In a move that was long expected by many around college baseball, California head baseball coach David Esquer will reportedly succeed the man he's said has been like a father to him -- Mark Marquess -- as the head coach at his alma mater, Stanford.
Esquer broached the subject with his staff on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. As of Thursday evening, when John Manuel of Baseball America broke the news that the deal was imminent, at least three prominent current Bears players had not been told by Esquer of his departure. At that juncture, a source with primary knowledge of the situation said that "nothing [was] final."
Marquess recently concluded his 41st season at the helm with an NCAA Regional final loss to eventual College World Series participant Cal State Fullerton. Marquess retired with 1,627 career wins, and in 41 years, had just three seasons with a winning percentage of .500 or lower.
The 52-year old Esquer, who denied in April that he'd interviewed for the job, spent 18 seasons as the head coach in Berkeley, reaching the postseason five times, with one College World Series appearance. He won National Coach of the Year honors in 2011 after the Bears fought back the program's elimination and reached Omaha, winning a game in the College World Series for the first time since 1980.
Esquer graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics and a master's in sociology in 1987. A former two-sport star at Salinas (Calif.) Palma, Esquer walked on to the Cardinal and was the starting shortstop of the first of the Cardinal's back-to-back College World Series championship teams.
After a brief professional career, Esquer returned to Stanford as an assistant coach for Marquess from 1991-96, before moving on to Pepperdine as the hitting coach and recruiting coordinator from 1997-99.
Esquer succeeded American Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Bob Milano in Berkeley in 2000, and has gone 525-467-2. Going 34-25 in his second year, he was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year and reached an NCAA Regional in 2001, but would finish no higher than fifth in the conference (and out of the playoffs) each of the next five years. In 2008, the Bears reached the Long Beach Regional with a 33-21-2 record and a roster that included future Major Leaguers Tyson Ross, Josh Satin, David Cooper, Blake Smith, Jeff Kobernus, Brett Jackson and Mark Canha. That regional, though, included Long Beach State, San Diego (with future big-leaguer Brian Matusz) and eventual College World Series champion Fresno State, which was the four-seed. Cal did not win a game in the regional and were eliminated after two games.
The Bears reached a regional in 2010, and then made a magical run in 2011, before three more years out of the postseason as the program recovered from the recruiting damage done by the initial Sept. 28, 2010 decision to cut the program.
The 2015 team was a dark horse favorite to reach Omaha, but fell in a hotly-contested regional at Texas A&M. With No. 1 starter Daulton Jefferies, middle-of-the-lineup bat Mitchell Kranson, veteran sinkerballer Ryan Mason and the eventual Pac-12 Player of the Year, Brett Cumberland, returning, Cal was a favorite to reach the College World Series in 2016.
Despite boasting seven players who would eventually be drafted, the Bears couldn't overcome an injury to Jefferies, who missed eight weeks. Cal faltered, going 32-21 overall and 14-16 in the Pac-12 and missing the postseason again. Jefferies had missed five weeks in the middle of the season in 2015, but the Bears were able to hold serve.
The Bears went 15-15 in the Pac-12 this season with an underclassman-filled starting lineup and rotation. Junior Matt Ladrech was the only upperclass starter, junior closer Erik Martinez the oldest arm in the bullpen and only a pair of juniors -- Denis Karas and Preston GrandPre (both drafted) -- were in the everyday lineup. Andrew Vaughn was named by three publications as a Freshman All-American, and was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year for a Cal team that went 25-29 overall.
Former Cal pitching coach Mike Neu -- a personal favorite of Milano, according to Milano himself -- is very interested in the job, according to several sources familiar with his thinking.
Neu has guided the Tigers to a 40-65 record over the last two seasons. Pacific was 88-180 over the previous five seasons.
An alumnus of Napa (Calif.) Vintage, Neu closed out the 1999 College World Series for Miami, before moving on to the professional ranks, spending time in the Major Leagues with the Oakland Athletics and the then-Florida Marlins. He spent time as an associate scout for the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, which gives him a rich talent evaluation background -- crucial in recruiting.
Neu served as pitching coach at Diablo Valley College for two years, and then as head coach from 2009-11. As head coach, Neu went 87-41 with two conference titles in three seasons. His 2011 team ranked No. 1 in California with a 2.13 team ERA.
Neu then spent four seasons at Cal, rebuilding a program decimated by recruiting shockwaves that spun out of the cut in 2010. By his final season, 2015, Neu's pitching staff put together a 3.03 team ERA. He recruited by Jefferies and Cumberland, as well as Mason and eventual second-round draft pick Lucas Erceg, who he plucked from obscurity to become one of the top third basemen in the Pac-12. Erceg spent two seasons at Cal before having to transfer to Menlo College due to academics.
Neu could very well heal the still-festering divide in the program's support base, which began to fracture after Esquer parted ways with Milano's preferred successor, Dave Lawn, and further deteriorated after Esquer fired hitting coach Jon Zuber -- who played for Milano -- after the 2009 season.
Athletic Director Mike Williams is aware of Neu's reputation, and has expressed his fondness for Neu on several occasions. A returning Neu would be able to unite the fractious baseball donor base and perhaps help to push for a renewed effort to establish a permanent endowment. Before the season, several sources with direct knowledge of the Cal Baseball Foundation's finances said that the current term endowment could only last for three more seasons.
According to one source Neu has spoken with, the 39-year old coach has a clause in his contract with the Tigers that allows him to leave Pacific -- buyout free -- to take the Cal head coaching job, and only the Cal head coaching job. Neu is highly regarded among not only his peers, but among college baseball experts, as one of the top young coaches in the profession. He was the recruiting coordinator that put together the 2015 team that was a hair away from advancing to the Super Regionals for the first time since 2011.