Lemonis introduced, signs contract for five years, $250,000 per year

The details of Chris Lemonis’s contract suggest that it comes with patience.

At Lemonis’s introductory press conference on Tuesday — held nearly three weeks after his hiring because of summer scheduling conflicts — Indiana athletic director Fred Glass announced that his new baseball coach will sign a five-year deal for $250,000 per year. That’s less than former coach Tracy Smith made before he departed for Arizona State, but it still makes him one of the highest-paid coaches in the Big Ten.

“I just thought a multi-year contract made sense given our general commitment to baseball,” Glass said. “I wanted Chris to feel like he could continue to keep it going in the right way and not keep looking over his shoulder, and frankly, someone who has succeeded in the way that Chris has, I think, deserves that kind of stability going in.” 

But stability and job security does not necessarily equal a honeymoon period. Lemonis’s new charges made it clear to him and to Glass that they do not consider themselves a team in rebuild mode, and they don’t want to wait to contend again.

Glass’s recently authored “Student Athlete’s Bill of Rights” guarantees, among many other important concessions, that players have a voice in coaching searches. This, of course, was the first search in which that guarantee came to play.

In this case, the player on the search committee was gritty senior left-hander Kyle Hart, a likely captain for the 2015 season. He was present for a conference call interview with Lemonis.

“He was actually pretty mellow on the conference call,” Lemonis said. “But at the very end, he said, ‘Coach, I’ve just got one question. I’m a senior and I want to win now. How do you feel about that?'”

It was certainly what Glass wanted to hear from the first player representative on a coaching search committee, especially because in this case, it’s a reasonable question. The Hoosiers lost four All-Americans from the core of a team that went to the College World Series in 2013 and earned the No. 4 overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament before being upset by Stanford in the Bloomington Regional. However, they still return six every-day starters, including three All-Big Ten picks, from last year’s team, plus the bulk of a pitching staff that finished seventh in Division I last season in team earned run average.

“Normally, if you’re in a coaching search it’s because the last coach didn’t work out so well,” Glass said. “That’s the coaching searches I’ve been involved in at this point. Here’s one where we had a wildly successful coach. And as Chris said, winning breeds winning. That ‘we’re gonna win,’ attitude gives you such an advantage before you even get started. They brought that to the search and had a lot of confidence in what they were looking for. I think that’s a real positive for this.”

Lemonis said he felt the same way. His first team as a head coach will return 11 seniors, including nine that were on the College World Series team. Seven other rising juniors were also part of the squad that reached Omaha. He’s embracing the idea of having that maturity and having players who know what a great team looks like.

“I told them, its’ not a ‘your guys or my guys,’ type of mentality,” Lemonis said, meaning that he wasn’t going to long for the day when he has a team built of entirely his recruits. “It’s ‘We’re Indiana Hoosiers.’ We’re going to do everything we can to win this year. I’ve got a strong concept that Tracy’s got this ball rolling, the momentum. My job is just to come in and help keep that ball moving. We’re going to push this group and work with this group, but it’s a really good group of kids. I think we have a great team this year that has a chance to compete.”

Competing at the same level the Hoosiers have been the last two seasons is asking a lot, especially because they lose so much in the middle of the batting order. Catcher Kyle Schwarber — the No. 4 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft — first baseman Sam Travis and Dustin DeMuth are gone, taking with them 31 of the 43 home runs the Hoosiers hit this season to lead the Big Ten. All three were taken in the draft’s first five rounds in June. The Hoosiers also lost Josh Ockimey, a signee from Neumann Goretti High School in Philadelphia who was expected to play first base and hit in the middle of the order. He was taken by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round and opted to begin his professional career.

Because of that, the Hoosiers might have to engage a little more small ball this season, and contact-hitting speedsters such as second baseman Casey Rodrigue and right fielder Will Nolden could allow them to do that. But they also have some power remaining with designated hitter Scott Donley and left fielder Brad Hartong, plus outfield recruit Logan Sowers. Considering that the Hoosiers hit 20 more home runs last season than any other team in the Big Ten, they could still be one of the league’s most powerful teams even in the league. Combined with the returning pitching, that should at least make them a competitor for a Big Ten title if not for the national accolades they’ve received the last two years.

“We’ll have to (play small ball) a little bit,” Lemonis said. “But there’s still some thumpers in there. It’s a pretty offensive park. … I think we’re going to thump it as good as anybody in the league. It just may not be like last year.”

Regardless of how the Hoosiers play, they’ll have veterans throughout the lineup and on the mound. The fact that they’re not patient about winning is not something Lemonis considers a problem.

“It’s a very mature group,” Lemonis said. “…We asked some of those pitchers, ‘What do you like to do?’ The mindset was, ‘Coach, just hand me the ball. I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.’ You can tell a real team concept had been ingrained in these guys from an early age in the program. … If everybody has the same common goal of wanting to win, everything will fall into place.”