It was a rough 2016 campaign for Virginia Tech baseball.
The program went 19-36 overall, going just 6-24 in the ACC. The Hokies lost key pitchers to injury, as Aaron McGarity missed the last two months of the season with an ACL tear, while Luke Scherzer missed the entire season with tendinitis. After one of the worst seasons in school history, it seemed like the program was in limbo
However, Head Coach Pat Mason made a significant move on Wednesday to help push Virginia Tech in the right direction, hiring Jamie Pinzino as an associate head coach.
Pinzino’s experience is quite expansive. In his 15 years of coaching, he’s been the head coach at three different programs over seven seasons, recording 212 wins and three NCAA Regional appearances.
“That was the biggest reason why we were bringing in Jamie,” Mason said. “I’ve known him for a long time, but the track record of success he’s had at a time in which we need to win, at least that’s the way I look at it. We’re bringing in someone with a track record of success who draws as much from where he’s been and his success, perhaps at Oklahoma, and put that into our staff and our program and draw from that to help us become a better program.”
“When it became apparent he was looking for someone we kind of talked throughout that time frame and I knew this was something that appealed to me right away,” Pinzino said.
Previously the pitching coach at Oklahoma, Pinzino decided to move to the East Coast to be closer to his family and wife, Cheryl Milligan. Milligan is the head softball coach at Tufts University in Massachussets and has won three NCAA Division III National Championships from 2013-2015.
“It’s a little bit easier with that dynamic,” Pinzino said. “It’s not close, but it’s closer to do some weekends and make it work for our 3-year-old son and all that type of stuff. Ideally, I was looking to get back on the East Coast somewhere. The other big part is I’ve known Pat for a long time and I believe in him here at Virginia Tech and I believe it’s going to be a great situation for me to get a chance to work with some guys who I’ve gotten a chance to know a little bit.”
After the first five seasons of his coaching career, Pinzino became the head coach at Bryant University and immediately built a winner.
While Pinzino’s team struggled in his first season, Bryant went 35-24, 43-21, 32-22 and 34-22 for the next four seasons. Bryant won two conference championships and made two postseason appearances.
Pinzino says his coaching experience at Bryant has helped him at every job he’s had since then.
“Anytime you take a new position, especially one to become a head coach, you learn from what you did previously at Bryant, what worked and what didn’t work and try to help make those decisions,” Pinzino said. “In that case particularly, the case was helped because when you spend a year at a place, you get to know it very well, you get to know a program, what the program is doing well and what the program needs. You have a relationship with all of those guys at that point. I think it gave me a head start a little bit when I took over as head coach (at William and Mary). I was able to hit the ground running.”
Pinzino’s tenure at Bryant however didn’t end well. After the 2010 season, Pinzino resigned from the Bryant job after getting into an altercation with one of his assistants at an end of the year barbecue. Pinzino was charged with three misdemeanors, including simple assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The charges were later dropped.
“As far as my time at Bryant, I had a great experience coaching there for five years,” Pinzino said. “Unfortunately I made a mistake, which I’ve had to live with. I can’t change the past, but in the six years since, I’ve taken accountability for it, learned from it and made sure that one error in judgement will not define my career. I’ve had a chance since then to work at some great institutions and very much look forward to the opportunity here at Virginia Tech.”
Pinzino took an assistant position at Northeastern for a year, and then was hired at William & Mary as their pitching coach. After one season, Pinzino was promoted to the head coaching position to replace Frank Leoni.
At William & Mary, Pinzino’s squad went 39-24 and finished second in the CAA. The Tribe appeared in an NCAA Regional as well. After that season, Pinzino left for the pitching coach position at Oklahoma under former Virginia Tech head coach Pete Hughes.
“As a competitor, you have these dreams where you think, ‘Ok, if I’m going to get to the highest level of college baseball,’ and I thought in order for me to do that, and I came a different route than a lot of guys that have been at the Power 5 conference level forever, coaching or playing at that level. I took a different route. I didn’t have any Power 5 experience. It was an opportunity to go there and work for a guy who had a lot of success at the other places he had been and that I knew very well.”
Pinzino says his two years at William and Mary have prepared him to recruit in Virginia against other schools.
