Baylor Baseball program. Yesterday, marked the end of the 21 year long Smith Era. I will just be honest with everyone. As things are right now, I am not really at a point where I can be objective about Coach Smith's career at the moment. So, I will hold off on writing up a piece remembering the career, but there is still the matter of finding a new skipper. So let's look at some possible candidates.
Personal Short List
(Alphabetical Order last name)
Dan Heefner has been with DBU for 11 seasons and 8 as head coach. In that time he has accumulated a 299-166 record with appearances in the NCAA 5 regionals (2008, 2012, 2014) including a super regional in 2011, and they will be hosting a regional for 2015. 2008 marked DBU's first regional appearance, joining Miami as the only independent school to earn regional bids. Also, according to Astros blogger Steve Campbell, Drayton McLane donated $5 million to DBU in 2011 for baseball field renovations. If one were into reading tea leaves, it seems that would be a pretty good indication that the beloved Baylor benefactor supports Dan Heefner and might support him as the next guy at Baylor. Of course with a new stadium, great program momentum, and being situated in a hot bed of talent, it is hard to know for certain how much interest Heefner would have in leaving DBU. As the #1 seed in the Dallas Regional, DBU has legitimate national title aspirations for 2015. With coming from a small private school with similar restrictions as Baylor, his resume, and his faith based approach to baseball, it is easy to understand why many see Heefner as the ideal candidate.
Skip Johnson has been an assistant for UT for 9 years, 3 of which have been as Associate Head Coach. Skip is one of the best pitching coaches in the game of baseball. Not college baseball; all of baseball. UT has been in the top 10 nationally in ERA 6 of his 9 years on the staff. MLB pitchers have been known to make trips to Corsicana and Texas to work with Skip for years, and when asked how he developed to become the first prep school pitcher taken, Clayton Kershaw remarked, "Ask Skip Johnson". In fact, the Austin American Statesman wrote a piece in 2014 in which it was revealed that Kershaw and Homer Bailey still work with him. Bailey called him, "the best I've ever been around." But, being a great pitching coach doesn't necessarily make for a good head coach. Skip has that box ticked as well after turning Navarro College into a JUCO power in his 13 years in Corsicana. He won 9 conference championships as the head coach at Navarro and made 13 Regional Tournaments, winning 4 Regional Titles. Skip is believed by many to be the heir apparent to the UT job, but who knows what would happen if he were given an opportunity for a head job at a major program.
Todd Whitting has only been at Houston for 5 years, but in that time he already made a super regional last year where they lost to UT. UH also will be hosting a regional for 2015. In addition to his time as the head coach at UH, he served as an assistant coach to TCU's Jim Schlossnagle. In total, Whitting has been a part of coaching staffs that have won 17 regular season or conference championships, 14 regionals, 6 super regionals, and a College World Series. However, Whitting is an UH alumnus, and he recently signed a 5 year extension with the Cougs. It may be difficult to pry him away from his Alma Mater
Other Names to Watch
Again, the names above are the short list of candidates who make sense to me. If we get any of them, I think we should all be thrilled with the hire. However, they are all in good situations, and it very well could be that we end up looking elsewhere.
David Pearce is in his first year as Tulane's head coach after leading Sam Houston to 3 straight NCAA regional tournaments.
Rob Walton was listed as a possible candidate by Aaron Fitt of d1baseball.com. Walton was Oral Roberts' head coach for 9 years.
James Vilade, a Baylor alum currently with the Frisco Rough Riders (AA Rangers Affiliate), is another name to watch. Prior to his professional career, Vilade spent 11 years as a head coach accumulating a 348-117. His .748 winning percentage is good for 18th best all-time in NCAA history.
Andrew Checketts is a name being tossed around for new job openings. He's currently in his 4th season with UCSB, and some consider him to be a leading candidate for Arizona's opening. If he's a serious candidate there, then he certainly should be on our radar.
With Andy Lopez, who joined Augie Garrido as the only coaches to win the CWS with two schools, announcing his retirement today, that means Baylor will have stiff competition to fill their vacancy. It will be interesting to follow these developments. Besides these names, there is little doubt that other candidates from across the baseball world are expressing interest. Baylor is one of the hottest athletic programs in the country. Whatever the decision is in the end, we can feel confident that Ian will make a good decision for the program.