- At the Big 12 meetings in Dallas, UT athletic director Mike Perrin tells TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte “we’re going in a different direction” and will not pursue the Horned Frogs’ Jim Schlossnagle
- A very reliable source tells us Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin all but accepted the job before flying to Dallas and changing his mind at the Dallas airport en route to Austin although a Vanderbilt spokesman denied the account.
- UT president Gregory L. Fenves was high on Jim Schlossnagle and Tim Tadlock and pressed Perrin to reach out to them.
Over a span of 31 days, from the day that Texas reassigned Augie Garrido on Memorial Day and introduced David Pierce on Thursday, we chased the Longhorns’ prolonged baseball coaching search. It lasted longer than the combined hunts in the hirings of football coach Charlie Strong and basketball coach Shaka Smart.
We interviewed more than 30 head coaches, assistant coaches and school administrators across the country, promising anonymity to many of them who spoke to us confidentially.
As many as 11 coaches were seriously considered for the position, and at least eight either turned down the job or could have received a Texas offer had they pursued it. To that end, Texas men’s athletic director Mike Perrin on Thursday joked about the salary bumps that have gone to numerous coaches who had been mentioned for the job, “some who I didn’t even know.” The search became so all-consuming in late June that one big-name prospective candidate said he had talked about the Longhorns’ job opening with other coaches, Texas fans or former players for an hour or so every day for two weeks, and told the American-Statesman, “I would have liked to have enjoyed my coffee each morning.”
In the end, the Longhorns hired Pierce, Tulane’s 53-year old coach who grew up in Texas and has a coaching background in the state, ending a search that began during the NCAA’s selection show on Memorial Day and ended, finally, the day before Coastal Carolina won the national championship with a 4-3 College World Series win over Arizona on the final day of the season.
How did Texas get from there to here?
Day 1, May 30: The Garrido Era ends.
Two days after his team finished the season tied for the most losses in school history with a record of 25-32, Garrido, the winningest coach in college baseball history, is dismissed and shifted to an administrative role. By dropping the announcement midway through the NCAA selection show, Texas drew criticism from ESPN’s Kyle Peterson, who termed the attention grab as “brutal.” Even some employees within the athletics department cringed. At UFCU Disch-Falk Field, Garrido, dressed to the nines in slacks and suspenders, politely declined to speak with reporters so as not to violate the gag order he’d agreed to as part of his severance package that one source said will pay him his $1.2 million coaching salary next year. By the end of the day, talk had shifted to Garrido’s replacement, and candidates being bandied about included Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan, Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, TCU’s Jim Schlossnagle and Tulane’s Pierce.
Day 2, May 31: At the Big 12 meetings in Dallas, Perrin tells TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte “we’re going in a different direction” and will not pursue Schlossnagle, who would end up guiding TCU to the College World Series for the third year in a row. Around that same time, legendary Texas coach Cliff Gustafson tells the Statesman, “I’d love to see them get that guy from TCU.”
Day 3, June 1: The first sign this search could be rocky comes when Louisville locks up Dan McDonnell and boosts his salary to $1 million annually. With Garrido out of the game, McDonnell’s new deal becomes the highest in the country and establishes a market for other UT targets. Meanwhile, Schlossnagle releases a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram saying he has no plans to leave TCU. In Dallas, Perrin tells the Statesman he wants a coach with “extensive college experience,” which for all practical purposes eliminates sentimental picks and former UT greats Spike Owen and Keith Moreland.
Day 6, June 4: We’re told that former Arizona State coach Pat Murphy had reached out to Texas to express interest in the position. Murphy, who led ASU to the CWS five times, has been out of college coaching since resigning in 2009 with the Sun Devils under NCAA investigation. He is currently the bench coach with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Day 10, June 8: Florida’s O’Sullivan declines to answer when Gainesville reporters ask if he’s heard from Texas.
Day 11, June 9: A source tells the Statesman that TCU approved a new deal for Schlossnagle. A second source says the raise will bring Schlossnagle’s salary into the neighborhood of the $1 million range that Louisville gave to McDonnell. O’Sullivan is off the board after D1 Baseball reports Florida’s coach will not be a candidate at Texas. Meanwhile, College Baseball Daily reports Texas’ top choice is Tulane’s Pierce. However, a source refutes the report and tells the Statesman that Texas had not yet reached out to Pierce.
