Who’s on deck? IU begins national search to replace Lemonis

Going from one of the top programs in the Midwest, to one of the top programs in the country, Chris Lemonis capitalized on his four-year run at Indiana.

Now, the Hoosiers are looking for his replacement.

As Mississippi State officially announced Lemonis’ appointment as its next baseball coach on Monday afternoon, IU was entering the initial phases of a national search for his successor.

During his four seasons at Indiana, Lemonis fortified the growing foundations of the program, taking the Hoosiers to three NCAA Tournament Regionals and building upon the level of national relevance achieved by his predecessor, Tracy Smith.

This week, Indiana begins the second coaching search of the Bart Kaufman Field era, operating from a position of strength. The IU program offers arguably the top job in the Big Ten, a solid recruiting base and facilities on par with with best programs in the region.

Picking a strong, suitable replacement is now athletic director Fred Glass’ top priority.

“Chris cared deeply for his players, represented Indiana University with class and distinction and is a good friend to so many of us here at IU and around the state,” Glass said in a statement. “We wish him and his family the best at Mississippi State. Indiana University is committed to building upon our established excellence as a baseball program and have already begun a diligent and thorough process to find the next head coach. This is a great job, with great facilities, at a world class university, and we will find a great leader for IU Baseball.”

As Lemonis situated himself inside his new athletic department Monday, Indiana started the transition process for the next era of IU baseball.

Glass announced that assistant coaches Kyle Bunn and Kyle Cheesebrough will remain in their roles until Lemonis’ successor is named, at which point the new coach will determine whether to retain them.

Bunn will serve as interim head coach, while Scott Joraanstad, IU’s senior associate athletic director, will otherwise oversee the program and assist with the search efforts.

“I will be forever grateful to Fred Glass and Indiana University for giving me the opportunity to be a head coach,” Lemonis said in a statement. “Our four years in Bloomington were better than we could have ever expected. The University and Bloomington communities wrapped their arms around our family from day one. It is tough saying goodbye to so many great friends, colleagues, fans, and most importantly, the players. I am confident that Fred is going to find a great replacement to continue the IU baseball tradition.”

With the search only beginning, here’s a look at a few potential replacements who might make sense, based on their fit and pedigree.

Potential candidates are presented in alphabetical order:

Kyle Bunn, pitching coach, Indiana: Bunn, who served under Lemonis during each of his four seasons, received a promotion to associate head coach in 2016. The longtime assistant has a strong track record as a pitching coach, with stops at Mississippi, Clemson and Alabama on his resume. During his career, Bunn has sent 56 pitchers into the MLB Draft, with 16 going in the first five rounds. This season, Indiana finished seventh nationally with a team ERA of 3.09, peaking as high as No. 1 in mid-April.

Jeff Duncan, head coach, Kent State: This former big leaguer has earned Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year honors in each of the past three seasons, guiding the Golden Flashes to back-to-back-to-back regular season conference crowns. This season, Duncan led Kent State to its second NCAA Regional appearance in his five seasons at the helm. Prior to landing the Kent State job, Duncan spent four seasons on Purdue’s staff. While in West Lafayette, Duncan was named by College Baseball Insider as the Big Ten assistant most ready for a head coaching job.

Scott Googins, head coach, Cincinnati: Indiana considered Googins four years ago before hiring Lemonis. Googins is coming off his first season guiding the Bearcats, posting a 28-28 record. The former Indiana assistant recently spent 12 seasons at Xavier, where he became the Musketeers’ all-time winningest coach in program history. Googins took Xavier to four NCAA Tournaments, including back-to-back regional finals in 2016 and 2017.

Jeff Mercer, head coach, Wright State: A native of Bargersville, Mercer has been a head coach for only two seasons. But there are signs he could be one of the sport’s next up-and-coming coaches. Wright State has won 77 games across Mercer’s first two seasons, making this year’s NCAA Tournament field after winning the Horizon League. Mercer’s 2018 recruiting class was the first in Wright State history to land a top-100 national ranking. The 32-year-old played at Wright State and got his coaching start as a volunteer assistant at Michigan in 2011.

