New coaches have something to prove

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Coaching changes aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.

For some programs, changes bring more success. For others, things won’t go as planned.

For the 13 programs that made coaching changes during the offseason, hopes are high as Opening Day nears.

Wake Forest and Washington made the most impressive hires.

Photo Wake Forest knocked one out of the park when it hired Tommy Walter from New Orleans.
(Wake Forest)

The Demon Deacons lured Tom Walter away from New Orleans. Walter guided the Privateers to a pair of regional appearances and has garnered a wealth of respect from his peers.

The Huskies have the right guy in Meggs.

Meggs guided Indiana State to a wealth of success last season. Previously, though, he earned a pair of national titles as coach at Division II Chico State. The staff Meggs put together makes his addition even more impressive.

It’s time to rank the newest college baseball head coaches.

1. Tom Walter, Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons desperately needed to find a coach who knew how to rebuild a program. They found the right guy in Tommy Walter. Walter put New Orleans back on the national map with regional appearances in 2007 and ’08. He also found a way to keep the program together in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It’ll be interesting to see how Walter and his coaching staff recruit against the state’s power programs. Even with a hint of uncertainty, Wake still deserves credit for luring Walter.

2. Lindsay Meggs, Washington

Washington is another program in need of a shot in the arm. It should get it from Lindsay Meggs. Meggs won a pair of national titles at Division II Chico State and knows the ins and outs of the West Coast. Also, he opened some eyes last season by guiding Indiana State to a solid 33-21 record, falling just short of a regional berth. San Diego coach Rich Hill calls Meggs the most impressive hire of the offseason, and the Huskies also hired an excellent staff.

3. Mitch Gaspard, Alabama

The Crimson Tide expect a new look with Gaspard in charge. Gaspard spent the last two seasons as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Crimson Tide. But most notably, Gaspard was an integral piece to Alabama’s success in the 1990s. He spent six seasons as head coach at Northwestern State before returning to ‘Bama in ’08. Gaspard definitely has an attitude that breeds confidence.

4. Erik Bakich, Maryland

Bakich is exactly what Maryland was looking for when it embarked on a coaching search this past summer. The Terrapins haven’t had much excitement around their program lately, but Bakich is a visionary obsessed with winning. That’s a good thing for a program that has had little success. Bakich spent seven seasons at Vanderbilt and is considered one of the nation’s best recruiters. Now, Bakich must find a way to make Maryland attractive to area recruits. The Terps also hired an excellent pitching coach in Sean Kenny.

5. Tim Esmay, Arizona State

The Sun Devils shocked the nation when they forced long-time coach Pat Murphy to resign in late November. The Devils then hired Esmay – fired by Murphy early last summer – to coach the program on an interim basis. The players are excited to see Esmay in charge. He has spent a total of 10 seasons with the Sun Devils. He also was head coach at Utah for eight seasons and compiled a 108-130 record. The Devils are expected to have another fantastic club. It’ll be interesting to see if Esmay continues where the fiery Murphy left off.

6. Scott Berry, Southern Mississippi

The Golden Eagles had the option to embark on a national search for a new head coach when long-time coach Corky Palmer retired, but the Eagles decided to go with Berry. His addition is a solid choice. He spent the last nine seasons learning under Palmer. As a member of the coaching staff, the Eagles have compiled an impressive 346-197 (.637) record. Barring a major surprise, look for Berry to continue where Palmer left off.

7. Rick Heller, Indiana State

It was important for the Sycamores to pinpoint a fantastic coach when Meggs decided to make the cross-country move to Washington. They found their guy in Rick Heller. Heller spent the last 10 seasons at Northern Iowa, and guided the program to a 30-win season for just the third time in school history in ’08. Heller also guided the Panthers to their only Division I regional appearance in ’01. Heller now has more resources. Look for him to make the best of his situation at ISU.

8. Bruce Peddie, New Orleans

The Privateers’ days as a Division I program may be numbered, but look for Peddie to have his team ready to play this spring. Peddie spent the last three seasons as associate head coach on Tommy Walter’s UNO staff. He also is an offensive expert. He has led the Privateers to an average of 80 homers per year the last three seasons. He also has had previous success as a head coach. Peddie once was coach at Division II Shippensburg, and guided that program to a College World Series appearance in ’96.

9. Mike Villano, Western Illinois

Villano joins the Western Illinois program under the worst of circumstances. It was a bittersweet day when the Leathernecks announced Villano the new coach. That’s because former coach Stan Hyman passed away during the offseason. Villano joins a program with a heavy heart, but has an impressive resume that could get the Leathernecks headed the right direction. Villano spent the last six seasons at Central Michigan and did a solid job on the recruiting trail in addition to his duties at times as pitching and hitting coach. Villano is a solid addition for the Leathernecks.

10. Chris Tracz, Marist

The Red Foxes have had some solid coaches in the past and could have a good one in Tracz. He is young and has no experience as head coach. However, he understands what it takes to win at Marist having previously coached three seasons with the program. Tracz also played for the Red Foxes. Tracz spent last season as a member of Joe Sottolano’s staff at Army. Can Tracz become the next Marist head coach to take a step forward?

11. Barrett Rey, Alcorn State

Rey is being asked to work his magic at Alcorn State. He previously served three seasons at Grambling and guided the program to consecutive SWAC tournament appearances. That may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but it is when you consider the Tigers’ previous campaigns. Rey hopes to guide the Braves to a successful season after they finished the ’09 season with a respectable 29-19 record.

12. Tom Smith, UNC Asheville

The Bulldogs have had one of the region’s worst programs the past few seasons. They hope Smith, who spent the last two seasons as an assistant on the coaching staff, can turn the tide sooner rather than later. Smith has no Division I head coaching experience, but earned accolades for his success tenure at the high school level. Smith was a high school skipper for 28 seasons and earned three state titles in the state of North Carolina. Perhaps Smith will be the visionary the Bulldogs were looking for a few months ago.

13. James Cooper, Grambling

Cooper is a hire that eventually could pay off for the Tigers. For now, though, it’ll be interesting to see how the 27-year-old fairs in his first head-coaching job. Cooper previously served as an assistant for the Tigers. He also played for the Tigers and had a brief stint in professional baseball. Cooper’s addition is a gamble for the Tigers, but perhaps his young attitude will pay dividends sooner rather than later. He certainly will be able to relate more with the players.

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 12, 2010