Texas head coach David Pierce celebrates a 3-2 win over Indiana in an NCAA regional game at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on June 3, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas, Perrin found a baseball gem in David Pierce

Posted June 16th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • David Pierce impressed Texas athletic director Mike Perrin from the get-go as someone "on an upper trajectory."
  • Pierce was absolutely crushed when he didn't get the Alabama head coaching job but was overjoyed how it played out.
  • Assistant Sean Allen said Pierce is a master at preparing for games and maximizing each player on the roster.

OMAHA, Neb. — His heart was broken.

David Pierce was absolutely crushed two years ago when he was told he would not be getting the head coaching job he so badly desired.

“I really wanted the job,” Pierce said Friday, “but they were concerned about my buyout at Tulane. I was devastated.”

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Alabama had decided to go in a different direction.

He got over it. Boy, did he get over it.

Days later, he was standing in the outfield at Dodger Stadium as part of George Horton’s coaching staff for the U.S. national team when he got another call. Mike Perrin was on the line, and the Texas interim athletic director told him the Longhorns were still very much interested in him as a possible replacement for Augie Garrido.

Late that night, at 5 a.m. CDT, Pierce’s phone vibrated on his nightstand. Perrin’s text said it all. UT President Gregory L. Fenves had approved his hiring. He was the successor to the winningest coach in college baseball history.

Pierce, a grounded, very humble former state champion baseball player at Houston St. Pius X, had gone from a restricted earnings coach making 6 grand at Rice in the early ’90s to caretaker of arguably the best baseball program in America making $575,000. But to be honest, he would have come for free.

Pierce might not have been Texas’ first choice.

But he was the right choice.

“Jeez Louise,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said, “his work ethic is second to none. We got the right guy.”

Didn’t matter that Pierce didn’t have the biggest profile or hadn’t run a marquee program like Texas, which will open its College World Series play Sunday against Arkansas. He’s a total grinder who grew up in Texas, understands the significance of the position and appreciates the accompanying expectations. “But to be honest,” he said, “I’ve never felt the pressure.”

A three-hour interview with Perrin at the latter’s Houston home sealed the deal for the AD, whose hire of Pierce easily qualifies as his high water moment. Then, over Pierce’s usual plate of two beef enchiladas, one cheese enchilada and white onions on top at Pico’s, the two broke bread.

“David impressed me from our first conversation,” said Perrin, who got a “ringing endorsement” from Rice’s Wayne Graham. “I liked his philosophy of being strong up the middle, his knowledge of the game, and the last two seasons have borne that out. He was someone I identified as being on an upper trajectory.”

Why did he get the job after an exhaustive search?

“I got the job because I have a proven track record to win,” Pierce said. “And it’s not I, it’s we.”

In fairness, he might have been Perrin’s first pick all along, but internal pressure to hire a bigger name than a Tulane coach who had never made it past the regional round of the NCAA playoffs and Fenves’ fundraising trip to China delayed the process.

Ultimately, he got the job he desperately wanted, and the protracted hunt that lasted 31 days and involved almost a dozen head coaching candidates nationwide brought big raises for many of college baseball’s biggest names, such as Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, TCU’s Jim Schlossnagle, Oregon State’s two-time CWS champion Pat Casey and Louisville’s Dan McDonnell.

Pierce was fortunate with the timing. His trusted assistant, Sean Allen, was en route to Alabama and set to take an assistant’s job there when he got the word. Philip Miller, another Pierce aide who, like Allen and Phil Haig, has been with him every step of the way the past seven years, kidded Allen on the phone, “Put a hole in your tire and tell Alabama you got a flat tire.”

The three of them were in Austin by the end of the week, filled out all the human resources paperwork Saturday, returned to New Orleans to clean out their desks Sunday and were in Atlanta for the Perfect Game tournament Monday. It was there they convinced Garland’s two-way star, Kam Fields, to visit Texas. Fields had been considering Kentucky as well as football-baseball offers from places including Utah, Indiana and SMU but became Pierce’s first commitment.

Drew Bishop, Texas’ longtime baseball operations man, joked that on Fields’ visit, football studs such as Brian Orakpo and Tim Crowder were working out in the weight room with bulging biceps. “I told Kam these are the kinds of guys who will be chasing you if you choose football,” Bishop said.

Fields, a reliever who could be next year’s Longhorns closer, chose baseball.

“Coach Pierce is a great, straightforward guy,” Fields said. “He’s really for the players and always has what’s best for us.”

That’s a defining characteristic of Pierce, who Allen said does an outstanding job of completing a versatile roster with only 11.7 scholarships and only Sunday starter Nolan Kingham on a full ride. Pierce loves recruiting athletes and two-sport players.

After losing 11 Longhorns to the draft last year, the staff scoured the nation and came up with a junior college catcher, DJ Petrinsky, who originally signed with Alabama before it oversigned players and he was released, and juco outfielder Duke Ellis, the team’s No. 2 man in the order.

“Doesn’t matter whether it’s the 37th guy or a walk-on,” Allen said. “He’s going to find a way to maximize that guy.”

Blair Henley, the No. 3 pitcher, who was invaluable in beating Tennessee Tech in the super regional, actually asked Pierce for his release so he could go to Oklahoma with Skip Johnson, Texas Tech or somewhere else. A three-hour sitdown with Pierce changed his mind because of the coach’s “presence as someone I wanted to be with.”

Pierce won him over, just as he did Perrin, who was sold on Pierce from the get-go even though other coaches benefited as well.

“They all made money because of it,” Pierce said, “but so did I.”

Texas Tech’s Tim Tadlock, one of the most serious candidates, feathered his nest, as did Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan and Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn. All are in the same CWS bracket.

“I think everybody up here (on the dais) was a candidate,” Tadlock said with a chuckle.

And the raise he got at Lubbock, did he owe that to Pierce?

“I thanked him,” Tadlock said.

Now people should thank Mike Perrin. And an old-school, hard-driving baseball lifer named David Pierce.

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