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College | Story | 8/6/2013

Rising college coaches

Kendall Rogers        

UCLA head coach John Savage isn’t the only one who made a statement during the 2013 college baseball season.

Though Savage earned Perfect Game Coach of the Year honors by guiding the Bruins to their first national title, plenty of head coaches around the country also made statements by accomplishing something special with their respective programs.

For instance, Steve Owens guided Bryant to its first Division I postseason appearance, Mark Calvi appears to have things turned around at South Alabama, and Greg Goff’s magical campaign at Campbell made national headlines throughout the spring.

Many of these head coaches will stay put at these programs for a few more seasons, while others assuredly will parlay these great accomplishments to even bigger jobs in the near future.

Without further ado, we breakdown the nation’s 10 rising head coaches.

David Pierce, Sam Houston State

Few rising head coaches made precisely the immediate impact that Pierce has for the Bearkats. Legendary college baseball head coach Mark Johnson certainly left the SHSU program in good shape, but Pierce has only built off what Johnson started. Pierce has been terrific in his two seasons with the program. In the first year, he guided the Bearkats to the Southland Conference regular season title and the Houston Regional title game. Then, last season, the Bearkats advanced to yet another NCAA Regional and ended the year with a 38-22 overall record. Pierce interviewed for the Oklahoma job during the offseason, further validation that his impressive campaigns are catching the attention of some of the nation’s most prestigious programs.

Andrew Checketts, UC Santa Barbara

The Gauchos might have a hard time hanging on to Checketts the next couple of seasons, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing -- it’s proof UCSB is headed the right direction. The Gauchos didn’t make a monster statement in Checketts’ first campaign with a 28-28 overall record, but their recruiting class was very impressive for a program that has struggled over the past few seasons. Checketts, who learned under two of the best head coaches in the game in UC Riverside’s Doug Smith and Oregon’s George Horton, made a huge statement during the 2013 campaign by assembling a team that reached the NCAA postseason, finished high in the Big West, and went 35-25 overall. The future remains bright for UCSB, and of course, Checketts.

Darin Hendrickson, Saint Louis

There’s a very good reason why Hendrickson’s name has been thrown around a few coaching searches this summer -- he’s caught the attention of plenty of athletic directors out there. Hendrickson just completed his sixth year with the Billikens, guiding the program to five-straight winning seasons despite lacking a lot of resources. Hendrickson guided Saint Louis to Atlantic 10 Conference regular season titles in 2012, and most recently, ’13, finishing this past season with a 41-21 overall record, while also competing in the Columbia Regional in the NCAA postseason. Hendrickson, along with Wright State’s Rob Cooper and Western Carolina’s Bobby Moranda, is a finalist for the Penn State opening, so perhaps he won’t be at SLU much longer. We’ll soon find out.

Steve Owens, Bryant

Here’s a name that certainly should be mentioned when programs in bigger conferences, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, are looking for a new head coach. Owens is a terrific coach with an outstanding resume. He guided Le Moyne, which dropped out of Division I Baseball, to 11-straight winning seasons before joining the Bulldogs. In three seasons at Bryant, it’s safe to say Owens has made his presence known. The Bulldogs went 33-21 two seasons ago before making their ultimate statement this past season with a 45-18 overall record, most importantly notching their first NCAA postseason berth. 

Mark Calvi, South Alabama

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Calvi is shining at South Alabama, after all, he’s a guy who has earned plenty of praise from legendary former South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner, now the athletic director for the Gamecocks. Calvi spent his first season with the Jaguars as the associate head coach under Steve Kittrell, who has since retired. And though the Jaguars finished his first “full” season as head coach with a 23-34 overall record, a true representation of what to expect in the future occurred this past season, as USA went an impressive 43-20, won the Sun Belt regular season title (tying with Troy) and reaching the NCAA postseason.

Craig Gibson, Mercer

Gibson’s rash of success the past few seasons has garnered him plenty of attention on the national stage, especially in the past year, as Georgia took a long look at Gibson before eventually hiring Scott Stricklin away from Kent State. Gibson is a very good coach who has built Mercer into a very solid mid-major program. The Bears went 38-21 overall two seasons ago before making a huge statement last season with an Atlantic Sun regular season title, 43-18 overall record and NCAA postseason appearance. Gibson undoubtedly is a strong mid-major coach to watch moving forward.

Jim Toman, Liberty

Toman is no stranger to our annual list of rising head coaches at the mid-major level. Toman has experienced plenty of success with the Flames, of course, first making a name for himself as an assistant for Ray Tanner at South Carolina. Toman’s consistency with the Flames has been very impressive. Two seasons ago, he guided the Flames to a 41-19 overall record, though missing the NCAA postseason. But Liberty wouldn’t be denied this past spring when it went 36-29 and reached the title game of the Columbia Regional against South Carolina. Plucking away Toman from Liberty might be difficult with the Flames building a beautiful new facility, but he remains a name to watch.

Mark Kingston, Illinois State

Kingston’s stock on the national stage is expected to improve even more over the next couple of seasons. Kingston earned a strong reputation as a great assistant and recruiter during his time on Rick Jones’ Tulane staff. But he’s also earned a solid reputation as the Redbirds’ head coach. Kingston guided Illinois State to its first Missouri Valley Conference regular season title in 2010 before tallying a program-high 36 wins in 2011. This past season, the Redbirds narrowly missed the NCAA postseason, but finished the year with an outstanding 39-19 overall record. Kingston was in the mix for the Oklahoma vacancy earlier this summer. It’s not a matter of if, but when, for Kingston.

Greg Goff, Campbell

It’ll be very interesting to see what type of looks Goff gets on the national stage the next couple of seasons. Goff received a five-year extension, for good reason, following the 2013 campaign, the Camels getting out in front of some potential job openings. It’s safe to say Goff has excelled during his six seasons at Campbell. Despite being nestled in a tough area of the country in terms of competing at a high level as a mid-major with few resources, Goff has made a statement in the Big South and on the national stage. The Camels went 41-18 two seasons ago before tallying an astonishing 49-10 overall this past season. Though Campbell didn’t reached the NCAA postseason with that gaudy win total, Goff’s work didn’t go unnoticed.

Allen Gum, Central Arkansas

Few coaches on this list made quite the splash that Gum did in 2013, especially early in the season. The Bears made a huge statement early in the spring with a road series victory over Mississippi State, riding the coattails of that series win throughout the successful campaign. The Bears won the SLC tournament, reached the NCAA postseason and finished the year with a 42-22 overall record. UCA has some talented personnel to replace in 2014, but the program is in good hands with Gum. His reputation in the region continues to shine.

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