The search is on for The Citadel’s new baseball coach

Media interest in the position of baseball coach at The Citadel was once a bit on the light side.

The first mention of Chal Port in The News and Courier came in a column by sports editor Evan Bussey on August 30, 1964:

…Chal Port joined The Citadel staff this summer. Port will be head baseball coach as well as serve as a football assistant.

He’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and played two years of professional baseball. For the past six years he served as head [football and baseball] coach at Titusville, Pa., High School.

“As long as he gets us some of those big Pennsylvania linemen, he won’t have to do any coaching,” quipped Jack Hall, another Cadet assistant yesterday. “We’ll set a quota of four tackles and four guards a year.”

Those spare paragraphs on Port came after Bussey devoted most of his column to The Citadel’s new wrestling coach, Dave Fagg (who was also hired to be a football assistant). Both Port and Fagg were also mentioned near the end of a long article on fall football practice, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throwaway line.

I’m guessing there will be a little more local media coverage when Fred Jordan’s replacement is named…

“Raw” feed of Fred Jordan’s retirement presser at Riley Park (via WCSC-TV)

WCIV-TV report

I enjoyed Fred Jordan’s comments during his press conference. Of particular interest were his thoughts on the SoCon tournament, where he got right to the point:

…unfortunately, when the league moved it for the first time, just for that two-year span, it destroyed that momentum. And it left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths, because it went afar for less money. And that’s not good business. [And the] thing about it, people got tired of The Citadel winning. No brag, just fact.”

(Those last two sentences were presumably for the benefit of former UNCG coach Mike Gaski.)

Jordan is the winningest coach in the history of the Southern Conference, but the league’s honchos probably didn’t enjoy his observations about the fate of the conference tournament. Sometimes, the truth is hurtful.

I would say Jordan’s remarks might hurt his chances of being enshrined in the SoCon Hall of Fame, but his chances of induction are probably close to nil anyway. After all, Chal Port has never been elected — or any other player or coach from The Citadel, for that matter.

I would respectfully disagree with the coach, though, about the idea that The Citadel’s sustained success between 1994-2013 will “never be done again”.

This notion has been pushed by P+C columnist Gene Sapakoff. When mentioning Fred Jordan’s seven NCAA tourney appearances, Sapakoff tweeted that “We’ll be dead before there are another 7” NCAA bids for The Citadel, an idea he doubled down on in a later newspaper column.

Sorry, but I’m not buying the suggestion that The Citadel is incapable of that kind of run in the future. (Also, when it comes to personal days left on the planet, Sapakoff can manage his own timetable, thank you very much.)

It’s not an easy job, and times have certainly changed, but there is still opportunity at The Citadel. It should be pointed out that in one 15-year span, Chal Port’s squads played in five NCAA tournaments, which strikes me as not dissimilar.

I expect the next head coach at The Citadel to have high expectations for the program. The fan base certainly will — and deservedly so.

The Citadel’s last two hires to run the baseball program were:

  • a high school football/baseball coach from Pennsylvania who had no connection to the military college (but who had served in the Air Force)
  • a local high school baseball coach who had played for the previous coach

Both of them wound up spending more than a quarter-century in charge. If the new coach stays at The Citadel until the school’s bicentennial in 2042, he will still have had a shorter career in Charleston than either Port or Jordan.

That is a selling point, by the way.

Will the job “stay in the family”, or will there be a new relative in town wearing light blue and white?

Among possible candidates who played at The Citadel are current assistant coaches David Beckley and Britt Reames; Kyle Bunn, associate head coach and pitching coach for ex-Bulldog Chris Lemonis at Indiana; Chris Swauger, manager of high Class A Peoria in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization; and ETSU coach Tony Skole, a member of The Citadel’s College World Series team in 1990.

Each committee member listed the qualities they wanted to see in the next Citadel coach. Among Senter’s six bullet points are “demonstrated experience in turning programs around as a head coach or an assistant coach” and “preferred candidate with head coach experience.”

The “preferred candidate with head coach experience” line would tend to eliminate most of the realistic alumni candidates, with the exception of Tony Skole — and in the case of Skole, you’re talking about someone who A) already has a job in the SoCon, and B) has been in his current position for 18 years. Would he be interested?

Another potential candidate being bandied about in the press is current North Greenville coach Landon Powell, who is also a former star player at South Carolina (and an ex-major leaguer). As is the case with Skole, I don’t know how interested Powell might be in the job, though he hasn’t exactly taken his name out of consideration yet. There are at least two major questions to be asked about Powell:

  • Would he be able to cope with the unique environment at The Citadel?
  • Would the job be a “stepping-stone” position for him?

The first question, of course, is something that applies to any prospective coach at The Citadel (including alums). The second question is arguably more interesting.

