You may have noticed over the last couple of weeks that the University of Texas is looking for a new head baseball coach.
You may have also noticed that they’ve had a little trouble reeling in their biggest targets.
Coming into the search, it was clear that UT had their sights set very high, and understandably so. Texas is clearly a top-five job and some might make the argument that it’s the very best job in college baseball.
Early reports not only linked Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to the opening, but also suggested that there was a high level of mutual interest. In the end, though, O’Sullivan passed and decided to stay put in Gainesville.
At about the same time, Dan McDonnell, a name not as closely tied to the opening, but certainly someone who Texas would understandably have interest in, signed a big extension with Louisville to remain their head coach for the foreseeable future.
Virginia’s Brian O’Connor was another name tossed around for the job, but about a week ago, he put out a statement that effectively took his name out of the running and reaffirmed his commitment to the Cavaliers. The recent announcement of upgrades coming to Davenport Field certainly had to make it much tougher for him to leave Charlottesville.
More recently, LSU’s Paul Mainieri emerged as a somewhat surprising candidate, and reports confirmed that he had even gone so far as to interview with Texas. Quickly after that news got out, though, it was announced that Mainieri wasn’t going anywhere, and that he was getting a pay raise to stay with LSU on top of it.
That left two names that have been somewhat on the radar in this search for a while, but behind others, in Pat Casey of Oregon State and John Savage of UCLA.
Not but 24 hours after those two emerged as clear favorites, however, both were reported to being staying put in their current west coast locales.
In short, this coaching search has not been as easy for Texas as we probably thought, and that’s a bad look for the program.
And let’s be clear, this isn’t about whether or not they will end up getting a good coach; they absolutely are going to get a good head coach when it’s all said and done, even if that coach was further down on their initial list than they expected to have to go.
Tulane’s David Pierce, Houston’s Todd Whitting, Dallas Baptist’s Dan Heefner, and Oklahoma State’s Josh Holliday are a few other names that have at least been mentioned in the last couple of days. Those guys have been outstanding coaches at their respective programs and have won in a big way throughout their careers, even if they aren’t as accomplished and experienced as the O’Sullivans and O’Connors and Maineiris of the college baseball world.
Rather, this is about how the program is perceived, and the circuitous route they’ve taken to hiring a head coach has hurt them in that regard.
Part of this, of course, isn’t really Texas’ fault.
Because it’s Texas, every move is covered thoroughly. For all we know, the raise and extension for McDonnell at Louisville had been in the works for weeks and was the plan all along, but because it happened at the same time Texas is looking for a head coach, it’s seen as Louisville buying insurance against their coach going to Austin and as McDonnell essentially choosing to stay at Louisville rather than being courted by Texas.
This is also the type of job that every high-profile coach in the country has to comment on, especially when the hiring program looks set on hiring a proven, elite head coach. Perhaps with a lower-profile opening, some of these coaches wouldn’t have even felt it necessary to come out and publicly say that they are staying put, but because it’s an opening as big as Texas, they feel compelled to make their intentions clear. They may not have really ever been serious candidates, but again, that’s perceived as UT being told “thanks, but no thanks.”
Perception, as we know, is reality, and as the list of coaches who choose to pass on Texas, whether directly or indirectly, grows, so will the number of questions asked about why the Longhorns haven’t been able to get their man and what might be going on under the surface that’s keeping them from being able to do so.
That might seem like a trivial conversation enjoyed only by the media and fans, but it can have greater ramifications. Don’t think that the length of this search, and the high-proile misses along the way, hasn’t been noticed by recruits and coaches all around the country, because it almost assuredly has been.
That just serves to put more pressure on Texas Athletic Director Mike Perrin and his staff to make a quality hire in short order, and in turn, put more pressure on the eventual new head coach to prove that he really is the man for the job and not just the first guy the Longhorns could get to say yes.
Perception is a simple enough thing to change, though. You just have to win, and win big.