Because we’re right in the middle of conference play across the country in college baseball, it largely went unnoticed, but one of the pieces of news to come out of the college baseball weekend was that SIU-Edwardsville head coach Tony Stoecklin had been “reassigned” and that assistant coach Danny Jackson would take over the team for the rest of the season.
Stoecklin, who had been an assistant on the staff of prior head coach Gary “Bo” Collins, was in his fourth season at the helm. In Collins’s last two seasons as the head coach, the program’s first two seasons as members of the Ohio Valley Conference, the Cougars went 28-24 and then 27-28, but since then, SIUE has finished no better than 21-33 overall. Things went better in the OVC, as the team went from ten league wins in Stoecklin’s first season, to 16 in his second, and then 19 in 2015. As it stands right now in 2016, the Cougars are 7-25 overall with a 4-14 mark in league play.
If the SIUE administration conducts a search in the offseason, rather than naming Jackson the full-time head coach moving forward, it will be an interesting opening to follow, as it will be one that provides immediate challenges, but could also offer huge potential for the right head coach.
In the short term, the challenges are easy enough to spot.
The Cougars have just the one winning season in their short, eight-year history as a Division I program, and although they’ve shown marked improvement in league play over the last few seasons, they’ve been largely uncompetitive, frankly, in non-conference play.
Sure, conference play is often all that matters in one-bid leagues like the OVC, and they’re often going to go up against better teams from bigger leagues in their out-of-conference schedule, but compare their 1-19 mark in non-conference play last season to other OVC teams like Southeast Missouri State (14-15 in non-conference play, including wins over Arkansas and Missouri), Morehead State (18-12 in non-conference play, including wins over San Diego and Tennessee), and Jacksonville State (15-13 in non-conference play, including wins over Auburn and South Alabama).
The numbers on the stats page haven’t been particularly pretty historically, either, especially on the mound. The team ERAs over the last several years, going back to the 2013 season were 6.35, 6.08, 6.72, and this season, 8.57. The offenses have generally been solid, but that often wasn’t enough to overcome inconsistent pitching.
So that’s what a new head coach would be working against, and that’s not insignificant.
With all that being said, though, there’s potential there.
For starters, with their location in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, they find themselves in a pretty good regional hotbed for prep baseball talent. One look at the rosters for Missouri, Missouri State, Atlantic 10 power Saint Louis, and class of the OVC Southeast Missouri State could tell you that much. For that matter, the very town where the school is located, Edwardsville, Illinois, produces just about as much Division I baseball talent as any high school in the area. The Missouri State roster, in fact, has not one, but two players from Edwardsville High School.
In a league like the OVC, which features a lot of teams in relatively remote geographic locations, that can be a huge advantage, even if they’re splitting much of that St. Louis-area talent with teams all around the region.
It also helps that theirs is not an athletic department with a football program. It’s no secret that running a collegiate football program, even at the FCS level, is not cheap, and that can often be a resource drain for the rest of an athletic department. Not having that type of expense allows SIUE to support other programs.
Speaking of which, the baseball program need only look across campus at their men’s soccer program to see that the university is more than capable of supporting a team that wins championships and competes on a national level. In 2014, they reached the NCAA Tournament, and in 2015, they won the MVC (SIUE competes in the MVC for men’s soccer only) regular season title.
And, finally, if SIUE needs a blueprint for what they could potentially be as a baseball program, they can peer down the Mississippi River about 140 miles or so at Southeast Missouri State. Under head coach Steve Bieser, the Redhawks have moved to the head of the OVC, recruiting many of the areas in which SIUE could also recruit well. There’s seemingly very little reason why the Cougars couldn’t do something similar.
This is a program without a lot of recent success in a small conference, so it’s not as if big-name assistants from major conference programs or established head coaches are going to come bang doors down to interview for the job, but with the right guy in charge, this program could be a diamond in the rough.