Adams: Tennessee Vols’ next baseball coach better know the SEC – Knoxville News Sentinel
Only regret is that when he’s successful again, it won’t be at Tennessee.
My first take on Tennessee’s pursuit of a new baseball coach: He should be able to promote as well as coach.
Former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman came to mind. He didn’t just build a baseball dynasty. He promoted the sport better than anyone in the history of the SEC.
A Tennessee coach came to mind, too. Not a baseball coach, a basketball one. Remember what basketball coach Bruce Pearl did for that sport at Tennessee?
So all UT has to do to revive its long-suffering baseball program is find a great coach/promoter to succeed Dave Serrano, who resigned last week after six failed seasons. That was my theory.
- Strange: Who does AD call from bullpen for Tennessee baseball?
- Serrano Era filled with few highs, mostly lows
- Resignation sad but ‘feels right’ for Vols baseball coach Dave Serrano
But I wasn’t confident enough about SEC baseball to go it alone. I called Rusty Ensor, a former Tennessee player and a longtime television analyst for SEC baseball.
He listened to my pitch for a promoter as a coach and promptly knocked it out of the park.
“You do your promoting on the field,” he said, debunking my idea with a few concise sentences. “It’s the ‘Field of Dreams.’ Build it and they will come.
“Back when Tennessee had really good baseball teams, you had standing-room-only crowds.”
I reluctantly set my promotional theory aside and yielded to Ensor’s expertise.
What’s his No. 1 criterion for the next UT baseball coach?
“It’s finding someone that’s the right fit,” he said.
His idea of “the right fit” is a coach with familiarity of the SEC, as a player or coach.
“The SEC is all about power arms and power hitters,” Ensor said. “You have to know what it takes to be successful in this league.
“You’ve got to have the threat of a three-run home run. The pitching is too good to string together five or six hits.”
Translation: A coach isn’t going to scheme his way to championships in this league. He must recruit the best pitchers and hitters.
Easier said, right?
Given UT’s current baseball status, the next obvious question: “Why would the best players be interested?”
However, think beyond UT to the rest of the league. Think of all the programs that have had success since UT fell off the baseball map more than 10 years ago. You expect Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt to be good. But now, Kentucky looks like a national championship contender.
You do that with coaching more than facilities. Ensor backed me up on that.
“I don’t think a player signs because of a beautiful locker room,” he said. “It comes down to having a coach who can help them advance.”
After all, most players good enough to play in the nation’s strongest baseball conference are looking beyond college to the pros. And you can’t win in the SEC without such players.
Now, it’s up to new Tennessee athletic director John Currie to find the coach who can find those players.