Anthony Gregory Vitello slipped on the orange-dyed (HEX FF8200) sports coat handed to him by Tennessee director of athletics John Currie, officially taking the reins Friday as the head baseball coach of the Volunteers.
"There's no question this is my best day — no question," Vitello said at his introductory press conference on the infield of Robert M. Lindsay Field.
Tony Vitello is in unchartered waters, being handed the keys to a program to run as he so pleases for the first time in his coaching career that's seen him on staffs that led 12 teams to NCAA Tournament regionals. Tennessee needs that though as it hasn't seen an at-large or automatic berth into the NCAAs since the 2005 team reached the College World Series. He shows up with experience as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Missouri (2003-10), Texas Christian (2010-13) and Arkansas (2013-17).
An internal leadership group benefited the coaching search. Included in that set of high-ranking officials were associate athletics director for finance and sport administration Angie Boyd-Keck, assistant to the vice chancellor Blair DeBord, senior associate athletics director Dr. Joe Scogin, executive associate athletics director/COO Reid Simon, associate athletics dirctor Dr. Carmen Tegano and senior associate athletics director Donna Thomas.
Current Volunteers were the first to learn of Vitello's hiring, hearing from the athletics department on Wednesday morning. The contract inked is five years in length and pays Vitello $493,000 annually. If he can build competitive teams that win and get reasonably close to filling Lindsey Nelson Stadium's capacity of 4,283, Vitello will be worth every penny.
"There's no question there's been talent here," said Vitello, who takes over a bunch that went 27-25 this spring and missed out on the postseason. "Theres' no question there's been good people in those coaches' offices. I think one word that comes to mind — (Tennessee pitcher Zach Linginfelter) and I were talking back near the locker room — continuity and just having a flow and a style that really matches this ballpark, the state, and is something that is consistent that the guys can rally around. Because again, the margin of victory in this league is so, so small. So maybe having 2-3 guys more from the state of Tennessee that are wearing Tennessee across their chest and willing to bleed for that makes a difference in a one-run game like we (Arkansas) played here twice in the spring."
After starting the year 9-1, the Vols lost all six of their first SEC games (versus South Carolina, at Mississippi State), finished with six one-run losses and wound up 13th in the 14-team SEC. Dave Serrano stepped down as Tennessee's coach on May 17 after compiling a six-year record of 157-163.
Vitello's message to potential fans was simple: "I want someone to give us one game, one chance to come to the yard and see our style of play and if our guys aren't having fun in that dugout and they're not going all-out on the field, then don't come back again."