On the heels of a 32-24 season, the second-highest win total in Maryland baseball history and an 11-victory improvement over 2011, third-year coachErik Bakich departed College Park last month to take the same position at Michigan.
In Ann Arbor, Bakich will inherit a program that is a cumulative 14 games below .500 in the past four years and has not advanced to the College World Series since 1984. But what the Wolverines lack in tradition and recent success, they make up for with monetary enticement and bountiful resources.
Maryland, which on Monday cut seven athletic programs in the face of a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, does not possess such an arsenal. And so the Terrapins, who have not made the NCAA tournament or won an ACC title since 1971, may be forced to discover whether the opportunity to coach in the ACC and be surrounded by decent recruiting territory is enough incentive to lure a candidate capable of continuing the program’s recent rise.
“The big thing for Maryland is they’ve got to find somebody who has a history of doing something with not a whole lot,” said Kendall Rogers, managing editor of the college baseball coverage at the scouting Web site Perfect Game USA. “Because the fact of the matter is with all their budgetary issues, they’re not going to be able to attract a big name, and they’re probably not going to be able to spend a ton of money on their baseball facilities in the next few years.”
The Maryland athletic department needed a $1.2 million university loan to reconcile its budget shortfall this past year, and while Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said Monday there is a strategic plan in place to balance the department’s $57.7 million budget by 2015, such a goal will require that Maryland’s costs remain stagnant.
“There were some things that I felt like in order to advance the baseball program, the resources and the support would probably need to be increased a little bit,” Bakich said Thursday in a telephone interview. “I’m extremely sensitive and aware and understanding of the athletic department’s struggles, so I completely understand the decision of not being able to commit those resources at this time.”
For the school’s baseball program, which improved its record in each of Bakich’s three seasons and witnessed a surge in grass-roots fundraising during his tenure, such circumstances may prove to be a deterrent to potential coaching candidates.
The stadiums at ACC counterparts such as Virginia, Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina are considered superior to Maryland’s Shipley Field, which was built in 1965. This spring, Virginia Tech installed artificial turf and expanded the dugouts on its baseball field, a $1 million project that will help negate the effects of inclement weather.
Funded in part by New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who played baseball for the Wolverines in the 1950s, Michigan spent $14.5 million to renovate its baseball and softball complex in 2008. That was partly what attracted Bakich, at 34 the youngest head coach of a major conference baseball program in the country, to the Big Ten school. Another sizable factor: Bakich had an annual salary of $100,000 at Maryland, compensation that is expected to rise significantly at Michigan (the coach Bakich is succeeding, Rich Maloney, made $190,000 in base salary in 2011).
“My family, my wife and I are extremely grateful and pleased with the commitment the [Michigan] athletic department has made to our baseball program and to our coaching staff,” Bakich added.
Michigan “put together a pretty attractive package, which we weren’t able to match. These things happen, and I’m really sorry to see Erik leave,” said Bob “Turtle” Smith, a 1963 Maryland baseball alum and one of the program’s most significant boosters. “The pressure is now: Can we find someone to replace [Bakich] where we can maintain the momentum that he started for us?”
Deputy Athletic Director Nate Pine is Maryland’s point man in its search for a new baseball coach, and he said the Terrapins are “well positioned” to attract high-caliber candidates, given the school’s ACC affiliation and the program’s recent improvement.
“While we have some challenges with our budget, we certainly have a budget that is attractive to a lot of coaches in a lot of conferences,” Pine said. “While we’re not exactly where we want to be and we’re going to continue to build our operating budget and our fundraising base, we’re in a good position to attract a great coach, and I have no fear about that.”
The last time Maryland was in a similar position, the school elected to promote from within. In January, women’s soccer coach Brian Pensky, the 2010 ACC coach of the year,left to take the same position at Tennessee, where he will earn roughly $50,000 more per year than he would have had he remained in College Park.
Maryland promoted Jonathan Morgan, who’d been an assistant under Pensky for five years, to head coach. Morgan will make $95,000 annually, which is $17,000 less than Pensky made.
Shortly after Maryland announced Bakich’s departure, the school named former major league pitcher Eric Milton as the baseball team’s interim coach. Milton, a 1996 Maryland alum who made one all-star appearance during his 11-year big league career, had been serving as a volunteer assistant at Maryland since September. He had no prior collegiate coaching experience.
Milton’s primary short-term objectives include holding together an incoming recruiting class widely considered to be among the top 25 in the nation and deciding whether he’s interested in the full-time job. According to a school official, Milton was out of town this week and unavailable to comment. Pine said Tuesday he planned to speak with Milton by the end of the week about his coaching desires.
Pine declined to speak about other potential candidates or the profile of candidate Maryland seeks. Rogers, who has covered college baseball for more than 10 years, said it would make sense for Maryland to pursue head coaches of successful smaller programs. He mentioned Army’s Joe Sottolano, Elon’s Mike Kennedy and College of Charleston’s Monte Lee as coaches who fit that bill.
Rogers also sees Frank Anderson — fired in May by Oklahoma State after nine seasons — as a candidate.
“There are some good candidates out there,” Rogers said. “It’s just a matter of whether or not you can convince them that you’re financially stable enough to be able to keep this program on its upward track.”