McNickle has just completed the third year of his second stint at State. He returned to Dudy Noble Field in 2002 when Polk came back to campus. Previously McNickle had spent a year as head coach at Meridian Comm. College. These past three seasons his primary on-field duty has been coaching MSU catchers, while also having the title of summer camp director and overseeing the Dugout Club.
McNickle's change in roles also means promotion for another staff member, as 2004 adminstrative assistant Wade Hedges moves up to a full-time coaching position. He is expected to take charge of the catching corps. Tommy Raffo will continue to oversee the outfielders and coach hitting alongside Polk, who also works with the infielders.
This in-house promotion means that Polk does not have to conduct a hurried coaching search here just a few weeks before the new school year begins. Also, a still-gelling group of MSU pitchers do not have to get used to an entirely new mentor this year. McNickle's work with the catchers necessarily kept him involved with the pitching plans and practices, so he is as familiar with staff strengths and tendencies as anyone.
McNickle also has a background of working with hurlers, and not just as a juco head coach. He spent two years as the pitching coach at South Florida (1999-2000). His other career stops, which began with a 1989-90 stint as graduate assistant with the Diamond Dogs, were two years at Central Florida Comm. College (1991-92), and at Florida Southern (1993-98).
McNickle is a Mobile, Ala., native and caught for South Alabama. He holds a masters from Mississippi State.
He will take over a State staff that is largely intact from 2004, missing only Jeff Lacher from the weekend rotation. With the rest of the regular starters, weekend and midweek, back along with the bulk of the bullpen the new pitching coach will have a very familar group of arms to groom.
Hedges won't have the luxury of coaching star backstop Craig Tatum, a third round draft choice as a junior. But he does inherit veteran alternate Thomas Berkery and prize prep signee Ed Easley.
The revised staff only has two wide-open fielding positions to fill, both on the infield. Redshirted shortstop Bunky Kateon, now in a throwing program after sitting out most of his freshman year with a repaired shoulder, is expected to move into the six-hole. And fellow medical redshirt Michael Rutledge has had no problems of note with his healed wrist this sumer, meaning he has a good shot at the third base job. First base (Brad Jones) and second base (Jeffrey Rea) are in good shape, as it the outfield with Brad Corley and Jeff Hunter back in right and center. Jeff Butts returns in left as does medical redshirt Jon Mungle.
Fall practice begins September 6 at Dudy Noble Field. There is the usual list of public events lined up, including the Veteran-Rookie game on Homecoming weekend; Scout Day and Parents Day; the Dugout Club meeting and cookout; and the camp-ending Banana Split series.
Also, the Alumni Game returns on the two-year cycle and will be played after fall camp at a date to be announced.
And while the 2005 schedule has not been released either, the slate starts on February 25. That date is worth marking for more than the usual Opening Day meaning. Because Polk, who begins his 26th year with the Diamond Dogs, will be going for his 1,000th career win as Mississippi State coach.
David Murray is the Editor of Dawgs' Bite magazine and the featured writer for the Dawgs Bite: Powered by GenesPage.com website. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.