Day 12, June 10: There are rumblings on social media that Pierce is a candidate for the opening at Alabama. However, this is of little concern to Texas, which, according to a source at the school, is confident Pierce would wait on the Longhorns.
Day 13, June 11: The first day of the MLB Draft. Whoever becomes the next coach will inherit a recruiting class void of Gatorade national player of the year Kyle Muller and at least two other signees — right-handed pitcher Mason Thompson and outfielder Conner Capel, the son of former Texas pitcher Mike Capel. Both opted to turn pro over enrolling at UT. Additionally, catcher Tres Barrera will not return for his senior season at UT after the Washington Nationals took him in the sixth round.
Day 14, June 12: Brian O’Connor, who led Virginia to the NCAA title in 2015, goes on Twitter to end speculation that he’s a candidate for any job openings. Yet, we hadn’t heard a single lead linking O’Connor to Texas.
Day 15, June 13: We report that Texas contacted Oregon State’s Pat Casey, a 57-year-old coach who led the Beavers to consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007. Those around the game believe Texas will hit a dead end with Casey, who, despite Oregon State’s snub from a postseason berth, is content in Corvallis.
Day 16, June 14: In the biggest piece of either news or mythology, a very reliable source tells us that Vanderbilt’s Corbin had all but accepted the job before flying to Dallas and changing his mind at the Dallas airport en route to Austin. A Vanderbilt spokesman denied the account. The source said Corbin had second thoughts and chose to stick with Vanderbilt because he was unable to come to grips with the tragic loss of Commodores pitcher Donny Everett, who had drowned 11 days earlier while fishing with two teammates.
At Pierce’s introductory press conference on Thursday, Perrin told the Statesman that he had “numerous talks” with Corbin about the opening and was “very impressed with him.” He also said he knew nothing about any Corbin travel, and a Texas spokesman said Corbin “chose not to come for an interview.” The Vanderbilt spokesman said Corbin and Perrin did speak on the phone, but added that Corbin said he was not interested in the job but offered to assist Perrin if he wished.
In other developments, Pierce interviews at Alabama but still has not heard from Texas, and former MLB star Lance Berkman tells us he is interested in the job. (He was never interviewed). Also, this is the day we first learn of a non-compete clause in Tim Tadlock’s contract that prevents the Texas Tech coach from leaving Lubbock for another Big 12 job. Tadlock agrees to a new deal at Tech, and persuades athletics director Kirby Hocutt to stock an on-campus pond with catfish for his children to catch. Previously, Tadlock had asked for and received a decorative, 36-inch high bale of cotton that was in Hocutt’s office. In an interview with the Statesman, Tadlock quipped, “but they still haven’t put the fish in the pond.” Tadlock is a relentless recruiter who, one day after the Red Raiders clinched a second CWS berth in three years, was on the road recruiting in Weatherford.
Day 17, June 15: Orangebloods reports that UCLA’s John Savage visited Austin for an interview. But Savage, who led the Bruins to the national championship in 2013, has gone silent and is not responding to messages from even his closest friends and colleagues. And after originally planning to fly solo to find a coach, we hear that Texas has hired the search firm Witt/Kiefffer for assistance. The firm’s charge is to reach out to non-traditional choices. We’re told Perrin is “flying all over the country interviewing candidates,” and we’re also told that LSU’s Paul Mainieri could be in play after his Tigers are swept at home by eventual CWS champion Coastal Carolina.
Day 18, June 16: Sure enough, Mainieri is a candidate and interviewed with Texas the previous night in Baton Rouge. Texas booster Gary Martin, the father of former Longhorns catcher Grant Martin, sat in on the interview with Perrin and associate athletics director Arthur Johnson. A source said LSU “came swinging” and managed to keep Mainieri, who was under the impression that the Texas job was his if he wanted it. The belief is that Mainieri is feeling under-appreciated in Baton Rouge despite winning 45 games and a regional title after losing eight position starters from 2015.
