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At first glance, Steve Rodriguez heading to Baylor from his post as head coach at Pepperdine might have come as a surprise. After all, he is a Pepperdine alum, he had great success as the head man there during his 12 seasons at the helm, and with all due respect to Waco, Texas, it seems unlikely that someone would be willing to move from Malibu to central Texas.
Take a closer look, though, and it makes more sense. Despite their struggles over the last several seasons, Baylor is a good job. They have a great history as a program, they have quality facilities, and they’re not too far from recruiting hotbeds like Houston and Dallas/Ft. Worth.
On top of that, Rodriguez looks like just the man to get Baylor back to being among the top programs in the ever-crowded Texas college baseball scene. With his experience at Pepperdine, he’s familiar with the constraints that come with coaching at a pricey private institution in competition with monolithic public universities, and more specifically, their lower costs and the myriad aid available to students at those schools. Further, he knows all about the challenges that come with coaching at a proud academic institution that asks a lot of its student-athletes, of which both Pepperdine and Baylor are.
But make no mistake about it; the job in front of Rodriguez is massive. The fact of the matter is that Baylor has simply fallen behind their rivals throughout the state of Texas, and that doesn’t just mean the usual suspects like Texas A&M, Texas, and Rice. Resurgent programs at Texas Tech and Houston have comfortably moved ahead of the Bears at this point, and upstarts such as Dallas Baptist have made the landscape even more crowded.
The results on the field have been pretty telling in Waco. The Bears have gone 49-63 in the last two seasons, and even worse, 17-30 within the Big 12. And it’s not just that Baylor has been doing less with more talent. The talent, frankly, just hasn’t been up to their once-high standards.
Baylor, for much of Steve Smith’s tenure, was known as a program that pretty routinely developed players into high draft picks. This is, after all, the program that produced Kip Wells (1st round- 1998), Jason Jennings (1st round- 1999), Kelly Shoppach (2nd round- 2001), David Murphy (1st round- 2003), and Mark McCormick (Supplemental 1st round- 2005). For that matter, as recently as 2012, they had six players taken in the draft. But in the most recent MLB Draft, they didn’t have any players selected.
Rodriguez’s recruiting chops, along with those of assistant coach Jon Strauss, particularly when it comes to talent pipelines out on the west coast, will help create an infusion of talent, but so will the presence of Mike Taylor on the coaching staff. During previous stints on staff at Rice and Houston, Taylor has proven himself to be a top recruiter in many of the baseball hotbeds all around the state of Texas.
Placing Baylor back among the elite programs in the state of Texas won’t be an overnight process, but it will be interesting to see how the transition to Rodriguez and his staff will affect the 2016 Bears. Sometimes, a team energized by a new staff and a new message can overachieve and do some things you didn’t expect. But with any new regime, it is expected that there will also be some growing pains as the current roster assembled works to adjust to the new coaches and mix with some fresh faces brought in by the new staff.
In many cases, you get a mix of the two, and perhaps that’s what we’ll see from Baylor in 2016. One thing is for certain, though. They’re going to be an interesting team to follow come next season.