Bakich ready for challenges at Maryland

Maryland coach Erik Bakich backs down from nothing.

He’s still relatively young at 31 and has experienced big-time baseball with programs such as Vanderbilt, Clemson and East Carolina. But along that road that has carried him to his first head-coaching job at Maryland, Bakich always had to overcome obstacles.

He spent a pair of seasons as a player at East Carolina before earning his first job as a volunteer assistant at Clemson. He didn’t have a huge role with the Tigers and eventually moved on to a program that – at the time – had experienced very little success. That program was Vanderbilt.

In just a couple of seasons, Bakich helped coach Tim Corbin completely transform Vanderbilt from a perennial SEC doormat to a conference force. With that came facilities upgrades and highly ranked recruiting classes.

Bakich spent seven seasons with the program, watching it overcome a wealth of obstacles in a conference where it is unusual for new programs to take a giant leap forward in short time.

Just as he felt about Vandy, Bakich believes Maryland’s program has a lot it can offer prospective players. He also believes the program should be a perennial player in the ACC. Sound familiar?

“I definitely seized the moment with this job. Having played and coached against them in the past, I’ve always thought this program was a sleeping giant,” Bakich said. “The main reason I jumped over to this job is I saw a lot of parallels and consistencies between the program here and Vanderbilt’s program.”

Vandy had experienced very little success before Corbin and Bakich arrived in the Music City. Maryland, though, takes lack of success to another level.

The Terrapins have made only three NCAA appearances, in 1965, ’70 and ’71 – all before Bakich was even born. They’ve also had only two winning seasons in the last 17 years. That was in 2002 and ’08, when the Terps finished 34-23 and 36-26 overall, respectively.

Many coaches scoffed at the idea of Bakich leaving success at Vanderbilt for Maryland. Bakich, though, thinks the Terps just need to find an identity.

“I really thought this was a situation where if you change the culture and instill a different mind-set, you can accomplish a lot,” Bakich said. “We’re going to create a hard-nosed and blue-collar brand of baseball. You figure the program will take off because you’re going to attract better players, and chances are you’re going to improve the quality and consistency in the field.”

Though Bakich is spending most of his time this summer in Tennessee, where his wife, Jesse, is expecting to give birth to the couple’s first child at any moment, he still is working hard to change the perception of his new program.

Bakich announced the Terrapins are building a new indoor hitting and pitching complex, constructing new locker rooms and also building a new outfield fence, which sits up against Maryland’s football practice fields.

Bakich made the biggest statement of the offseason by hiring Pepperdine’s Sean Kenny, considered one of the nation’s brightest pitching coaches. Kenny certainly wasn’t expected to leave Pepperdine for an ACC doormat, but he just couldn’t turn down Bakich.

“Erik sat us down and kind of laid out his vision for the program. You just can’t help but to get pumped up when you see his energy level,” Kenny said. “That’s really what got me going. My wife even looked at me after meeting with him and told me I needed to work for this guy. I think he got both of us fired up.”

Kenny also had other reasons for making the move. Both his and his wife’s families live on the East Coast. He also found Maryland to be a welcoming campus and enjoyed the aura of being at a university in a major conference.

“All you have to do is step on campus and just soak in the atmosphere,” he said. “Our field and such needs work, but it’s in the heart of campus. There’s real potential. When we get a recruit on campus here and show them what Maryland has to offer as an ACC institution, we really shouldn’t take a backseat to anyone.”

After finishing last season 27-27 overall, the Terrapins obviously have some major work to do in the recruiting department. Bakich has been hard at work at home while Kenny is in California for the Area Code games, where many of the nation’s elite recruits often assemble.

The Terps don’t have an official recruiting strategy, but there are some preferences. First, Bakich said the Terrapins must nail down the top in-state recruits. Bakich listed 15 players from Maryland that will be freshmen on ACC or SEC rosters this fall. Second, Bakich had a wealth of success recruiting players from the Northeast while at Vanderbilt. He aspires to continue that recruiting strategy, and perhaps even build on it, with Maryland’s proximity to the area. Third, Bakich plans to tap into Kenny’s resources on the west coast.

Contrary to popular belief, the Terrapins shouldn’t have too much trouble getting recruits on a scholarship program. It has long been believed that Maryland wasn’t close to being a full-scholarship program. A full-scholarship program is around 11.7. However, public records indicated that Maryland had 11.62 scholarships in 2009 and 11.57 scholarships in ’08. It was rumored that the Terps had just four or five scholarship equivalencies.

“We’re fully funded and this program has been fully funded for the last five seasons. I know people like to say that, but it’s not accurate,” Bakich said. “We’re going to try to equally invest in all important parts of this team.”

With recruiting taking shape, Bakich is beginning to shift his attention to strategy-building for the program and is already setting some goals.

Bakich is an offensive coach, but has made it clear he plans to build Maryland’s program around pitching and defense. He also wants to employ an offensive strategy that is built around speed and pressure.

“I’ve paid attention the past few years and have realized that championships are won with pitching and defense,” Bakich said. “We’re not going to only emphasize offense and bring in a wealth of power hitters. If anything, with our smaller ballpark, it’s more good reason to get better pitching in this program.”

From a personnel standpoint, the Terrapins certainly have a ways to go in the pitching and offense departments. But despite the challenges facing Bakich and his new program, his expectations for Maryland are high.

Bakich expects the seniors to leave with an ACC tournament berth next season. Making a regional, super regional or the College World Series won’t be discussed. It’s first things first for the Terrapins.

“I don’t want a senior on this team leaving next season without making the conference tournament,” he said. “When we were at Vandy, we made the SEC tourney in year one and that really got the momentum going. I can see some similarities if we’re able to play that brand of baseball in the spring.”

Many may chuckle at Bakich’s notion the Terps can make the conference tournament in his first season. But as he has shown in every coaching stint, Bakich doesn’t back down from challenges and oozes with intensity.

Sooner or later, that attitude once again will pay off.

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 Thursday, Aug 6, 2009