Depending on how the search for Morgan Burke's replacement goes, a new baseball coach will be his last hire. Many of the rumors I have seen have the AD hiring process ending midsummer, but this is Purdue and my guard is naturally up. Replacing Burke is the most important decision for the athletic department as a whole. In the eyes of many a new baseball coach may not be that big of a deal, but let's think in the terms of Mitch Daniels: The Bottom Line.
Officially, Purdue sponsors 18 varsity sports. Several do not bring in any kind of relevant crowd. Men's and women's swimming and diving, cross country, Track and field, golf, and tennis bring in negligible crowds even at the best schools in terms of paying customers. This accounts for 10 of the 18 sports. Men's wrestling also does not bring in much as an 11th sport. That leaves seven sports as "spectator" draws:
The big three, at least for Purdue, are football and the two basketballs. Men's basketball can draw 10,000 for a scrimmage and football, even as bad as it is, is worth at least 30,000. Women's basketball is often one of the best attended in the nation for the sport. Among the other four I would say that baseball is at least relatively close to volleyball, which is well attended as a regular top 25 program. Despite the struggles on the field, Purdue baseball has been reasonably well attended since Alexander Field opened, so getting butts in the seats is a source of revenue unlike many other sports.
Getting a decent baseball coach that can turn around our recent fortunes in relatively important. In terms of TV eyes, baseball continues to grow in popularity. It is not up there with the cash that football and basketball can bring in, but it is well above most other sports we offer. One needs only look at the very large crowds we brought to Gary in 2012 to see the potential that is there.
The rest of the Big Ten is also making a major push for baseball. The SEC and ACC will always be the top two conferences here, but in recent years the Big Ten has shed the label of baseball mid-major and become an NCAA player with Indiana making the 2013 CWS and the conference having a banner year last year. That is just another reason Purdue needs to keep moving forward and find someone who can take the momentum of a relatively recent Big Ten title and a beautiful new facility and turn it into a good program.
Now, I have absolutely no sway on this, but here is a solid candidate for the position.
Greg Lovelady - Wright State - This morning when I saw that coach Schreiber had resigned one of the first names I thought of as a replacement was Lovelady. I say this as someone in a unique position to evaluate him. Lovelady was a classmate of Mrs. T-Mill at Da U and was the starting catcher on their 1999 and 2001 National Championship teams. As a player he knows exactly what it takes to be successful in college baseball, but he is also an accomplished relatively young coach.
Lovelady was a nine-year assistant at Wright State before taking over in 2014 for a solid mid-major here in the Midwest. That gives him an interesting perspective in terms of recruiting. He knows what it is like to get overlooked Midwestern players and win games when you can't play at home in the first half of the year. He has also been very, very solid since becoming the main coach at a Horizon League program that is only going to get its automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
2014 Season: 35-22, 25-4 Horizon League, regular season champion.
2015 Season: 43-17, 21-8 Horizon League, regular season runner-up and conference tournament champs. 2-2 in Champaign Regional beating Ohio and Notre Dame before losing to National seed Illinois. School record for wins.
2016 Season: 41-15, 23-6 Horizon League, regular season champion.
Lovelady has done an exceptional job at a small, Midwestern program and already has more NCAA Tournament wins than any Purdue coach ever. At only 37 years old he is showing he can take the next step at a larger program. There is also no danger of the U calling him home, either. Jim Morris, the Miami coach with over 1,000 wins and two national titles, is scheduled to retire after the 2018 season with Gino DiMare taking over for him after that. At the earliest the U would come calling for Lovelady in 2020 or so. That's more than enough time to get Purdue good again.