Search For Baseball Coach Moving Into High Gear

Hal Baird is getting plenty of interest in the vacant Auburn baseball head coaching position.

Auburn, Ala.--Although Hal Baird isn't naming the candidates, it is obvious that the Auburn administrator is excited about the possibilities of hiring a strong replacement for Steve Renfroe, who was fired last week as head coach of the Tigers.

Baird, a former head baseball coach at Auburn and East Carolina following a pro baseball career, notes that he has literally had interest in the job from coast to coast since it was announced last week that interim president Dr. Ed Richardson decided to replace Renfroe and his staff.

Earlier this year, after Richardson fired men's basketball coach Cliff Ellis. Baird directed the search for the replacement that led the Tigers to hire Jeff Lebo from UT-Chattanooga. At the same time, Baird was also conducting another national search to replace women's basketball coach Joe Ciampi, who announced his retirement after a quarter century in charge of the AU program. Baird pulled in a high-profile replacement when he and Richardson selected former U.S. Olympic and WNBA head coach Nell Fortner for the job.

Baird's baseball search is expected to move into a higher gear this week because he says some of his candidates were involved in NCAA postseason play trying to advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

"We aren't going to have any contact with coaches whose teams are still playing games," Baird says. "We understand that we are at a special time of the season and want them to concentrate on completing their seasons."

The decision to fire Renfroe was Richardson's. Midway through the season when the Tigers were ranked in the Top 10 nationally, it didn't seem probable that Auburn would be looking for a new head coach in June. However, a late season collapse that led to a 12-18 SEC record and no postseason play was one of the factors that prompted Richardson to make a change.

"To be doing a third major coaching search in a short period of time is certainly not anything I was hoping for or planning on," Baird notes. However, now that the search has started, Baird says he is encouraged by the early results.

"I have just called one candidate myself, but I have probably received 85 phone calls referencing maybe 35 candidates," he says. "I am working through all of that, very much like the basketball searches, and by the middle of this week I would like to believe that four or five candidates will have emerged in my mind after background checks to be the front-runners."

"I have been pleased and I have been very surprised at some of the overtures that have come from coaches in the Pac-10, the ACC and even the SEC along with a lot of successful coaches in the mid-Division I range--very successful ones with at least assistant coaching experience at the SEC. That is one of a number of things that I think are really important as factors.

"I certainly think Auburn is in a position to expect someone to have had head coaching experience," Baird adds. "There are only a few people, I think, that might be beyond our grasp.

"Secondly, I think there is a tremendous advantage to a coach who has had some type of SEC knowledge or experience. For baseball, this league is clearly the best and I think having some knowledge is a definite plus. I have heard too times through the years where coaches have been very successful in other parts of the country, but have come here and it just hasn't been the same.

"I think having a person with proven recruiting success in Alabama, Georgia and Florida is another factor to me. If we could wrap all those things around one guy, whoever it might be, it gives you a better feeling about whether he would be successful or not."

The men's and women's basketball coaching searches were rushed with the spring recruiting period looming on the horizon. The next signing period in baseball isn't until November so on the surface there wouldn't seem to be as much urgency.

However, Baird wants to get a new man on board as soon as possible. "It is such a time of apprehension for players," he tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "There is a lot of anxiety and I would like that to be as short a time as possible because we have a number of good players who are here and certainly a large number of prospects coming in. The sooner we can have their fears dispelled about a new staff, I think there will be a better chance of having players not transfer or think about transfers. The unknown is the most fearful thing."

Baird has spent a good bit of time talking to players, parents of players as well as the incoming recruits. That has kept him busy, which he says is a good thing because he hasn't had to focus on making a coaching change he found difficult to make.

Baird says telling Renfroe that he was fired was "the worst" thing he has had to do as special assistant to the president for athletic matters. "I think if it was something that gave me a lot of time to sit and dwell about it, it would be even worse," Baird says. "Because the search is so time-consuming and so intensive, I have to concentrate on that, but I just walked over to the stadium a while ago and it was quite a poignant time because my relationship with Steve and his loyalty to me as an assistant coach made this extremely difficult."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Scott Duval is running the day to day operations of the baseball program during the interim period. Part of his responsibilities will be to direct the summer camp program, which gets started in June. Chris Finwood, another of Renfroe's assistants, is serving as the liaison with current players and the incoming signees. The new coach will be free to retain any current staff member or hire someone who was a former AU baseball coach. "The new coach with have the total autonomy to bring a staff or put one together," Baird notes.

Chris Finwood

Some potential attractive candidates include Mitch Gaspard from Northwestern State in Louisiana, Rick Jones of Tulane, East Carolina's Randy Mazey, Pat Murphy from Arizona State, Raynor Noble from Houston and former AU player Dennis Womack from Virginia.

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