Tracy Smith, head coach, Arizona State: It’s unclear how feasible it would be to bring back Smith, who led Indiana for nine seasons and took the Hoosiers to the 2013 College World Series before leaving for Arizona State after the 2014 season. But a reunion would make sense. Smith’s first four seasons in Tempe have produced a 117-110 record — the worst winning percentage by a coach in program history. But Smith has reportedly restored morale in the clubhouse and is recruiting at a high level, despite middling results on the field. Last month, ASU athletic director Ray Anderson confirmed Smith would be welcomed back for the 2019 season. Might Smith choose to change course and return to his Midwest roots?

Eric Snider, assistant coach/recruiting coordinator, Louisville: Snider has replaced Lemonis once before, taking his current position on the Cardinals’ staff after Lemonis left for Indiana in 2014. Snider arrived in Louisville after 16 seasons at Illinois, where he spent his final six years as that program’s associate head coach. Recognized as a passionate recruiter and aggressive hitting coach, Snider has an eye for finding and developing talent in the Midwest. He seems to be in line to land a head coaching job before long.

17 comments

  1. I think IU should give Dallas Baptist Head Coach a look Dan Heefner. He has turned that program into a powerhouse. Has a good recruiting base in Texas and is used to playing in not so great of weather (Missouri Valley Conference). I think he could be the final step in IU becoming a mainstay in baseball.

  2. Look at the resume. See if the candidate has good character. Ask one question…are you going to use us as a stepping stone? That’s it!!!

  3. Jeff H a little research shows Heefner belongs on IU’s short list. Just as he was with Baylor, Wichita St. and the Longhorns searches for their new HC hires. He’s a strong offensively minded hitting instructor. He and (keeping) Bunn would be a strong combo. Good prospecting Jeff.
    JPat this guy could be the answer to yours (and 1 of my) priorities. Strong candidate of character indeed.

  4. With the baseball program limited to 11.5 scholarships and the out of state tuition costs for players on a partial or with no scholarship money, the coach will still have a need to get as many Indiana players to balance the roster as the costs would be prohibitive for the out of state players. The issue of increasing baseball scholarships has been purposed by coaches to the NCAA several years ago and no action has resulted. The NCAA has enough warm weather large states with enough talent to run their post season College World Series and the schools outside of the major conferences would be against any increase of scholarships.

  5. IU South, all schools have the same problem you describe about the out-of-state-cost of tuition relative to a limited number of scholarships. So that issue is a non-factor. Really good baseball players want to go to a school where they have good facilities (check), good coaching (check), good weather (an issue for IU) ,and where they will have a chance to compete for championships. Schools in the midwest have historically been at a disadvantage, compared to schools in the south, due to weather.

    1. Po,
      I think your 3rd reason is a difficult hurdle for any midwestern school. Looking at the CWS, not a single really cold weather school made it to Omaha. I think it points to how special IU’s trip to Omaha actually was. The success in recent years is very difficult to achieve and kudos are in order for both former coaches.

      Finding a coach who can keep this trend going will be a significant challenge for Glass. While not getting back to Omaha, Lemonis did achieve something quite difficult in it’s own right. Getting at large bids from a weak baseball conferences is not always easy, but Lemonis did it three times. Hope the next coach will continue to build on the recent success. Would love to see IU back in the CWS on a regular basis.

      1. It would be interesting to see how important playing college baseball is in the South as it pertains to futures in MLB. Aren’t the greatest increases in MLB baseball talent coming out of places like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela…? Again, a major shift for African Americans whom were once a dominant percentage in the MLB.

        False dreams and false hopes for many from these new MLB hotbeds for international talent ….as are the chances of making it in the NFL for many impoverished and marginally educated kids of many U.S. cities.

        https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/04/03/472699693/baseball-is-a-field-of-dreams-and-dashed-hopes-for-dominicans

        1. From a baseball perspective an average high of 48 and a low of 37 in Corvallis beats the devil out of an average high of 37 and a low of 20 in Bloomington. Check the schools with the most CWS rings.

  6. What good does a big stadium facility do when the weather sucks? Think tens of thousands of fans will come out to watch baseball in rainy 40 degree weather?