There have only been two head baseball coaches at The Citadel since 1965. The position hasn’t been just another rung on the D-1 ladder for upwardly mobile coaches.

This is 2017, though. What if the best candidates for the job right now are likely to consider it as a way to audition for a post in the SEC or ACC?

That could be the case, and if it is, that opens up the field to a significant degree. There are undoubtedly a bevy of aggressive coaches (including some current D-1 head coaches) who would like the chance to get noticed at a place like The Citadel, a school in the SEC/ACC footprint with a tradition of success and a loyal fan base.

That particular dynamic is definitely something the selection committee will have to consider.

Members of that committee:

  • AD Jim Senter
  • Jay Dowd, CEO of The Citadel Foundation
  • Anthony Jenkins, author of the most famous slide in The Citadel’s baseball history
  • Gene Pinson of the Board of Visitors
  • Col. Jim Scott, president of the Diamond Dogs Club
  • Senior associate AD Geoff Van Dollen.
  • Baseball supporters Jimmy Reed and Wade St. John

Included on Jim Senter’s list of qualifications for the new coach: “Someone who can reengage Citadel alumni and baseball supporters to maximize fundraising, season ticket sales and attendance at Citadel baseball games”. This item has received a little bit of scrutiny (as has Jay Dowd’s inclusion on the selection committee).

Personally, I have no issues with this. After all, Fred Jordan’s second comment at his retirement presser concerned fundraising. I don’t think it’s a knock on the Diamond Dogs Club at all (which has done very good work over the years), but simply a reflection of what it takes to compete at the D-1 level.

You have to be more than just a coach these days. Admittedly, that was always the case. It’s even more of a requirement now, though.

Fred Jordan on recruiting:

On The Citadel’s struggles in recent years: “AAU (travel) baseball really affects the mid-major, and the mid-major that’s a little different…that’s probably the biggest difference from a recruiting standpoint…The Citadel doesn’t get a guy like Terrance Smalls in today’s times…Brian Wiley, I can remember watching Wiley strike out 15 [batters], and [I] was recruiting a guy off his team, that was two years older than him, a hitter…and we ended up getting [Wiley]…It’s a different world, and it’s difficult for everybody. You look around the state, it’s not just The Citadel.

Later, in that same article:

Committee members also emphasized recruiting in a changing college baseball landscape. One member pointed out that Southern Conference Tournament champion UNC Greensboro had as many as 12 transfer players on its roster.

“I don’t know how we do this, but whoever the new coach is, he has to figure out how to compete with that,” the committee member said.

The Citadel has always had to compete with a few schools that featured a heavy dose of transfers, though the transfer phenomenon seems to have accelerated in recent years.

It is just another reason why retention is so important to success at the military college. A coach just can’t fill multiple holes on the roster by bringing in a bunch of transfers.

When it comes to recruiting at The Citadel, football coach Brent Thompson made some comments (in response to a question) at one of his press conferences last season that are well worth repeating:

…really, a lot of it is more the development and retention of those players. I think over the past three years, since I’ve been here, we’ve lost very few players. We’re going to naturally be a better football team when we’ve got fourth- and fifth-year players, rather than those first- and second-year players. We’ve got a veteran ball club at this point, and that’s what we attribute a lot of [our success].

…When it comes to recruiting, the first thing that we really look for are good football players. We know that we can win and we can train good football players. They’ve got to have it inside of them first…

We’ve got to do our research. It takes a long time for us to figure out the players [out there] we want to recruit here. It comes down to the academics, it comes down to the corps of cadets, it comes down to being a good football player.

Sometimes it’s just not a good fit for us, and we understand that, and we can move on from that. [Basketball coach] Duggar Baucom has a great saying: “The next ‘No’ gets me closer to the next ‘Yes’.”

…We know that there are plenty of good football players out there for The Citadel, that fit what we do.

Thompson’s comments ring true for recruiting at any sport at The Citadel. You have to identify players who can compete on the field, in the classroom, and in the corps of cadets. You have to retain those athletes, and you have to develop them into better players.

Someone who is a non-factor as a freshman on the baseball team may turn out to be a key cog in the lineup or a weekend starter three years later, but he won’t be if he is no longer on the roster, or if he hasn’t further enhanced his skill set.

The next coach of The Citadel has to understand that from his first day on the job.

The hiring process will be interesting to watch, even if there won’t be a lot to see. Plenty of folks will be trolling for any and all tidbits until the new coach is named.

It’s an important hire for the military college. Baseball means something at The Citadel. Fred Jordan’s work over the last 26 years is a major reason why it does.

Best of luck to the selection committee.

One Response

  1. Jay Dowd played baseball for the late Horace Turbeville at Winthrop.
    I knew Evan Bussey well (later city editor), who is also deceased.

    Sent from my iPhone

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