Whit Babcock Ready to Make Another Hire for Virginia Tech

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Whit Babcock

As expected, Virginia Tech released baseball coach Pat Mason over the weekend after the Hokies were swept in Miami.  A search for a new baseball coach has begun.

More accurately, the search for a new baseball coach continues.  It was no secret that Pat Mason needed to win this year to keep his job, and when it became obvious that this team was not going to be a winner, the writing was on the wall.  Whit Babcock likely had a working list of candidates coming into the season, and I’m sure that feelers were put out before the 2017 season ended.

At this point I expect Babcock already has a pretty good idea of who he can and can’t get.  All that’s left to do is sit down and interview the prospective candidates.  For what it’s worth, this might be a process that lasts several weeks, because the NCAA Tournament doesn’t begin until Friday, June 2.  Virginia Tech’s future head coach could very well be coaching that weekend, and perhaps even the next weekend if his team advances to Super Regionals.

Who could Babcock hire?  I’ve heard several different names over the last couple of weeks, some of which have already popped up on the message boards.  And there’s also one name that hasn’t popped up on the boards.  There’s another name that showed up on Twitter today that we’ll also discuss.  Here’s a quick list…

Chris Finwood, ODU head coach
Mark Kingston, USF head coach
Shawn Stiffler, VCU head coach
Steve Owens, Bryant head coach
Dave Serrano, former Tennessee head coach

I’ll readily admit that I know a lot more about Finwood than the other guys, and for what the Hokies need, I believe he would be a good hire.  I’ll end the article with Finwood, and I’ll start it with Steve Owens.

Steve Owens, Bryant head coach

Steve Owens has never coached or recruited at the Power 5 conference level.  However, his record of winning baseball games speaks for itself.

Courtland (DIII): 245-82-1 record.  Four College World Series appearances and three NCAA Regionals.

Le Moyne: 342-217.  Three NCAA Regionals.

Bryant: 255-138-1.  Three NCAA Regionals.

Total: 842-437-1.  Three Division I NCAA Regionals, Four Division III College World Series, Three Division III NCAA Regionals

The guy knows how to win.  I don’t know anything about his recruiting ability, and he’s spent all his time in the Northeast.  But he certainly knows how to develop players and win games.

Dave Serrano, former Tennessee head coach

Dave Serrano recently resigned from Tennessee.  He did not make the NCAA Tournament in six seasons as a head coach.  Then again, the man he replaced (Todd Raleigh) never made it either. 

On the other hand, Serrano had incredible success at two stints out west.

UC Irvine: 114-66-1, One College World Series, One NCAA Regional

Cal State Fullerton: 175-73, One College World Series, Two NCAA Super Regionals,  One NCAA Regional

Serrano had a background as a pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Cal State Fullerton before ever becoming a head coach.  That’s a great baseball program, so he’s coached and recruited at the highest level.

Serrano was great at an established program in warm weather.  He was not nearly as successful at Tennessee, which is not known as a great program, nor does it have California’s weather.

Serrano’s name surfaced because of this Kendall Rogers tweet yesterday…

What Rogers doesn’t specify is whether Serrano is interested in Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech is interested in Serrano, or both.

Mark Kingston, USF head coach

Mark Kingston is the South Florida head coach.  He was a player at North Carolina from 1989-92, and he was also an assistant coach at Miami from 2000-01.  He was also formerly the head coach at Illinois State.  Here are his career numbers…

Illinois State: 170-101, One NCAA Regional
South Florida: 98-74-1, Likely two NCAA Regionals after this season

Kingston was born in New York, but he played high school baseball at Potomac High School in Dumfries, VA.  He was drafted by the Yankees, and later by the Brewers, and while an assistant coach at Miami he won a National Championship.  That’s a solid overall resume.

Kingtson was also the recruiting coordinator at Tulane, where six of his seven classes were ranked in the Top 25 nationally.  A proven winner and a proven recruiter, it’s easy to see why Kingston’s name is on the list.

Shawn Stiffler, VCU head coach

I’ve heard Stiffler’s name mentioned less than anyone else’s, but I’m including him because he’s an in-state guy.  He has a solid record for the Rams through the years, going 188-119.  He took the Rams to the Super Regional in 2015, and VCU is the #1 seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament this year.

Stiffler’s conference record has steadily improved since he was hired…

2012 (CAA): 8-9
2013 (A-10): 12-12
2014 (A-10): 15-10
2015 (A-10): 14-10
2016 (A-10): 17-9
2017 (A-10): 19-5

While the recruiting coordinator and pitching coach for VCU earlier in his career, he played a major role in recruiting an eventual 15 MLB draft picks, including future Major Leaguers Scott Sizemore, Sean Marshall and Cody Eppley. 

Stiffler played baseball at George Mason, and he’s been recruiting the state of Virginia ever since he became a VCU assistant back in 2001.

Chris Finwood, ODU head coach

Chris Finwood has a lot going for him.  He’s from Hampton, he played at VMI, he has coached at VCU and ODU, and he was Auburn’s former recruiting coordinator.  Here’s his career record…

VMI: 52-97, no postseason (VMI won two games the year before he took over)
Western Kentucky: 190-154, Two NCAA Regionals
Old Dominion: 131-98, likely Two NCAA Regionals after this season
Total: 373-349, Likely Four NCAA Regionals after this season

Finwood’s three years as VMI’s head coach shouldn’t be held against him.  He took a two-win team to 11 wins in his first year, 20 wins in his second  year, and 21 wins in his third year.

