After a decade of futility, college baseball’s preeminent powerhouse is back on the right track. And the credit for the return of USC to a measure of prominence lies largely on the shoulders of a true Trojan.
That’s why USC signed head baseball coach Dan Hubbs to a multi-year contract extension, making the news official Tuesday morning. The contract is a four-year extension, according to a source close to the situation.
In three years, the former Trojan All-American pitcher has turned the program around from Pac-12 afterthought into conference contender, leading USC to its first NCAA regional appearance since 2005 this year.
"Dan Hubbs has proven over the last three years that he is the right coach and person to lead USC baseball back to prominence," USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement released by the school. "Taking over a program in need, Dan has quickly led us back to postseason play, while also guiding the team to success in the classroom and in the community. He understands the expectations in front of him, and I could not be more excited to announce an extension of his contract"
The 44-year-old Hubbs has won 88 games in his three seasons as coach. In 2014, the Trojans posted their first winning record in a decade and were one of the final teams left out of the NCAA tournament despite finishing the season with a series win over then-No. 1 Oregon State the final weekend. USC won 39 games this past season before losing to eventual College World Series champion Virginia in the Lake Elsinore Regional final.
“I’m obviously very grateful and excited that I have the opportunity to try to continue to build the program,” Hubbs said. “I’m grateful to Pat and [prior associate athletic director] Mark Jackson, who has taken off, for really having the confidence in me to continue to build it. I think we have some things that are going on that are pretty special. I’m just excited to continue with that.”
Eight Trojans were selected in Major League Baseball's amateur draft this year, including the nation’s top catcher, Johnny Bench Award winner Garrett Stubbs. Hubbs expects another 8-10 could be drafted after the 2016 season, but the coaching staff has continued to replenish those ranks with top 30 recruiting classes the last three years.
“I’m real excited about the guys we have. The proof will be how they perform over a length of time,” Hubbs said. “In terms of the talent pool, the cupboard is full and we just have to continue to improve on it. We tell the kids all the time, ‘the more you win, the more guys get opportunities in the draft.’
Following a season as the associate head coach in 2012, Hubbs took over the program a day before the start of the 2013 campaign when Frank Cruz was unceremoniously fired after he was found to have committed NCAA violations. The Trojans went 20-36, but after UCLA head coach John Savage reportedly turned down an offer from USC, the school signed Hubbs to a contract extension. The investment in a former Trojan has paid off.
Under Hubbs, the Trojans have seen steady growth, going from finishing tied for eighth in the eleven-team Pac-12 to tied for fifth to tied for third during his three years. USC has made strides particularly on the pitching mound where they had a 4.81 ERA and a .294 opponents average in 2013. They have posted sub-4.00 ERAs in back-to-back seasons since then and have held opponents to .255 and .261 batting averages.
"What he has done is created an environment where people want to get better," Stubbs said. "They want to work extra in the batting cage, the weight room, on the field and that is what has to happen to be a No. 1 team. Guys have to want to get better and that is what Hubbs has brought to SC."
Hubbs has also overseen stadium and gameday enhancements. USC moved the left field fences closer to home plate to help make more compelling games as well as reintroduced alcoholic beverages for fans. There has been an increased focus on making the atmosphere both fan friendly and interactive with ploys such as between-innings karaoke and autograph sessions after Sunday games. One thing Hubbs specifically was proud of was the inclusion of graphics that showcase the USC baseball program’s legacy of 21 College World Series appearances and 12 national championships — the most of any school in the country.
“Obviously, when you have the opportunity to lead the program that you played in, it’s something that’s real special, especially when you’re in a place like USC that is the most prominent program, in our opinion, in the country. When you look at what we’ve done over history, I think the numbers play that out. We have to get back to that level, but I think we’re on the right track.”
Before joining the staff in 2012, Hubbs spent 12 seasons as the pitching coach at California. Hubbs played at USC from 1990-1993, helping lead the Trojans to the postseason in 1990, 1991 and 1993. As both a starter and a reliever, Hubbs compiled a 19-13 record with a 3.58 ERA in 81 appearances. He was an All-American closer as a senior, setting a then-school record with 18 saves — most in the nation — while recording a 2.96 ERA and a team-high 90 strikeouts.
Hubbs is still fourth on USC’s career saves list with 22 and eighth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.19). Hubbs spent seven years in the minors with the Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies organizations, finishing his career with a 27-16 record with a 3.75 ERA and 436 strikeouts in 427 innings before hanging up his cleats and moving into coaching.