“A lot of the connections recruiting-wise are really helpful,” Pinzino said. “From baseball coaches to summer coaches and there’s a lot of guys on this team right now that I saw play in high school that we had recruited and had on campus. It makes this transition a little bit better. I’m a bit more comfortable coming in knowing a lot of the guys not just on staff, but some of the players. The more time you spend in the state the more comfortable you get and people that you know. In this day and age in recruiting, that’s a big part of it. The earlier you can find out about guys these days the better. These days it’s a race, not necessarily to get guys committed, but a race to gather names. When you have guys that you’ve known in the past who are going to tip you off sooner rather than later about certain guys, I think that’s a huge benefit.”
It would make sense that Pinzino would serve as the pitching coach at Virginia Tech, but Mason and his staff are doing things a little bit differently. While Pinzino expects to have some role with the pitching staff, both Mason and Pinzino said that the entire staff will sit down before the season and break up duties then.
“We’re going to work all of that stuff out,” Pinzino said. “I have a deep pitching background, obviously, but I also have a background on the other side of the ball with the hitters. I think we’re going to sit down, the four of us on staff and figure out how we divide things up and make sure we utilize our strengths.”
“We’re taking it from a different perspective I think from maybe the traditional coaching, where you have a pitching coach, hitting coach and head coach,” Mason said. “What we’re trying to do is utilize all of our strengths the best way we can to make our guys better.”
Pinzino’s hire isn’t the only investment Virginia Tech is making in its baseball team. The athletic program negotiated a sponsorship with Union Bank and plans to renovate the stadium are in the works.
Mason said Director of Athletics Whit Babcock and the administration is making every effort to help rebuild the baseball program.
“I don’t have one thread of negativity towards the administration,” Mason said. “Anything that was perhaps a concern or maybe something we were behind on has been addressed and handled and if it hasn’t been corrected yet, there are plans to correct it. I think we have 100 percent support from the administration. You’ve heard Whit (Babcock) say publicly that he thinks Blacksburg can be a baseball town. Obviously he has a baseball background. In the past year, with some of the announcements they’ve made in regards to facilities and things that the public sees and internally, we’ve made some major adjustments.”
Pinzino said that the investments and changes the program is making in order to right the ship attracted him to the position.
“I’ve been in the state before and viewed the program from afar, and obviously the name recognition and the support of this place throughout the entire state and beyond, something that I was well aware of before, and talking with (Mason) over the last month or so, I think what the athletic department is doing for the program and their plans for the future really got me excited about the opportunity here,” Pinzino said. “I think this place is a couple years away from being a really special place to be and I want to be a part of that success and help us get to that point. I believe in Coach Mason. I believe in him as a person and as a coach as a guy that’s willing to look at our own program and evaluate it and not be afraid to make some changes, hopefully for the better.”
Both Mason and Pinzino know what the problems last year were. Along with injuries, the pitching staff had a collective ERA of 6.49 and allowed opposing batters to hit .301 for the season.
“I know that’s kind of a cop-out coming off of a bad year and I don’t want it to sound like that, but I think the No. 1 thing we need to improve on is keeping our guys healthy,” Mason said. “We need our guys to be healthy and hopefully we can help them. It’s tough to evaluate the whole program when half of our rotation wasn’t there. As a whole, the biggest thing we need to improve on is being able to recruit more depth and get more talent into our program, so we’re not built to compete every third year or every fourth year. We want to compete at a high level every year, lose guys to the Draft, which is what good programs do, and still get back to a Regional or a Super Regional and not have to wait two or three years to develop.
“If I’m evaluating our program as a whole, I think depth and talent in our program are needed and that falls on us as a staff and goes hand-in-hand with support from the administration. All of those pieces of the puzzle go together and give you the ability to recruit maybe not necessarily better players, but more good players.”
Pinzino is prepared to help recruit and develop the young talent on the roster, and already has a relationship with some of the guys in the clubhouse.
“The two biggest things in this are how you recruit guys and get guys in your program and then how you make them better,” Pinzino said. “I’m still getting a feel for our current guys and how we make those guys better, but some of them I knew from high school and recruited some of those guys. I’m familiar with a handful of guys, but I think that’s big for me moving forward is learning our guys and what each guy needs to get better and hopefully put a plan together to help that happen.”
Even after last season, Mason has high expectations for his club. He believes that if they can catch a few breaks along the way, the Hokies could surprise some teams.
“I hate to put any kind of win total on it,” Mason said. “Realistically, we were in last place last year, and Boston College was in last place the year before, they made a Super Regional run. So any team in the ACC has that ability. Is it realistic to think that we can go to a Regional next year? Any team that makes it to a Regional can make a run at Omaha. That’s how good the conference is. That’s a reasonable goal, to get ourselves into a Regional. We’ll see what we can do with that opportunity.”