While Neu departs, 2015 junior right-hander Ryan Mason confirmed to BearTerritory that he will indeed be coming back for his senior season, anchoring a staff that will have plenty of playoff experience as the Bears look to take the next step in the postseason. He had been mulling signing as an undrafted free agent.
Neu is taking over a moribund situation in Stockton. Last season, the Tigers were 14-37, and under Sprague – who had been the head coach since 2004 – and were 88-180 over the last five years, prompting Sprague to resign following the 2015 season.
[COACHING SEARCH: Who Could Replace Neu?]
Before coming to Cal, Neu was the head coach at Diablo Valley College for three years, following a career that saw him spend two seasons in the big leagues with the Oakland Athletics.
At DVC, Neu led his team to an 87-41 mark (.680) with two Big 8 Conference titles in three years. His 2011 squad was ranked No. 1 in Northern California for four weeks this past spring, and his pitching staff led all the California Community Colleges with a 2.13 team ERA.
Neu was instrumental in signing several big recruiting classes for the Golden Bears, helping Cal to pull itself back into the national conversation after the program was cut and then reinstated after a 2011 College World Series run. On the field, the Bears pitching staff finished fourth in the Pac-12 and 23rd in the nation with a 3.03 ERA.
Two of Neu’s most prized recruits – his first signee in Mason and sophomore ace Daulton Jefferies (who pitched for the United States collegiate national team this summer) -- were one of the best one-two punches in the conference this season.
Mason, when asked about Neu’s departure, and his own heretofore-uncertain future, said unequivocally that he will be staying to complete his eligibility at Cal, and he had a further message.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Mason said of how Neu taking the head-coaching gig affected his return. “I respect his decision, and as a family man, I would have done the same thing. He earned his promotion, and I wouldn’t be here without him. But, we still have business to do as a team, and we still are a fantastic group of pitchers that have already been predicted to do great things, so I am staying to finish some business.”
In 2015, Cal turned in its best regular season under head coach David Esquer, going 34-19 and finishing fourth in the Pac-12.
Mason was the most durable and dependable hurler for the Bears, tossing 17 games with a team-high 16 starts – never missing a turn in the rotation – while posting a 2.98 ERA in a staff-high 99.2 innings of work. When called upon to throw in the postseason, he turned in 8.0 stellar frames against Texas A&M in a 2-1 win, and then came back on one day’s rest to pitch in the if-necessary game on June 1, throwing a scoreless fourth inning.
In 2016, Mason and Jefferies will head a staff that will boast four starting pitchers with playoff experience, including Freshman All-Americans Jeff Bain and Matt Ladrech -- also Neu recruits.
Neu goes to the Tigers after building up a talented group of underclassmen that had Cal on the verge of heading to a Super Regional, but fell in a closely-contested Regional final to the Aggies.
Following the series, A&M head coach Rob Childress had high praise for Neu.
“I can’t give Cal enough credit, and their pitching coach,” Childress said. “I thought he did a fabulous job pitching to our guys, and it didn’t matter who he went to – they all made pitches, and that guy’s pretty special. I got a chance to visit with him [Sunday] night after the game, and they’ve got a very good staff. The left side of their infield is as good as you’re going to see in the country.”
That left side of the infield -- third baseman Lucas Erceg and shortstop Preston GrandPre -- were also recruited by Neu.
It is expected that hitting coach Brad Sanfillipo will take over for Neu as the staff’s recruiting coordinator, and he is currently on the road recruiting. Sanfillipo helped coach the Cal offense to a Pac-12-best 45 home runs, and a .276 batting average. He was on Esquer’s staff during the College World Series run in 2011.
Also on that staff was now-USC head coach Dan Hubbs, who preceded Neu as Esquer’s pitching coach. With two straight pitching coaches having taken head coaching positions, Esquer could very well have his pick of hires. Former Washington State pitching coach Gregg Swenson, who is currently unemployed after Athletic Director Bill Moos dismissed the Cougars staff following a 29-27 (11-19 in Pac-12) season in 2015, has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Wazzu had the No. 53 team ERA in the nation last season (3.44).
Cal currently has eight players committed for the 2016 class, including two-way Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo star Max Flower, and pitchers Jared Horn, Chris Murphy, Rogelio Reyes and Jack Wolger, who committed on July 5.