What I like about Finwood is not only his in-state ties, but his defensive reputation.  While at Auburn, he basically served as what we’d refer to in football as the team’s defensive coordinator.  Auburn recorded the two highest fielding percentages in school history with Finwood at the helm.  Western Kentucky also finished third in the nation in fielding percentage in 2009, and 15th  in 2011.  His teams are noted for being fundamentally sound in the field.

I believe that’s important at Virginia Tech, for a couple of reasons that go together.  First, Tech has never been the best pitching team in the world.  Check out these recent ERA numbers…

2011: 4.57 (#142 out of 292)
2012: 4.16 (#116 out of 291)
2013: 4.14 (#129 out of 296)
2014: 5.17 (#235 out of 296)
2015: 5.11 (#199 out of 295) 
2016: 6.49 (#275 out of 295)
2017: 5.85 (#234 out of 295)

Tech’s pitching has never been great, but it dove off a cliff under Pat Mason.  We know that the Hokies are capable of putting together an average or better pitching staff, but having a dominant one that puts up great numbers might be tough.  The ball flies out in Blacksburg.  Not only is Blacksburg’s elevation (2,077 feet) nearly 700 feet higher than the second-highest in the ACC (Pitt), it’s one of only three ACC schools that has an elevation of over 1,000.  It’s not exactly Coors Field, but it’s still pretty high.  Combine that with a spring day in Blacksburg in which the wind is blowing out, and the ball is going to fly.

That’s why I believe that it’s very important to put together a very good defensive team at Virginia Tech.  Your pitching numbers are only going to be so good.  That’s why it’s important that the team be able to make the routine plays, and the coach has to have a good idea of how to utilize shifts and such things.  Chris Finwood would obviously make the Hokies a much better defensive team.

Defense is another area where the Hokies can use some work.  Here are their fielding percentage ranks since 2011…

2011: #77 out of 292
2012: #73 out of 291
2013: #215 out of 296
2014: #149 out of 296
2015: #108 out of 295)
2016: #197 out of 295
2017: #206 out of 295

There are a few average to above average years in there, but on the whole Virginia Tech’s defense could use some work.  Combine that defense with mediocre or worse pitching, and you’ve got a team that, for example, went 23-32 this year despite finishing #3 in the nation in homers (84).

Based on what I believe Virginia Tech needs – namely defense and better recruiting – I think Chris Finwood would be a good choice.  His history suggests that he would improve Tech’s defense quite a bit, and I believe he would improve recruiting as well.  By the way, he was also an assistant at Auburn when Whit Babcock was there, so they already know each other.

Final Thoughts

While at this moment in time I believe Finwood would be the best choice, I don’t have nearly as much information on the other candidates.  I’ve never sat down with them and talked baseball and gotten to know them.  Whit Babcock will have that opportunity.

Babcock also knows baseball very well.  He played baseball in college, and his dad was JMU’s head coach and took the Dukes to the College World Series.  It’s still early, but all of Babcock’s hires so far seem to have been very good.  Because of his background, he knows a lot more about baseball than he does those other sports.

Besides working for an AD who has a background in baseball, the new coach will also have a brand new stadium to sell in recruiting.  His first game in Blacksburg will be the first game of the newly renovated English Field at Union Park.  There’s some positive momentum now, even with the last four seasons of losing baseball.  The Tech job is much more attractive right now than it has ever been in the history of the program.  I believe Babcock will have some solid candidates, and he’ll have to make a tough choice.

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24 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I guess you don’t assume that Whit will kick the tires on Gary Gilmore, Coastal Carolina HC, last year’s National Champs. Gilmore is a Franklin County native, who knows if he is ready for new scenery after 22 years at Coastal?

  2. Owens raises an eyebrow for me. With 842 wins I figured out he’s getting long in the tooth. Think Chuck Hartman, but instead of playing High Point every year we’d play Bryant. For sure, Owens borders on “legend” but does VT want a Bill Foster rebuild-the-program type who only lasts 3-4 years, or a younger, up-and-comer? I’d vote for the latter. I think Whit knows what to do. I really don’t think the new coach’s name is on the list above.

  3. I’m hoping Whit has some connections with some SEC schools and is looking at some of their up-and-coming assistants. I’m not sold on either the ODU or VCU guys simply because they are in state. To me, I can’t imagine any of the UVA guys leaving that top-10 machine to take on our challenge.

    As we all know, Whit does his homework and knows the business. Our total trust is in him, and with the new facility on its way, we as a baseball program are ready to take off!

  4. Don’t be surprised if Whit comes up with someone we haven’t thought of. He’s done it before.

  5. Are there no ACC/SEC/Big12 head or assistant coaches (Power5 experience) making any lists?

  6. What about an assistant coach from UVA? UVA hired an assistant from ND. Worked damn good for those guys.

      1. Speaking of current Assistant Baseball coaches from UVa. The article is about baseball.

  7. Stiffler over Finwood every day and twice on Sunday.
    The vibe out of Norfolk worries me.

    1. Finny is a firecracker, for sure – but imagine Seth Greenberg ‘tude in the baseball program. Alums and athletic dept didn’t like Seth, Finny would be same vibe. Zero coaching experience in Power5 either.

  8. The third ACC town (in addition to Blacksburg and Pittsburgh) with an elevation above 1000 feet would make for a good trivia question. The answer definitely is not obvious.

  9. Correction needed under Shawn Stiffler’s profile… his 2015 team made it to the Super Regional where they lost to Miami.

    1. Was going to make the same comment on Stiffler….had a Super Regional appearance in 2015.

    2. Thanks. Wikipedia didn’t list that one in his coaching record for some reason.

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