Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Bohls: In Schlossnagle, Texas A&M baseball found missing link right in front of its face

Kirk Bohls
Austin American-Statesman
  • Texas A&M never could beat TCU's Jim Schlossnagle, so it hired him.
  • Schlossnagle was just what A&M needed to resurrect a program that has just two CWS wins ever.
  • The Aggies missed last year's NCAA Tournament entirely but went 5-0 in this year's post-season.

Jim Schlossnagle is back in his comfort zone.

Omaha, I mean. 

Not College Station, although that’s becoming more comfortable all the time.

The 51-year-old head coach who took five TCU baseball teams to the College World Series returns there this week for a sixth time but with a new team.

That’d be Texas A&M, which had the foresight to hire one of the best 10 college baseball coaches in the country just one year and a week ago. He was the missing ingredient. And a familiar one.

Schlossnagle left the security blanket at TCU where he’d spent 18 seasons building the Horned Frogs into a college baseball powerhouse with five successful CWS trips but no championship and ventured to College Station. He had been a thorn in the Aggies’ sides, eliminating them three times in the NCAA postseason with a 6-2 record against the maroon and white.

A&M has always been competitive as hell, but hardly a baseball blue blood since it’s never won a national championship in that sport and, in fact, had won just two games in Omaha, only one since 1951. The Aggies didn't even make the field in last year's NCAA Tournament. Heck, Schloss, as he’s known in baseball circles, has more CWS wins (11) than A&M (two), which hasn’t won in Omaha since 1993.

Jim Schlossnagle spent 18 seasons at TCU and shaped the Horned Frogs into a national power with five CWS appearances, but he longed to work at a big state school and, with the help of 11 transfers, is now taking Texas A&M to Omaha for the first time since 2017.

So pairing the Aggies (42-18) and a veteran coach who has now won 853 career games was a match made in college baseball heaven, and the blend has been perfect.

Bohls: Texas baseball is back in Omaha, but do you know where your Horns are?

In just 12 months, Schlossnagle has restored some much-needed salve to the Aggies' pride and has them primed to open the CWS on Friday against Big 12 Tournament champion and rampaging Oklahoma in the opener.

Talk about raising expectations almost overnight.

He had done the same at UNLV when he won a school-record 47 games in his inaugural season, only to have athletic director and college football Hall of Famer John Robinson walk in his office and hand out some advice.

“Slow down,” the former USC coaching legend told Schloss, who’s never been known for his patience. “You’d better or people are going to expect crazy things.”

They usually do at College Station. To a point.

While the Aggies knocked off the Longhorns in a mid-week game, pounding them 12-9 in late March despite having a walk-on pitcher who didn’t survive the first inning, some older A&M fans came out of the woodwork.

“That win meant a lot to our team,” said Schloss, whose club has gone 28-9 since that night in Austin. “That was a big hurdle for us to go into a place like that and do well. I was getting texts from Aggies, and I didn’t know if they knew we had a baseball team. I know they knew we had a football team.

After 18 successful seasons at TCU, head baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle was ready for a change. Enter Texas A&M. “I needed some level of change,” he said. “I would have had no problem staying at TCU, but if there ever was a right time to try it at a large state university, this was it."

"One huge donor said, ‘Most of us don’t care if you win another game so long as you win that one (against Texas).’ I promise you we care. I’ll lose that game every year to go to Omaha.”

'This is what I wanted': Tristan Stevens leads Texas back to Omaha with a standout start

It’s called priorities.

Doing both has been a godsend for the Aggies, who are one of four CWS teams from the snakebite that is the SEC West and who joined fellow SEC member Ole Miss as the only two CWS teams to go 5-0 in the postseason. The Aggies  are in Texas’ bracket and could meet the Longhorns as early as Sunday if they both win or both lose their openers. 

Trust me, all Aggies know only too well they have a baseball team now. They have a hardcore following, but have to be wowed by the job Schloss has done in taking a team short on defense but long on hitting to Omaha.

Schloss is there in the first place because he was ready for a change. He’d been through a divorce, his two grown kids Jackson and Kati were students at TCU and he’d planned to move into a lake house before A&M athletic director Ross Bjork called.

Schloss has always been in the back of Bjok's mind, after two long stints totaling 26 years at expensive private schools like TCU and Tulane, what it would be like to coach at a large state university. Had he stayed in Fort Worth, he might have had his own statue built there, not unlike Gary Patterson, but we all know how that worked out.

Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle speaks to his players during a sixth-inning mound visit against Louisville in the College Station Super Regional. The Aggies have swept through the NCAA postseason heading into the College World Series.

