Kansas baseball coaching search Zooms into next phase

photo by: Matt Tait

The front entrance to Hoglund Ballpark, home of Kansas baseball, is shown here in this June 2020 photo.

The University of Kansas will have a new head baseball coach in a matter of days.

The guess here is that we’ll know his name by the end of next week, perhaps earlier. This much we know already, though. Before KU’s new coach hosts his first team meeting or fills out a single lineup card, he already will have had a major impact on the Kansas baseball program.

He’ll have brought it together.

Don’t get me wrong, the 2023 KU roster is going to look different — think transfer portal — the philosophy and approach is likely to change — think more local recruiting — and building the program into a consistent winner will not happen overnight.

But the program appears to be moving forward with a serious injection of support. And we’re not just talking about the backing of the KU athletic administration, which is positioned to make a strong hire and may be in that spot because of a possible willingness to pay well above what former head coach Ritch Price was making.

For the first time that I can remember, players from all kinds of eras of Kansas baseball have really rallied around the program during the past couple of weeks. Credit KU AD Travis Goff for some of that. His approach to hiring coaches — across all sports, high-profile or low — is all-inclusive and seeks input from anybody connected who is willing to give it.

But Goff only deserves part of the credit here. The former players themselves deserve the rest. They’re a proud bunch. Most of them didn’t really win much at KU. But they all enjoyed their experiences and laid it on the line for the program, the school and their teammates every time they took the field.

Most often they were overmatched. Rarely did they care. And now that the program has reached the point where it can make a key hire that can reset the path of Kansas baseball for the foreseeable future, many of them are stepping up and doing what they can to be involved.

Some of that has been through conversation and consultation. Some has been financial. And some has been by simply showing they care and that the program matters.

You know the saying about keeping one’s ear to the ground to feel and hear if any footsteps — animal or human — were approaching in the distance? This is like that, only, with as many ears as the KU baseball family has to the ground right now, they’d know if a cotton ball hit the turf in California.

Most of the input from many of these guys is both consistent and trivial. As was the case with the football search for Lance Leipold, KU has an internal search committee in place and is getting assistance from outside sources to help things run smoothly and quickly. They’ll be the ones who make the final decision, not a bunch of former players.

But the interest and insight from these former Jayhawks has shown the KU administration that a bunch of people care whether they get this one right. Baseball will never be a big revenue sport, but there are enough people out there who need and want it to be more than an afterthought.

Feeling that, you’d have to think, will both raise the stakes and provide a shot of adrenaline for those making the hire.

The search has reached a new phase and things could start moving even more quickly from here. It sounds as if Zoom interviews — maybe a dozen or so — will be conducted sometime this week, with the goal being to narrow things down to a final list early next week. I’d bet on the final group having three names in it. Those candidates, I presume, would then be brought in for in-person interviews.

I heard more than 100 applicants threw their name in the ring. One person told me it might’ve even reached as high as 150. And it sounds as if KU’s search committee took a serious look at each and every application it received.

While there surely were some easy thanks-but-no-thanks names in the pile, there also were, and are, some pretty impressive resumés in it, too. At this point, I think every type of background you could imagine is still in the mix — Power 5 head coaches, mid-major up-and-comers, longtime assistants and more.

As things stand right now, I still feel like this has a power coach kind of feel to it, with Maryland head coach Rob Vaughn, longtime Texas A&M head coach and current Nebraska assistant Rob Childress and Louisiana Tech head coach Lane Burroughs firmly in the mix and possibly among the leading candidates.

But there are definitely a couple of assistants and mid-major coaches who are very much still alive, and I don’t get the sense that these Zoom interviews are in any way just a formality.


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