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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rising head coaches make moves

Kendall Rogers        

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It's always important to recognize coaches who are doing great things with their respective programs as yet another college baseball season nears.

Last week, in part one of our series on rising coaches, we took an inside look at some of the nation's fast-rising assistant coaches.

Now it's time to dissect some of the rising head coaches.

Samford's Casey Dunn, Duke's Chris Pollard, Sam Houston State's David Pierce and Indiana State's Rick Heller made their presence known in a big way last season.

Dunn guided the Bulldogs to the Tallahassee Regional title game against Florida State, Pollard led Appalachian State to an NCAA postseason appearance before joining the Blue Devils, Pierce led the Bearkats to the Houston Regional title game in his first season and Heller led the Sycamores to the NCAA postseason.

Those coaches may lead the pack, but they're certainly not alone.

Casey Dunn, Samford

It's tough to find a hotter mid-major coach than Dunn. The former Auburn player, who also spent time as an assistant at AU, has flourished at Samford over the past couple of seasons. Dunn is entering his ninth campaign with the Bulldogs, but has shown the most progress the last two seasons. The Bulldogs finished 37-23 in 2011 before taking a giant step forward in '12 with a 41-23 overall mark and a trip to the Tallahassee Regional title game against Florida State. Samford once again is expected to be solid in '13. Look for Dunn's stock to only rise.

Chris Pollard, Duke

Though the Blue Devils don't possess as good of full-time facilities as some other big-time private institutions such as Stanford and Vanderbilt, among others, many have long believed that Duke is a potential sleeping giant. The Blue Devils hope Pollard finally can put things on the right track. He certainly accomplished big things at Appalachian State during his eight seasons with the program. For instance, the Mountaineers went 33-27 two seasons ago before taking a big leap forward last season with an NCAA Regional appearance and a very good 41-18 overall record. Duke isn't an easy job by any means, but Pollard has a chance to do something special.

Monte Lee, College of Charleston

Charleston has been one of the nation's most consistent mid-major programs the past few years, and Lee only has continued that tradition. The Cougars have had a lot of success during Lee's tenure with the program. He guided the program to a very impressive 39-22 record two seasons ago before making an NCAA Regional appearance last season with a 38-22 overall mark. In addition to his time as head coach at Charleston, Lee also was groomed by former South Carolina coach Ray Tanner during his six seasons with the Gamecocks. It would be a safe bet to say Lee will get a legitimate ACC or SEC offer in the next few seasons.

Rick Heller, Indiana State

It'll be interesting to see what happens to Heller the next few seasons. Heller spent several seasons at Northern Iowa before it dropped the baseball program, guiding the Panthers to one Missouri Valley title -- a true accomplishment. Heller also has experienced success in three seasons at the helm of the Sycamores. Though ISU only went 29-28 two seasons ago, it blossomed in '12 with a 41-19 overall record and an NCAA Regional appearance. The Sycamores should be solid in '13, led by one of the nation's elite lefthanded pitchers in Sean Manaea. Heller could parlay the upcoming campaign into a very good gig.

David Pierce, Sam Houston State

The Bearkats made a slam-dunk hire last year when they went with former Rice pitching coach David Pierce as head coach. Pierce spent several seasons in charge of Rice's pitching staff, learning under coach Wayne Graham, one of college baseball's coaching legends. Pierce didn't disappoint in his first season with the Bearkats, assembling a 40-22 overall record and reaching an NCAA Regional. With a special group of pitchers back in '13, the Bearkats again should experience success. It's believed Pierce is next in line at Rice, but he could be in line for another premier job before that opportunity arises.

Mark Kingston, Illinois State

It's not much of a surprise to see Kingston experiencing much success in just a few seasons at Illinois State. Kingston blossomed as one of the nation's elite assistant coaches and recruiters during his seven seasons under Rick Jones at Tulane. Kingston has continued his successful ways at ISU. Kingston guided the program to an NCAA Regional appearance and conference title in his first season. The Redbirds also have had success the past two seasons, tallying overall records of 36-18 and 33-19, respectively, in '11 and '12. Kingston has already gotten some serious looks from big-time programs. That interest only will increase.

Rob Cooper, Wright State

Cooper has had several opportunities to take other head coaching jobs over the past few seasons, but has opted to stay committed to the Raiders. For Cooper, it's all about finding exactly the right fit. Cooper has experienced a wealth of success at Wright State. He has had eight successful campaigns with the program, including finishing the last two seasons with impressive marks. The Raiders went 36-19 with an NCAA Regional appearance in 2011 before going 37-21. Cooper is well respected in the coaching ranks, twice being named a Team USA assistant coach.

Andrew Checketts, UC Santa Barbara

Perhaps no young head coach has been groomed by better head coaches throughout his career. Checketts originally made a name for himself as pitching coach at UC Riverside, where he developed some premium arms and learned under coach Doug Smith. Checketts then spent a few seasons at Oregon learning from George Horton. Though the Gauchos only went .500 in Checketts' first campaign, there's no doubt the program is heading a positive direction. UCSB finished with the No. 29 recruiting class nationally in 2012, while the '13 class has some strong points. It's safe to say Checketts is on the fast track.

Jim Toman, Liberty

Assuming he'd be interested, any ACC or SEC school should think hard about giving Toman reins of their baseball program. Toman made a name for himself several years ago when he spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach under Ray Tanner at South Carolina. He has continued his impressive ways as head coach of the Flames. The Flames have experienced much success the past few seasons. For instance, they finished the '10 campaign with a 42-19 overall record. They also finished '11 with a 35-24 overall mark and last season with an impressive 41-19 record. Toman's consistency is impressive.

Jay Artigues, Southeastern Louisiana

There are several successful programs in Louisiana, but perhaps no program has made as many strides over the past five seasons as Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions have progressed into a consistent NCAA postseason contender, thanks to Artigues. Artigues is entering his eighth campaign with the Lions in '12, and is backed by quite an impressive resume. The Lions finished the 2010 campaign with a 40-19 overall record before going 35-22 in '11. Southeastern almost reached an NCAA Regional last season with a good RPI and 39-21 overall mark, but fell just short. Either way, Artigues has done some special things in Hammond, La.

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