Hannahs ‘intrigued’ by USF’s national ambitions

With the departure of former Indiana State baseball coach Mitch Hannahs on Saturday – he resigned to take over as coach at South Florida – it sent an unmistakable signal of how the forces that shape college athletics have come home to roost.

After all, Hannahs didn’t just coach ISU for 11 successful seasons – an era in which the Sycamores never had a losing record and where they qualified for five NCAA regionals and one super regional. Hannahs was also an important cog as a player for ISU’s 1980s elite-level teams. He was an assistant coach under Bob Warn in the 1990s and early 2000s.

He and his wife, Amy, raised their family in the Wabash Valley, either in Robinson, Ill., when Hannahs was at Lincoln Trail College or in Vigo County since he came back to ISU in 2014.

Hannahs is ISU to his core – but the changes that have come and will continue to shape college athletics threaten to leave the Sycamores, and mid-majors in general, in a difficult spot. Add in the fact that ISU’s athletic department has contrasted wild success in both baseball and men’s basketball with turmoil behind the scenes? It explains how one’s head would be turned.

“I just think even in better climates, the schools that are closely aligned from top to bottom are the most successful. Strong alignment from athletics to the president and a consistent approach,” Hannahs said on the current state of college athletics and what ISU can do to adjust.

“Now, here we are as we move forward in a situation where there’s no choice but to be aligned and get everyone together and get the chips in the same pile to survive this. I do think as fast as all of this is moving it’s going to be very hard for schools that aren’t committed and aren’t aligned to have a fighting chance,” Hannahs added.

In South Florida, Hannahs feels it’s a spot that fits the criteria he’s talking about.

In an interview Monday with the Tribune-Star, Hannahs said the genesis of his departure began when the Sycamores played at South Florida in a season-opening event back in February.

“There were some guys on my end in terms of [former athletic director] Sherard Clinkscales and Danny Plasencia [ISU assistant athletic director/Sycamore Athletic Fund] who had a long relationship with their assistant AD, Lelo Prado, who was their coach there,” Hannahs relayed.

“I met Coach Prado after the game we played at South Florida and he was very complimentary of what we’ve been able to do up there. There was genuine interest in what we had done here at that point. It kind of carried from there,” Hannahs added.

Hannahs said there was a conversation with USF a few weeks back. The Bulls had fired Billy Mohl on May 20. There had been none during the postseason, but once the season ended, things heated up again.

“On Friday morning, it started with a few phone calls from down there and everything escalated from that point. I think as I learned more about their vision, the trajectory of their athletic department and what they want to do, it was just really intriguing,” Hannahs noted.

USF plays in the American Athletic Conference, a so-called Group of Five league. The Bulls play major football at the FBS level and have ambitions beyond being in the AAC.

Based in Tampa, USF brings an attractive market to the table, a large enrollment (nearly 50,000) and AAU accreditation. USF is occasionally mentioned as a candidate to move up to a Power Four league.

“With the climate going on in NCAA athletics, you’re either moving forward at a hard pace or you’re not. I think what intrigued me the most is they’re very determined to become a big player nationally,” Hannahs said.

Hannahs said it was very difficult to make the transition from a place he’s so fond of. ISU made an effort to keep Hannahs and he personally thanked new president Michael Godard for leading a push.

“In terms of all of the relationships and great friends we have here, it was really, really hard. I don’t know that we felt like there was ever a good time for something like this. Even at the end, as I pretty much had my mind made up, Dr. Godard called. I have great respect for him in the short time I’ve known him. He really pushed hard to keep us here,” Hannahs said.

But it wasn’t enough. With NIL, the transfer portal, and with May’s House settlement and the likelihood of universities directly paying players? The pace of change continues to be rapid and Hannahs wanted to be at a place that was prepared for it.

“At the end of the day, [Godard] made it much tougher, but in the climate of college athletics you have to be in a situation where people are really moving forward hard. Many schools are going to be left behind in this landscape,” Hannahs said.

Many ISU fans have speculated that Hannahs’ decision to leave is rooted in ISU declining to host a super regional in 2023 when it had the right to have it at Bob Warn Field. The ripple effect of that may have cost ISU the chance to host a regional in 2024 when it had the credentials to do so.

Hannahs was honest in his feelings about how all of the above played out.

“When you make decisions, a lot of things come into play. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was extremely disappointed that we weren’t able to host a super regional. I also feel that us not being able to host this year was somewhat linked to that. All of that runs together,” Hannahs said.

It wasn’t just the super regional decision. Recent issues of athletic department upheaval combined with old issues of tepid or uneven commitment from ISU administration also played a role.

“When decisions are made in January, obviously in firing Sherard, there were a lot of things that occurred in that period of time where I felt the timing could have been a lot better as opposed to that happening in January when spring sports are about to kickoff. A lot of that had an impact on my thinking and my decision,” Hannahs said.

ISU fans will no doubt find little in those words to soften the blow of Hannahs’ departure. However, Hannahs’ legacy at ISU is secure. He compiled a 355-214-1 record in 11 years at ISU to go with those five regional appearances and the 2023 super regional run that captivated the entire state.

So what’s his most fond memory? It has nothing to do with those 355 victories.

“It may be a pat answer, but it’s the players. The players we’ve had and that became really apparent in the texts I got from current players, former players and alumni and they were all so positive,” Hannahs said.

“That made me feel really good. We set out on a mission to take young guys and maximize their abilities and be the best they can be on and off the field. Hearing from so many of those guys was so gratifying, way beyond anything that happened on the field in terms of wins,” Hannahs concluded.