After missing out on the ACC Baseball Tournament for the second-straight season, Virginia Tech fired baseball manager Pat Mason ahead of a 2018 season where the Hokies will play in a renovated English Field while also celebrating the 125th season of baseball at Virginia Tech. With the Hokies making this massive investment in English Field along with having a team that should return at least some of its core and will be in the premier ACC, this job should draw lots of interest from coaches across the nation.
With that said, here’s a look at some of the potential candidates to be the Hokies’ next baseball manager.
Old Dominion Manager Chris Finwood
Chris Finwood is definitely one of the top names to watch in the Hokies’ search as Finwood is almost certain to be on Whit Babcock’s list. Finwood is an experienced manager that has had success at both Western Kentucky and Old Dominion with two NCAA Tournament appearances at Western Kentucky in back-to-back years and one NCAA Tournament appearance so far at ODU though the Monarchs seem set to make a second appearance under Finwood this year with ODU being in the top 25 as recently as last week.
David Teel of the Daily Press noted that there is a connection between Finwood and Babcock as Finwood was an assistant baseball coach at Auburn while Babcock worked in the athletic department. This connection is quite interesting and definitely could be a factor in helping Finwood’s chances in getting this job along with increasing the interest of the ODU manager in the VT job.
Whoever the next Virginia Tech baseball manager is will need to be able to recruit in the talent-rich 757 and Finwood definitely should have the connections there with Finwood having been in Norfolk for six seasons with plenty of success and ODU’s baseball reputation improving a lot under Finwood. Finwood has also had his success come with ODU being in a strong Conference USA that sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament last year and is likely to have multiple teams in 2017.
Finwood brings plenty of experience and a great track record of success along with a connection to Babcock that makes him an early favorite for the job and almost certainly to at minimum be a contender for the job. With ODU in the midst of its best season yet under Finwood, ODU’s manager may see this as a prime opportunity to take an ACC job with the Hokies certain to show lots of interest in him.
VCU Manager Shawn Stiffler
The Atlantic 10 isn’t a great baseball conference but Shawn Stiffler has built VCU into the best program in the A-10 in his five and a half seasons at VCU. VCU has not finished below .500 in any of Stiffler’s five full seasons while having a record that is more than 10 games above .500 in each of the past four seasons including this year. Stiffler has also steadily had VCU improving in the A-10 with the Rams finishing eighth in the A-10 in 2013, fourth in 2014, tied for fourth in 2015, second in 2016, and first in 2017.
Stiffler is a young manager at 38 years old and definitely is a name on the rise that will be at some major programs in the not-too-distant future. Stiffler has spent his whole coaching career in Richmond at VCU with 12 years as an assistant before spending the past 5 and a half seasons as the head coach. Stiffler should also have strong recruiting connections in the talent-rich Richmond area that will also be quite important for VT to recruit well in addition to recruiting well in the 757.
What could hurt Stiffler is the fact that the Atlantic 10 isn’t as good of a baseball league as Conference USA or the AAC and that may give Babcock some hesitations about whether Stiffler could handle the large jump from the A-10 to the ACC. However, Stiffler appears to be a very talented manager that has built a strong program regardless of the A-10 not being a great baseball conference and would be a great choice for Babcock if he were to be chosen.
UCF Manager Greg Lovelady
Greg Lovelady may only be in his first year at UCF, but he is definitely one of the top young managers in the country and Virginia Tech should absolutely consider the former Miami catcher. Lovelady has done well at both of his MANAGERIAL stops as he made two NCAA Tournament appearances and finished at least 13 games above .500 in all 3 of his season at Wright State while in his first year at UCF, Lovelady has pulled off an impressive turnaround taking the Golden Knights to the top of the AAC after they finished tied for last in 2016.
Lovelady has proven that he can turn programs around quickly and that he can do it not only at a Wright State program that is in a fairly weak Horizon League but also at UCF in a strong AAC that sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament last year. Lovelady has done a tremendous job turning around the UCF program almost immediately and has proven also that he can win with many of his own players with Lovelady’s best season at Wright State coming in his last season.
Lovelady should definitely get at least a call from Babcock to gauge his interest but you have to wonder if Lovelady will have interest as a Florida native who could be hoping to get a job at a bigger program or more traditional program especially one in the state of Florida like Miami. Lovelady may also not want to leave UCF after one season with the impressive success that he has had in his first season back in his home state.
However, what is definitely clear is that Whit Babcock should at least give Greg Lovelady a call especially with his youth and impressive success in four years as a manager at Wright State and UCF.
Former Tennessee Manager Dave Serrano
— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogersD1) May 21, 2017
Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com tweeted out there would be some sort of interest between former Tennessee manager Dave Serrano and Virginia Tech. Rogers’s tweet was unspecific but it seems more likely that the interest, at least for now, is heavily from Serrano’s side in the VT job after stepping down at Tennessee at the end of their baseball season.
Serrano is an interesting name as he had lots of success at UC-Irvine and Cal State Fullerton taking UC-Irvine to the College World Series in 2007 and Fullerton to Omaha in 2009 with Serrano going to the NCAA Tournament six-straight times from 2006 to 2011. However, Serrano never found the same success out east in Knoxville with the Volunteers not making a single NCAA Tournament and only having three winning records in his six years at UT while finishing 27-25 this year including a 7-21 conference record that kept the Volunteers out of the SEC Tournament.
While Serrano had a great amount of success out west with Irvine and Fullerton, Serrano’s struggles in his first managerial job east of the Rocky Mountains will definitely be a red flag that likely makes Babcock wonder if Serrano can only recruit and manage well at west. Serrano’s struggles in the tough SEC also will likely concern Babcock as well with the ACC being just as good of a baseball conference as the SEC.
Serrano is an intriguing candidate but his struggles at Tennessee make you wonder if he will be a contender for the job or if Serrano himself may even focus more on jobs out west where he had much more success.