Friday, June 18, 2010

SEC Baseball coaches just coach baseball

The 2010 College World Series starts this weekend with two teams from the SEC in Omaha, Florida and South Carolina. Three SEC teams were eliminated last weekend in Super Regionals, Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt. And, last year's National Champion was from the SEC, the LSU Tigers. SEC baseball if not as strong as SEC football is certainly almost as strong and arguably the best conference top to bottom in baseball. During last month's SEC baseball tournament, The Birmingham News ran a story where at least five SEC baseball head coaches make over $500,000 with LSU's Paul Mainieri leading the way at $625,000. The lowest paid coach is Alabama's Mitch Gaspard at $225,000, who very well could be in store for a pay raise after a tremendous first year in Tuscaloosa. Sure, these salaries, even Mainieri's pale in comparison to SEC head football coaches' salaries and are behind SEC head basketball coaches' salaries,too. And there are a few assistant football coaches at SEC schools who make more money than head baseball coaches in the SEC. Still, SEC baseball coaches are paid very well in 2010 and also , all they do is coach baseball.

LSU's Paul Maineri is the highest paid coach with a base salary of $625,000 plus bonuses

"All they do is coach baseball" doesn't imply the coach and his staff just roll the balls out in February through June. With big money comes big expectations as their jobs are year around just like their colleagues down the hall in football and basketball. But it wasn't too long ago that an SEC baseball head coach was viewed as a "part time" coach, or he had other responsibilities with his university, generally with the football program.Many head baseball coaches were 'recruiting coordinators' in football while a handful dabbled in basketball. And of course, there were times when they really were viewed as "part time" coaches and held 'full time' jobs somewhere else. Whereas today's head baseball coaches' names don't necessarily reverberate nationwide, or even regionally like the football coaches' names,do there have been occassions at most SEC schools where the head baseball coach at the time became extremely well known for something other than his time as coach at that school.

Alabama won its first SEC baseball title in 1934, the second year of SEC play. The Crimson Tide's head baseball coach was Jennings B. Whitworth. Most Tide fans are more familiar with his tenure as head football coach where he was known by his nickname "Ears". Whitworth also spent time as Georgia's head baseball coach as well as being assistant football coach for Alabama and Georgia which led to him being head football coach in Stillwater at Oklahoma State for five years before his infamous tenure in Tuscaloosa as the Tide's head football coach.
"Ears" Whitworth led Alabama to the SEC title in baseball in 1934

SEC Baseball was almost an afterthought at some schools in the early days of SEC baseball, almost treated like today's various "club sports". The SEC started in 1933 and had baseball as one of its sports in that same year. Charter member Tennessee, however ,didn't field a team until 1939 after suddenly dropping the sport after the 1931 season. The Vols' first head baseball coach in SEC play was John Mauer, who was also the Vols' basketball head coach at the time. Mauer's baseball position was more of an afterthough as his primary focus was basketball where he was head coach at five schools ,including Miami of Ohio where his star pupil was oddly enough Walter Alston of Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger baseball fame. Mauer had the odd ,and of course unplanned knack, of leaving one job and being replaced by a coach who acclaimed national fame if not at that school ,somewhere else in the sporting world.

Mauer came to Oxford to coach Miami's Redskins from Kentucky,where he coached from 1927-1930. Kentucky replaced Mauer with Adolph F. Rupp,who led the 'Cats through the '72 season.When Mauer left Oxford for Knoxville, Miami replaced him with Weeb Eubank, who would lead the Baltimore Colts to the NFL title in 1958 and 1959 and the New York Jets to the world title in Super Bowl III. After leaving Knoxville in 1947, Mauer coached Army until 1951 when he was replaced by Elmer Ripley, who was one of the more successful and respected coaches at the time with stops at Georgetown,Notre Dame and Yale.Ripley left West Point a year later to become head coach of the Harlem Globetrotters. Mauer coached one other SEC basketball program, Florida ,where he was replaced by Norm Sloan in 1961, the first of Sloan's two stents as the Gators' mentor sandwiched around a 12 year term as NC State's head coach which climaxed in 1974 with the National Title.

John Mauer was Tennessee's first baseball coach in SEC play in 1939. Mauer also coached the Vols' basketball squad and was UK's head basketball coach before Adolph Rupp

Many SEC fans are familiar with Erk Russell, the architect of Vince Dooley's "Junkyard Dog" defenses in the mid 1970's and early 80's. Russell , a graduate of Auburn who was the school's last four sport letter winner was an assistant coach on the Plains before following fellow Auburn alum ,football player and football assistant Vince Dooley to Georgia in 1964. Russell while an Auburn assistant football coach, was also Auburn's head baseball coach from 1959-1962 leading the Tigers to the SEC Eastern title in 1961 and losing to LSU's Tigers in the championship series.
The head Junkyard Dawg led Auburn to the 1961 SEC East baseball title as HC

Few names are associated with baseball like Casey Stengel. Whereas the SEC didn't start play until 1933, the teams that make up the conference were playing a variety of sports going back to the 1880's. In 1913, the Ole Miss Rebels were coached by none other than the "Ole Perfessor" himself, who aquired the nickname "The Professor" during his one year in Oxford as Ole Miss' head baseball coach. A southpaw, his dream of being a dentist floundered due in part to the lack of left-handed instruments which hindered his training. After a year with Brooklyn's Montgomery AA team, the Kansas City native hooked up with his old high school coach Bill Driver who was now Ole Miss' football and basketball coach who got Stengel the job coaching the Rebels' baseball squad that one season before resuming his mediocre at best playing career which elolved into a superb managerial career with the Yankees.

