Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Maloney To Tennessee?

Michigan head baseball coach Rich Maloney is rumored to have interviewed for the vacancy at Tennessee. Michigan AD Bill Martin has confirmed that permission was granted for UT to speak to Coach Maloney.

I don't really want to make too big a deal about this yet. There is quite a distance between interviewing and actually getting the job. Besides, the Tennessee gig is a good one, even if I thought Rod Delmonico got unfairly kicked to the curb, so I can't blame Coach Maloney for listening. (Again, listening and accepting are two different words for a reason.) I certainly cannot be mad at UT for calling Maloney. Getting a northern program to the heights Michigan has achieved in such a short time is impressive. Maloney's probably on everyone's short list, so the courting dance shouldn't surprise anyone.

As such, I should probably wait to see how all this pans out. There are any number of possible conclusions ranging from not going to UT to going somewhere else to returning to the Maize and Blue. However, let's keep two things in mind.

First, I'll be more surprised if Maloney doesn't get the Vols job than if he does. He's a good coach. He can sell a program. He's got a track record in the MAC and the Big Ten. How many other super regional coaches are going to be available? If he interviews, he's the front-runner in my biased mind.

Second, and clearly most importantly, there is not much Big Ten baseball news to chew on, so why not run wild with this? Look, I'm a blogger. As with all bloggers, I have a duty to ignore journalistic ethics, make pointless assertions and spread unverifiable information. (What's that? The regular media does this, too? Wait, does that mean I can get paid for this?)

With that as a backdrop, let me pose a (long) question in light of this news. What does it say about a program when your currently spending millions of dollars in facilities upgrades, you have won back-to-back regular season conference titles, you have won your first NCAA regional in over two decades, you are returning a team that might be in the top 10 next season at one of the most prestigious universities in the country and the head coach that has rebuilt your entire program is interviewing elsewhere?

From my chair, it affirms a the sentiment that the Big Ten will never be anything more than a mid-major in baseball. If Michigan can't keep it's head baseball coach with all the momentum that has been built under Maloney's guidance -- both on and off the field -- how in the wide world of sports are they going to keep the next guy? And, with apologies to all around the conference, if Michigan doesn't have either the courage, capital or clout to secure their baseball coach does anyone else in the Big Ten?

Seriously, if this identical situation were happening anywhere between State College and Iowa City, would any of those other nine programs shell out the money to keep their baseball coach? My gut and my brain both say "no". They would all go searching for a new guy. Doesn't that thought scream "mid-major conference"? (Can you imagine the outrage if this were football and Michigan was feeding SEC schools coaches?!?!?!)

Before Volunteers' fans sick a hound after me, I openly admit that the UT baseball job is higher up the food chain than Michigan's. However, I happen to believe that a few Big Ten programs can become big time jobs, as well. Michigan is one of those jobs. Now, if Maloney leaves after getting the Michigan program to this level, is he sending the message that he doesn't share my feelings about the long term future of Michigan baseball? Would Maloney's departure be saying, in effect, this is as good as Michigan and the Big Ten are going to get?

This also makes me wonder a little bit about Michigan's commitment. I say a little bit because the administration has put some dollars into baseball recently. The cynic in me would point out that quite a bit of the money came from a donation from New York Mets' owner and Michigan alum Fred Wilpon. That more negative side might also suggest that the money comes a decade after Ohio State built a state-of-the-art ballpark on campus and around the same time Penn State opened their new, fabulous yard. That was peer pressure more than a commitment. In spite of the administration's motivation, with all the money they've laid out, shouldn't keeping the man that restored their program be a priority?

Now, there is an obvious financial line in the sand that even I would not cross. If the folks in Knoxville, or anywhere else, want to make Coach Maloney a lottery winner, I can't blame Michigan's administration for saying "We wish you well". However, I'm hopeful that Michigan will not let a little bit of cash cost them their baseball coach. A whole bunch of cash? Well, ...........

That brings me to a final item for this evening's "brief" look at this developing story. Let's take this to the next logical step. Let's assume Maloney bolts Ann Arbor for Knoxville and financial independence, warmer temperatures and a desire for Creamsicles. Who gets the Michigan job? That's a great question. I wish I had a great answer.

Here is what I know about the job at Michigan. Or better phrased, here's what I think Michigan's coach should be. I believe you need to be young and energetic (although, I always presumed those two went together). You need to be willing to promote the snot out of program. You need to shake every hand. Attend every banquet. Accept every interview request. You need to elevate baseball without getting overwhelmed with football's status. Oh, by the way, you need to be a good baseball coach who can recruit and preferably with some previous head coaching experience. More preferable would be experience winning.

May I make a single, off-the-top-of-my-head suggestion? How about Scott Stricklin at Kent State? I don't know much at all about Coach Stricklin's background, so I put his name out there with an asterisk, but I think he meets all my perceived requirements. He's young at 36. He has shown a willingness to promote his program -- I've seen an in-game television interview and his interview with Brian Foley at the College Baseball Blog. He's played in the minors. Stricklin was an assistant at Georgia Tech. He's led the Golden Flashes to a 104-65 record in three years at KSU. (Another asterisk on his record at KSU. It's my math.) That includes a regular season title, this year's MAC tournament crown and he's got a coach of the year award, to boot.

That's not to say there's not another candidate I might like out there better, but my initial thought was Coach Stricklin. He might not want to leave his Alma mater, but there won't be too many better jobs available than Michigan's should it become open. He deserves an interview, if interested.

Perhaps, the most interesting thing to come out of a potential change of coaches will be what happens to the current players. By Maloney's own admission, Michigan could be a Top 10 program in the pre-season rankings next year. However, if he departs, how many of those players will exit, as well? Will a new coach be able to keep them in Ann Arbor and, if so, can he get them to the next step -- Omaha?

One does wonder if Maloney opts for greener (or more orange) pastures right now, if some in Ann Arbor will be left with bitter feelings.

Update: Michigan Daily's Courtney Ratkowiak talks with Zach Putnam about Maloney's interview.