Golden: Old rivalries are being renewed at the College World Series

“I needed some level of change,” Schlossnagle said in an interview for our "On Second Thought" podcast. “I would have had no problem staying at TCU, but if there ever was a right time to try it at a large state university, this was it. I truly believe I didn’t take a better job. I took a different job. A completely different job.”

A&M was in the market for change as well.

The Aggies had been respectable enough. Rob Childress, Schloss’s predecessor, had taken the Aggies to 13 consecutive regionals and two CWS appearances that would have been four if not first eliminated by Schloss’s Horned Frogs.

“I felt this was a great program, but had a little margin for growth,” Schloss said, holding his thumb and index finger an inch apart. “When Ross Bjork said he wanted to take this thing to a whole ‘nother level and spend $50 to $60 million renovating the stadium … Sometimes I think there’s a shelf life to everything.”

Oh, so it wasn’t a Jimbo Fisher-sized contract paying him $10 mil a year?

“Similar, but different,” Schloss said. “I’m missing some zeroes in mine.”

Having won four NCAA national titles, Texas will clinch 2nd straight Directors’ Cup title

The Aggies were also missing out on some talent. Again, they’ve been capable and more than respectable, but swimming in the SEC waters takes a new kind of talent.

And when Schloss took over, he had no coaching staff and very few players. That explains why he went out and gobbled up 11 transfers in a month. Eleven.

Schloss will probably aim to grab four or five more this summer, but envies the stable Texas program that has stars all over the place and is fortified when David Pierce can cherry-pick and find a third baseman transfer from Kansas in regional MVP Skyler Messinger.

“Texas is what you want,” Schloss said. “David’s done a phenomenal job. They’re playing at a high level. It was crazy here. If the transfer portal had not been in play for us, oh baby. … On any given moment, I could pick up the cell phone and have a conversation with a 24-year-old grad student like Jacob Palisch out of Stanford or an eighth-grader. That’s a 10-year difference. That’s college recruiting these days.”

Texas A&M pitcher Micah Dallas, center, celebrates the Aggies' super regional win over Louisville last Saturday. A&M will open the College World Series on Friday against Oklahoma.

Schloss and three assistants who have arrived from winning programs at Oregon State, LSU and Arizona helped mine the portal for newcomers who would become two stud left-handers from Stanford and Texas Tech, his starting catcher from Oregon State, his best two hitters from Arizona State and UTSA and an outfielder who at midseason volunteered to move to second base. That gamble, in fact, probably saved the season.

When outfielder Austin Bost knocked on Schloss’ office door and said he could “function at second base,” the new head coach thought why not. He inserted him in an infield that had lost its starting third baseman and shortstop early in the year, and the move paid off.

“We rolled him in at Alex Box Stadium (against LSU), and he played solid defense,” Schloss said. “We won Friday, we won Saturday and we were up 6-2 in the fifth Sunday but lost. But it all started that week and changed the dynamic of our team. The competitive grit in this club, which I had questioned, really showed up.”

So did the wins.

Bohls: Texas baseball team overcomes all obstacles to return to Omaha — yeah, again

Even though they started the season 4-5 in the rugged SEC, they righted themselves and went 15-6 to put themselves in position to become a top eight national seed and host both a regional and super regional. In the first, they dispatched Schloss’s old team, TCU. Then they swept two games from Louisville, thanks to great relief pitching from Palisch and catching from Troy Claunch.

He raves about Claunch.

“There’s never been a good baseball team without a good catcher. Ever,” Schlossnagle said. “Clauch calms the storm. Louisville had over 100 stolen bases, and they didn’t have one against us. He’s the straw that stirs the drink. I think Silas Ardoin would be that for Texas.”

Palisch is also the guy whom Schloss called on with a 4-3 lead of Game 2 to face a very dangerous Louisivlle hitter with a runner on first in the ninth with a 3-2 count of all things. Brad Rudis was wearing down, and UL’s Ben Metzinger was timing his pitches. So Palisch calmly struck him out on a slider in the dirt and retired the side to clinch the CWS berth.

Sheer brilliance. Because it worked.

“If he gives up a walk-off, two-run homer,” Schloss cracked, “I’d get fired the next day.”

Instead, his legend grows.

“Yeah,” Schloss interjected, “good players make good coaches.”

And none of them ever seem to slow down.

College World Series

June 17-27, Omaha, Neb.

Friday: Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M, 1 p.m., ESPN; Notre Dame vs. Texas, 6, 104.9, ESPN