Ten special coaches make their marks
Great coaching jobs can be measured in many ways.
At some schools, reaching the College World Series is the expectation and not making the June trip to Omaha is considered a failure. At others, though, reaching the CWS is a huge feat that comes with plenty rewards.
There also are programs such as Virginia Tech, Connecticut and Oregon that currently believe reaching an NCAA regional is a huge feat.
Virginia Tech coach Pete Hughes guided his program to an NCAA regional in his fourth season in Blacksburg, Va., Connecticut coach Jim Penders led his program to a fabulous record and an NCAA regional host in his seventh season and longtime outstanding coach George Horton led Oregon to an amazing turnaround and an NCAA regional.
South Carolina’s Ray Tanner and UCLA’s John Savage lead the charge.
The Gamecocks entered the season with a high ranking, but few thought they would seriously roll through Omaha and win the national title. They did. UCLA, meanwhile, entered the season unranked and put together an amazing regular season campaign that was rewarded with a national seed and home field advantage through the first two rounds of the NCAA postseason. The Bruins tripped to Omaha for the first time since 1997.
Plenty coaches around the country did great jobs in ’10. Only 10 stand out, though.
Ray Tanner, South Carolina
How he got here: Tanner has been one of the sport’s most successful head coaches the past 13 seasons, but took the biggest step forward in his 14th season with the program. Tanner’s Gamecocks entered the season with high expectations and were ranked No. 13 to begin the spring. The Gamecocks put together an excellent regular season campaign and almost won the SEC regular season title. South Carolina’s biggest accomplishment came in the postseason when it won the Columbia Regional and Myrtle Beach Super Regional before storming through the College World Series and beating UCLA to win the program’s first national title. Tanner has had a fabulous coaching career. This season was icing on the cake.
John Savage, UCLA
How he got here: The Bruins might’ve been known as the program that couldn’t get over the hump the past few seasons, but they silenced every critic in 2010. The Bruins were picked third in the Pac-10 and weren’t ranked to begin the season. This team, though, exceeded every expectation. They finished second in the Pac-10 behind Arizona State and rolled through the postseason by winning the Los Angeles Regional and beating Cal State Fullerton in the Los Angeles Super Regional. The Bruins got to Omaha and had little trouble before falling to South Carolina in the CWS Championship Series. This team didn’t win the national title, but it put the program on the national map.
Pete Hughes, Virginia Tech
How he got here: Hughes headed to Blacksburg, Va., four seasons ago hoping to create a winning tradition for the Hokies. He finally succeeded in ’10. Hughes guided the Hokies to a much better campaign in ’09 with a 32-21 record, but they lacked enough quality wins to sneak into the NCAA postseason. In ’10, though, the Hokies did more than enough to earn a postseason appearance. They won 16 conference games and finished the regular season with a solid RPI. The Hokies competed in the Columbia Regional and finished the campaign with an impressive 40-22 record. They finished the season ranked No. 20 and set the stage for future success.
Jim Schlossnagle, TCU
How he got here: What Schlossnagle accomplished at TCU before the ’10 season was impressive, but the program took a huge step forward this past spring. Before ’10, the Horned Frogs were known as a solid program with a great facility that was unable to get by the other powers in the State of Texas to make their imprint on the national stage. That wasn’t the case in ’10, though. The Frogs won the Fort Worth Regional before beating Texas in the Austin Super Regional to punch the program’s first ticket to the CWS. The Frogs were a win away from playing for the national title and had a season to remember. Schlossnagle established himself as one of the nation’s premier coaches with the stellar campaign.
Tim Esmay, Arizona State
How he got here: Some critics will point to ASU’s abysmal play in the CWS as a reason not to have Esmay on the list, but the season is more than just two weeks out of the year. When longtime coach Pat Murphy was forced to resign from the program last November, the Sun Devils had to quickly find someone to take the reins. Esmay, who was fired by Murphy as an assistant following the ’09 campaign, surfaced as the main candidate to take over as interim coach after much speculation. He was given the post. Esmay guided the Sun Devils to another Pac-10 title and an impressive 52-10 overall record. Esmay’s tremendous campaign led to athletic director Lisa Love naming him the permanent head coach of the Sun Devils. It’ll be interesting to see what Esmay can do with the program the next few seasons. The Devils still are searching for their first national title since ’81.
Kevin O’Sullivan, Florida
How he got here: The Gators are in fabulous shape with O’Sullivan leading the charge. He guided the Gators to an NCAA regional appearance in his first season and a super regional appearance in his second campaign with the program. But in ’10, O’Sullivan took the Gators another step forward by winning the SEC regular season title and guiding the program back to the CWS for the first time since it played Texas for the ’05 national title. The Gators had arguably the youngest team in Omaha and are expected to compete for the national title again next season. What O’Sullivan accomplished in ’10 is impressive considering the youth he had.
John Pawlowski, Auburn
How he got here: The Tigers were attracted to Pawlowski a couple years ago because of his ability to make College of Charleston a consistent winner. Well, it didn’t take Pawlowski long to bring a winning attitude to the plains. Pawlowski guided the program to 31 wins in his first season, but took a huge step forward in ’10 with the program’s first SEC tournament appearance since ’03 and an NCAA regional appearance. AU fell short of reaching the CWS, but a statement already was made. Pawlowski plans to have the Tigers competing for big things in the future. AU finished the ’10 campaign with an impressive 43-21 record.
Jim Penders, Connecticut
How he got here: Penders always has believed he can guide the Huskies to a wealth of success in the Big East. But until the ’10 campaign, there weren’t many people that truly believed him. Penders and the Huskies took an enormous step forward this past season with a second place finish in conference play and an impressive overall record of 48-16. But most impressive about their campaign was an NCAA regional host and an incredibly high RPI. Penders and the Huskies set the tone for a bright future with a solid ’10 campaign. The Huskies are expected to be even better entering the ’11 season.
Sunny Golloway, Oklahoma
How he got here: Golloway had never guided the Sooners to Omaha before the ’10 season, but that changed after OU put together a magical run in the postseason that included a win over highly touted Virginia in the Charlottesville Super Regional. OU recorded its first trip to Omaha since the ’95 season with the series win over the Cavaliers. Along with getting to Omaha, the Sooners put together an overall record of 50-18 and hosted another NCAA regional. All this occurred in a campaign that was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Golloway’s club. What an impressive season it was for the Sooners.
George Horton, Oregon
How he got here: It was just two seasons ago that we wondered if Horton made the right decision to head to Oregon from Cal State Fullerton. The Ducks finished his first campaign with a 14-42 overall record, 4-23 mark in the Pac-10, and things looked bleak to say the least. In ’10, though, the Ducks were a team on a mission and took a huge step forward with an NCAA regional appearance, a 40-24 overall record and a 13-14 mark in the Pac-10. What Horton accomplished this past season was one of the more miraculous turnarounds in recent history. The future suddenly appears to be bright with the legendary coach leading the way.