Maybe it wasn’t just the slew of injuries, inconsistent hitting and unreliable bullpen that kept the Michigan baseball team toward the bottom of the Big Ten last season. Maybe it was the man in charge — former coach Rich Maloney — making poor judgment calls. Or maybe the program just needed a fresh perspective.
After finishing second to last in the conference, Athletic Director Dave Brandon decided that the Wolverines needed change. Maloney parted ways with Michigan after his contract expired on June 30th, and the national search for his replacement began immediately.
Michigan hired Erik Bakich, who was the head coach at Maryland for the past three years. As the youngest baseball head coach at a school in a BCS conference, Bakich brings youth that he hopes will help awaken the team from a two-year slumber.
But Bakich can’t do it alone. Since his unexpected move to Michigan, he’s recruited a rather large staff to help see his vision through. Though it’s too early in the off-season to make any hasty assumptions, director of baseball operations Derrick Ross, who Bakich hired last week, said he’s confident in the direction of the program. It’s what Bakich coined, “Bringing the blue back into blue collar.”
“The style of play is going to be totally different — it’s going to be aggressive,” Ross said. “It’s going to be all in, all the time. … We’re going to go out there and we’re going to create runs and we’re going to be known as a team with a ton of energy.”
Ross comes to Ann Arbor with more than 15 years of experience at the professional level, most recently as the Cleveland Indians’ regional scouting supervisor. He said leaving the organization wasn’t an easy decision for him, but the culture of the University felt “refreshing.”
Even after adding Ross to the program, Bakich continued to put the finishing touches on his staff.
Volunteer coach Aaron Etchison joins the Wolverines after spending the last two years as a catcher at Maryland. On Wednesday, Michigan also announced that special assistant Wayne Welton would return for his second-straight year.
“It was extremely important for us to bring Wayne back on from last year,” Bakich said in a statement. “He’s passionate about Michigan and Michigan baseball. His experience in the state for 36 years as a high school coach and athletic director will be invaluable in this role in accelerating our program back to the championship level.”
With high expectations and goals of returning to the top of the conference, Bakich also brought in familiar faces Nick Schnabel as the recruiting coordinator and Sean Kenny as the pitching coach. Schnabel played alongside Bakich at East Carolina from 1999-2000 and Kenny spent the last three years with Bakich as Maryland’s pitching coach.
Kenny helped the Terrapins set a school record of 464 strikeouts in his first season with the Terrapins — they ranked 16th nationally that year with 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. But after Bakich left Maryland, there was little holding the Ann Arbor native back from returning home.
“It hasn’t quite hit me yet,” Kenny said. “I still can’t believe they actually gave me the keys to this place. Having grown up here my whole life, it honestly hasn’t hit me and I don’t know that it ever will, which is a good thing. I’m extremely appreciative to be here and I think I will be every single day.”
With its new coaching staff, it appears the program has taken a major turn. That just might be the ingredient to turn Michigan into a top contender, like it was from 2006-08 when it won three-straight Big Ten championships.
With fall practices just starting this week, the coaching staff has already seen enthusiasm and acceptance of their method and motto.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys buying into what we’re trying to do here and that’s encouraging,” Ross said. “It’s always about winning championships. But what it’s really about is developing guys that are going to go out and be productive citizens, productive fathers, productive husbands and leaders within their community. … Bringing the blue back into blue collar.”