Sometimes you think you have a coaching search pegged and then you get thrown a curveball. That is certainly the case with the search for a new head coach to replace the retiring Rick Jones at Tulane.
From the start, this looked like Mark Kingston’s job to lose. It was all too perfect. Kingston had served as an assistant at Tulane under Jones during the program’s heyday, he is a perfect combination of youthful energy and head coaching experience, and best of all, there was talk that the interest was mutual. It just felt like a no-brainer.
But then things came crashing down. Kingston called off his interview at Tulane at the last minute and before too much longer, he was announced as the new head coach at the University of South Florida.
So what now for the Green Wave? Let’s break down some of the top candidates for the position.
Jake Gautreau- Tulane interim head coach
The positives are easy to see. He was an All-American for the Green Wave in 2001, which also happened to be the year of the program’s first trip to the College World Series under Jones. He clearly knows what it takes to win in New Orleans. He’s also been on the staff since 2009, so he’s familiar with the current team and the state of the program. And the guy can recruit. As the program’s recruiting coordinator, he brought in Tulane’s best class in years last year, headlined by Stephen Alemais, Jake Rogers, Hunter Hope, and J.P. France.
The negatives are significant, though. Most notably, his stint as interim head coach didn’t go well. The team didn’t improve after he took over and the team’s batting average of .226 doesn’t say great things about what he did as the team’s hitting coach. There is also a feeling that, after years of Jones bringing in former player after former player to join the staff, it might be time to clean house and start fresh with someone from outside the Tulane family.
Gautreau, as something of a known quantity, would be a safe choice for Tulane, but it may not get anyone particularly excited.
David Pierce- Sam Houston State head coach
Pierce was one of the first names mentioned when Jones stepped down, but his name initially faded pretty quickly. Whether that was because he wasn’t interested at the time or because Kingston had emerged as the favorite we can’t be sure. But now, you are starting to hear his name a little bit more and it was confirmed on Thursday that he had interviewed for the job.
Luring Pierce away from SHSU would be a home run for the Green Wave. He checks all of the boxes for them. With three Southland Conference regular season titles and three regional appearances in his three seasons in Huntsville, he’s an established head coach with a track record of success. He also served as an assistant coach at Rice for nine years, so not only does he know what it takes to succeed at the highest level, but he also understands the unique challenges that come with being a coach at a private school.
Pierce is among the hottest names in college baseball coaching and as good a job as Tulane is, he may be holding out for an even bigger job. One more thing to consider with Pierce is that his son is a player at SHSU and still has one year of eligibility remaining. That alone might be enough to keep him in Huntsville for another year.
Turtle Thomas- FIU head coach
Coaches don’t get much more polarizing than Turtle Thomas. He has his supporters who are shocked that it took him so long to get a head coaching job and he has his detractors that say that his brash personality makes him difficult.
What’s undeniable is that he can recruit with the best of them. You don’t have stops as an assistant at programs like Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, LSU, and Arizona State if you can’t recruit the best players in the nation. For a team that badly needs an infusion of top-end talent, his experience on the recruiting trail has to be intriguing for Tulane.
He has been the coach at FIU for seven seasons, which is a plus in the experience department, but the Panthers really haven’t had that much sustained success to this point. They made the regionals in 2010 and 2011, but went 0-2 both times. His tenure hasn’t been a disaster by any means, but I can’t help but feel like more was expected when he was hired.
Matt Riser- Southeastern Louisiana head coach
If the Green Wave are looking to try to catch the next big thing in college coaching on the way up, Matt Riser could be their guy. Riser won’t be 30 years old for another couple of weeks and he has only been the head coach at SELA for one season, but what we’ve seen so far has been pretty good.
All he did in his one season was lead the Lions to 37 wins and the Southland Conference tournament championship, which punched their ticket to the regionals. Riser also has ties to the Tulane program, as he was a part of the 2005 team that got to the College World Series after ranking as the number one team in the nation from wire-to-wire during the regular season.
Riser may not quite be ready, but sometimes that’s the cost of nabbing a coach before he becomes the hot name. If he surrounds himself with some veteran assistant coaches that can help him deal with some of the things that come with being a head coach at a major program, he could be a hire that pays off for decades into the future.
Butch Thompson- Mississippi State assistant coach
With successful stints as an assistant coach at Georgia, Auburn, and MSU, he has experience recruiting in the deep south, an area that Tulane will likely have to turn to in order to be more competitive with teams in the region. More importantly, he knows how to win in today’s world of college baseball. With offense down, it’s all about finding pitchers that can pound the strike zone and keep hitters off balance. No one has done that better than Mississippi State with Thompson on the staff.
No program wants to make the wrong hire, but this has the feel of a particularly important hire for Tulane. The Green Wave have been in steady decline since 2006 and the bottom has really fallen out since 2009. They can’t afford to fall much further and the responsibility of avoiding that fate will fall to the man they choose in this search.