Coaches to watch: Plenty want much more

There’s a reason we begin a new year with resolutions to be better.

College baseball coaches are in the same boat no matter how much success they’ve had in the past.

Some coaches enter 2011 fresh off fantastic campaigns. UCLA’s John Savage and TCU’s Jim Schlossnagle guided their programs to the College World Series last season. But USC interim coach Frank Cruz is on the other end of the spectrum.

Cruz isn’t the head coach of the Trojans by total choice. He’s more so the coach because the Trojans decided to part ways with Chad Kreuter during the fall and it would’ve been bad timing on their part to hire a new permanent coach. Cruz, though, has a chance to earn full-time status like Arizona State’s Tim Esmay did last season.

John Pawlowski has the Auburn program exactly where it wants to be entering 2011.
(Auburn)

Cruz, of course, is working with different resources than Esmay. He has a stellar pitcher in Austin Wood and a premier power hitter in Ricky Oropesa. However, the rest of the Trojans certainly have something to prove. Cruz does, too.

As ’11 is ushered in and teams get closer to beginning spring workouts, several coaches will be jockeying for position to make splashes this season.

Some will succeed in their quest to prosper. Naturally, others won’t.

Either way, plenty of coaches are headliners entering the new year.

Jim Schlossnagle, TCU

Few not in Fort Worth, Texas, believed Schlossnagle had potential to turn TCU into a consistent postseason contender, much less a national power. Well, Schlossnagle has exceeded expectations so far during his time with the Horned Frogs. The Frogs reached an NCAA Super Regional two seasons ago before winning a super regional and advancing to the CWS last season. Schlossnagle is an excellent coach that recruits well. The Frogs won’t take huge steps back as long as he’s guiding the program. It’ll be interesting to see if the Frogs can play for a national title this season.

Donnie Marbut, Washington State

There are few places in college sports tougher to win at than Pullman, Wash., which is home to the Cougars. But don’t tell that to Marbut. Marbut has done a sensational job of turning the Cougars into a consistent postseason contender despite some massive obstacles. Marbut guided the program to the NCAA postseason two seasons ago before reaching the Fayetteville Regional title game last season. Interestingly, the Cougars expect to compete for a super regional berth and perhaps even more this season.

Mitch Gaspard, Alabama

Before last season, Gaspard was more known for the success he had at his previous head coaching stop at Northwestern State. Now, after just one season, Gaspard is known for his instant success with the Crimson Tide. Gaspard took over under tough circumstances when long-time ‘Bama coach Jim Wells retired before fall workouts two years ago. He didn’t look back. Gaspard guided the Crimson Tide to the SEC tournament title game and an NCAA Super Regional last season. He has a tough rebuilding job on his hands this season, but nothing would surprise us.

John Pawlowski, Auburn

There are two rising stars in the State of Alabama. One directs the Crimson Tide and Pawlowski is the other. Pawlowski appeared to right the ship two seasons ago when he almost guided the program back to the NCAA postseason. However, they fell short of that goal. The Tigers weren’t deterred last season, as they reached the SEC tournament for the first time since 2003 and hosted an NCAA Regional. They have some tough holes to fill this spring, but are expected to be a favorite in the SEC West. Life finally is good at Auburn.

Pete Hughes, Virginia Tech

After doing good things previously at Boston College, Hughes’ tenure at Virginia Tech was much anticipated. The Hokies didn’t make much of an impact before last season, but ended all doubts in ’10 with an impressive run that included a trip to the Columbia, S.C., Regional title game. The Hokies will have some very difficult holes to fill this season, but Hughes is a coach that can do a lot with very little. For sake of momentum, the Hokies must put together a respectable campaign this spring.

John Savage, UCLA

Savage couldn’t be in a better place in his career after last season. Savage had a label in past years of not being able to guide the Bruins to the CWS. That doubt ended last season when the Bruins earned a national seed and defeated Cal State Fullerton on the way to Omaha and the national title series. With the return of starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, among other talented players, Savage is expected to again have his Bruins in the mix for a national title. Times sure have changed in Westwood.

Jim Penders, Connecticut

Penders is another coach that has done something with few resources. The Huskies took a big step forward with Penders leading the way two seasons ago when they finished 36-24. However, they failed to reach an NCAA Regional. Last season, the Huskies won 48 games and hosted an NCAA Regional. Now, with several top MLB draft prospects, Penders hopes to guide the program to even greater lengths this spring. It’s a big year for him. On paper, they’re the pride of the northern half of the country.

George Horton, Oregon

It might be appropriate to ask when Horton isn’t one of the top coaches to watch. The Ducks certainly experienced some difficulties two seasons ago. However, Horton worked his magic last season as the Ducks won 40 games and reached an NCAA Regional. We’ll see how Horton’s Ducks perform this season with much higher expectations and a likely lofty preseason national ranking. Don’t be surprised if Horton gets the Ducks to Omaha.

John McCormack, Florida Atlantic

The Owls are making noticeable progress with McCormack leading the way. The Owls finished with just a 30-26 record in his first season as head coach. Last season, though, FAU won the Sun Belt regular season title and reached the Gainesville Regional title game. FAU will again be one of the better teams in the Sun Belt this season. Is McCormack’s rash of success only beginning?

Frank Cruz, USC

When it comes to baseball on the West Coast, all eyes are on interim coach Frank Cruz and the Trojans. Cruz took control of the program after Chad Kreuter was relieved of duties last fall. He has a tough chore ahead. Cruz served as an assistant for the Trojans before earning the interim tag. However, he’s more known for his lengthy stint at Loyola Marymount. Cruz is a solid coach but must make a huge impact this spring to retain the job at the conclusion of the season. Can he impress athletic director Pat Haden?

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Jan 4, 2011