"The Ole Perfesser" was Ole Miss' head baseball coach in 1913

Five years earlier in 1908, Vanderbilt turned to one its former players and graduates who would soon go on to great fame as a sportswriter. Grantland Rice, who captained Vandy to the 1901 Southern Conference baseball championship, took over the reigns of the Commodore baseball program after covering the new Nashville Vols of the new Southern Association shortly after graduation. A series of moves to larger cities in sportswriting brought him back to Nashville to write for the new Tennessean before coaching Vandy for one season and returning to writing. It is not known if the Commodores' infield that season was comprised of famine, pestilence, destruction and death. The crest of this Nashville cyclone went 11-9-2 at the precipice of the Vanderbilt campus before untold spectators peering down upon the bewildering panorama spread out against the green plain.

Vanderbilt turned to former player Grantland Rice for the 1908 season as HC

Vanderbilt went through 18 more baseball coaches before Larry Schmittou was hired in 1968, the first year Vandy offered baseball scholarships. One of those coaches was Wallace Wade who was the Commodores' head baseball coach in 1922 and 1923 as well as one of Dan McGugin's assistant football coaches.Alabama hired him away as head football coach in 1924. Most other baseball coaches at Vandy were less known either for their Vandy tenure, or any other sports venture. One coach's participation in a game is well-known or well-chronicled in a minor league baseball game in 1931.

Harley Boss, who coached the Commodores in 1960, 1963 and 1964 played professional baseball for the Senators and Indians in the late 1920's and until the mid 1930's. In 1931 he played first base for the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Senators' top farm club at the time. On April 2nd of that year, the Lookouts hosted none other than the New York Yankees en route from Spring Training in Florida back to the Bronx. Minor league teams playing major league teams is something that continues to this day. No team today has Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on it like that Yankee team did. Alas, no minor league team had a teammate on the mound like Boss did that day, a teenage girl named Jackie Mitchell. Lookouts President Joe Engel put this togethor as quite a drawing card and Mitchell didn't disappoint. She struck out Ruth and Gehrig before being pulled as the Yankees went on to win, 14-4. Many baseball people have always wondered if perhaps the Yankees were in on her pitching and whiffed on purpose, or if she really did strike them out with them trying. Boss went 0-4 himself that day. He died shortly after the completion of Vandy's 1964 season of a heart attack at 55.

Former Vandy coach Harley Boss played first in '31 for Chattanooga as the Lookouts' pitcher Jackie Mitchell (a girl) struck out Ruth and Gehrig

Vanderbilt's Schmittou from 1968-1978 was one of many football recruiting coordinators that doubled as head baseball coach. This practice was made popular by Ole Miss' John Vaught following a disappointing 5-5 mark in 1950. Vaught hired Ole Miss baseball coach Tom Swayze, who had also been a high school football coach, to this 'contact' position. Swayze's job was to evaluate talent throughout Mississippi and to get to know the high school coaches firsthand. Vaught's committment to the "Mississippi Boys First Program"paid off as the Rebels keyed in on Mississippi players as well as a few across state lines in Memphis and Louisiana. Ole Miss won 6 SEC titles and one National Title from 1952 to 1964 as Vaught's teams were top shelf until his retirement following the 1970 season. Swayze fielded some excellent baseball squads,too, winning three SEC titles and making three trips to the College World Series in his tenure.

Ole Miss' Johnny Vaught introduced the 'recruiting coordinator' concept to the SEC using his school's baseball coach, Tom Swayze as many others followed suit

Florida's Dave Fuller coached the Gators' baseball team from 1948-1975. He also served as a football assistant from '48 to '76 . When Bob Woodruff came to Florida from Baylor in 1950, he placed Fuller in charge of recruiting and immediately recruited local boy, Doug Dickey to Florida where he starred in baseball and football before going on as head coach at Tennessee and Florida and Tennessee's athletic director. Fuller's biggest recruiting coup was actually talking Woodruff's succcessor and Dickey's head coaching predecessor at Florida, Ray Graves into taking a chance on a 180 lb lineman with no scholarship offers.Florida's Big Bend and Monticello native Jack Youngblood came to Gainesville in 1967 making All-American his senior year in 1970.Youngblood, who had already bulked up to 225 in his first varsity season in 1968, earned his scholarship in the Gators' first game of the 1968 season as he also handled Florida's kicking chores and his 42 yard field goal was the difference in a 23-20 win over Air Force in Tampa. He earned All-American honors in 1970 before a 14 year career with the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL culminating in Youngblood's induction in the NFL Hall of Fame in 2001. Youngblood thanked Fuller for taking a chance on him, and thanked Graves, in his acceptance speech.

Dave Fuller talked Ray Graves into taking a chance on un-recruited future NFL Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood.

Now SEC baseball coaches just coach baseball.