Day 19, June 17: Oregon State’s Casey turns down the job in part because his special needs adult son put up strong resistance to the family relocating. UT donor Don Reese, an Austin real estate man and the father of former Longhorns pitcher Andy Reese, assisted in the interview at Perrin’s request. An anonymous tipster tells the Statesman that today marks a “big, big decision.” Sure enough, Savage breaks his silence hours later and tells the Statesman he is staying at UCLA. It is unclear whether he had an actual offer from the Longhorns, but we’re told Savage asked for $2 million annually, which would’ve doubled the $1 million that Louisville gave McDonnell.
Savage didn’t return phone messages. His staying on the West Coast brings relief to two southern coaches, one of whom calls Savage “an ass kicker.”
Alabama opts to hire Louisiana Tech’s Greg Goff over offering the position to Pierce. However, Pierce may have declined anyway out of hope he would become a serious candidate at Texas. Sure enough, a source tells us that Perrin has reached out to TCU’s Del Conte to vet Pierce, with whom Del Conte worked at Rice.
Day 20, June 18: Perrin spends the day in Houston interviewing Pierce and Houston’s Todd Whitting, who were UH assistant coaches together under Rayner Noble in the early 2000s. A source says Perrin is prepared to offer the job to Pierce — who would undoubtedly accept — but is urged by Texas President Gregory L. Fenves to hold off until Fenves returns from a fund-raising trip in Asia a week later. Perrin confirmed this on Thursday. By waiting, they can widen the search to include the last three Big 12 coaches of the year — Tadlock, Schlossnagle and Oklahoma State’s Josh Holliday, none of whom will ever interview despite having at least some interest in the Longhorns’ job.
Day 21, June 19: A coach who is not a candidate tells us that whoever takes the job must be “fearless” because, unlike many other premier programs, Texas cannot stretch the financial aid it can offer and is stuck with 11.7 baseball scholarships. The coach also says that by not hiring a coach, UT is missing out on key recruiting events. “The 2018 class in Texas is loaded,” he said. A prominent candidate says that despite its struggles to make a hire, UT remains a marquee job. “I think Texas should get to Omaha eight out of every 10 years.”
Day 25, June 23: Oklahoma contacts Texas assistant Skip Johnson about becoming the Sooners’ pitching coach. Johnson, who has been at Texas for nine seasons, wants to remain on staff and would likely be retained if the Longhorns hire Tadlock, his best friend.
Day 26, June 24: Sometime within the last couple of days, Dallas Baptist’s Dan Heefner was in Austin for an interview. Heefner, whose team hosted Texas in a 2015 regional, has architected one of the country’s more improbable success stories at a school with less than 6,000 students. However, for some reason his candidacy stalls following the interview. A source tells us that Schlossnagle, who may have had initial interest in the job, has not heard from Texas and “has probably moved on.” We also hear that Texas has reached out again to Florida’s O’Sullivan, whose top-seeded Gators were eliminated after two games in Omaha. A coach who has kept his eye on the search, which is approaching its fourth week, asks us, “Who’s in charge at that place?”
Day 27, June 25: Fenves returns from Asia. Word is, he’s intrigued by Schlossnagle and Tadlock and will press Perrin to reach out to them.
Day 28, June 26: Heefner has mysteriously dropped out of consideration.
Day 29, June 27: Three big developments: First, Oklahoma State’s Holliday, who took his alma mater to the CWS for the first time since 1999, declines to interview with Texas. Second, Schlossnagle signs an extension to stay at TCU after the search firm requests an interview that never came. And third, an emotional Johnson accepts the Oklahoma pitching job, telling the Statesman that leaving UT “is like burying my dad.”
Day 30, June 28: Texas reaches out to Tadlock to set up some conversations, sources say, but before an interview can take place, Hocutt, Tech’s athletics director, calms the waters and convinces Tadlock to stay in Lubbock.
Day 31, June 29: Finally! Eleven days after the interview, Texas circles back to Pierce and makes him its third coach since Gustafson took over for Bibb Falk in 1968. The Houston native tells the Statesman that coaching UT is “the ultimate dream for me.”
Day 32, June 30: At his introductory press conference, Perrin says he offered the job only to Pierce. And Pierce said, “I definitely feel like the first choice.” Garrido salutes the hire and tells the Statesman, “David’s a great guy. I know him pretty well. I like that he’s been successful wherever he’s been, and he wants to produce for a school he respects as the best in the country.”
The Pierce Era begins.