    Sounds like baseball in Indiana is like having Dave Kingman(or Kyle Schwarber if you prefer a more recent reference) at the plate….It’s the occasional big home run or nothing. Sorta hard to really see the point…other than providing equal opportunity for athletes in a sport rarely equal the same better opportunity in warmer climates. Igloos are warmer than Kaufman Field on many a March and April day….

    It’s summer..We’re bored. The summer boredom drags like a 4-hour, nine inning, game most “instant gratification” people no longer possess the patience to care. Things still move slower in the South…Baseball fits the lifestyle and the climate.
    Once the basketball fever begins to hit in late summer, baseball might as well be ping pong in the garage. It’s gonna forever be the rocket left on the launch pad….until the next Schwarber sparks a bit of brief ignition. Big budgets for baseball….? Big stadium improvements and glorious diamonds….? Big salaries for big coaches with big egos who will eventually move South…? It’s just a ton of makeup spent for image. Mother Nature wins in this one. Unless we plan on moving the Bloomington campus 500 miles closer to the equator, why get the panties in a fuss?
    Basketball is where we lost our focus and our best shot at national relevance in a major sport. Let’s be thankful that we finally have a teacher back inside a warm McCracken where the polished maple never threats of snow and cold chilling the day into dormancy…..Basketball is in our blood and roots. It’s sad that we were thrown a 10-year spit ball to head our most coveted national program..
    The uncertainty of its future still makes us talk of silly things like baseball and June bugs….But, at least, there may be a future again for Indiana Basketball. The weather is the same, but the climate is drastically improved.

  7. Po, my reference to out state tuition was reference to Dallas Baptist coach their roster has 24 players from Texas on their roster, Texas had 29 players from Texas and Florida had 29 players from Florida, My point that unless you can recruit a high percentage of your roster from your home state the scholarship limit will be a problem. When I U played Stanford in the regional a father of their star relief pitcher stayed at the same Bloomington Hotel we stayed and over breakfast we had a conversation they were from New Jersey and how the cost of tuition for a school like Stanford. The father replied, he’s on an academic scholarship. Maybe I U should start looking for high SAT score students that happen to be excellent baseball players.

    1. My kids were all D1 athletes and only one of them got an athletic scholarship. The other two only got academic financial aid.

  8. Red Schoendienst. Great resume’ and since he recently died no chance of him leaving for warmer climbs.

  9. IU South, I understood your point. But schools like Mississippi State, Arkansas, Oregon, etc., located in states with relatively small populations like Indiana, all have the same disadvantage regarding out of state tuition. In fact, Arizona, also a relatively small population state, has the same problem. There just are not enough good, Division 1-quality baseball players in Arizona, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oregon or Indiana to fill the rosters of their in-state baseball teams. So all these schools have to recruit talent from out-of-state. So if the schools located in those small population states are all suffering the same disadvantage, what makes the difference? I believe the answer is weather/climate, facilities and coaching, but maybe not in that order. IU has the facilities. IU has had the coaching. But it has been at a disadvantage, relative to other schools located in small population states, due to weather. Weather seems to be the most likely common denominator. To neutralize that disadvantage to the extent possible, IU better continue to hire really good coaches like Smith and Lemonis.

    1. Actually, look at Arkansas’s roster. 11 kids from Arkansas, including CWS starters at:
      Catcher, 2B, 3B, and their Ace who went 14-0 on the year.

      Not to mention their number 2 guy in the rotation, and their top bullpen arm in appearances and innings pitched.

  10. The real key element is the WEATHER, look at all 8 teams that made the College World Series, all of the teams are members of conferences that have warm weather, if you want to argue Washington and Oregon State, they are members of PAC 12. They have an opportunity to play in Arizona and California. Also being close to a large talent pool like Florida, Texas and California helps. Even N. Dame solved the weather problem by membership in the ACC.

    1. IUS,
      I think you and Po are right on target, it is the major factor over the last 50 years in College Baseball. Look at even Kentucky (rough run last few years) and Louisville, a great deal of their conference schedule for away games are in warmer climates. The amount of practice time in as close to normal baseball conditions is key in the development of younger players. In warmer climates you will see them getting in reps year round, not so easy to do in outdoor conditions in cold weather areas.

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