Feb. 1, 2012

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Players’ favorite Hall approaches milestone

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


In early November of 1993, Jim Morris left the preseason No. 1 team in the country for Miami, what he called the No. 1 program in the country.


About 700 miles from Atlanta, Kent State coach Danny Hall (right) had visions of taking over the Georgia Tech program.


“It’s really interesting, the job opened up at an unusual time,” Hall said.


He called Ray Tanner, then the head coach at NC State, asking if he thought there was a front-runner for the job. He also asked Tanner if he was going to go after the job.


Tanner told Hall there wasn’t a front-runner – top assistant Rick Jones had just left Tech for the head job at Tulane – and that he wasn’t interested. He asked Hall: Do you know who Randy Carroll is?


Carroll, a former Tech All-American, was influential in helping Morris build the Yellow Jackets into a national program through fundraising and attracting advertisers. Tanner told Hall that Carroll was heading the search committee for athletic director Homer Rice. 


“I had a Georgia Tech media guide in my office for whatever reason,” Hall recalled.


In it, he stumbled across an ad for Mountain National Bank, led by Randy Carroll. Hall called the bank and introduced himself to Carroll, who advised him to send a resume and cover letter to him and Rice. Hall hurriedly sent his life’s work via Fed Ex and called Carroll back to confirm that he received his package.


Hall remembers Carroll’s response.


“He says, ‘Just about everybody who has applied for this job, I’ve either seen them play against Georgia Tech or coach against Georgia Tech. I don’t know a damn thing about you.’” Hall said.


Carroll, now the executive chairman of the board and director of business development at Buckhead Investment Partners in Atlanta, said, “I didn’t know Danny Hall. I’d been contacted by so many people over a few days. I was pretty straight forward about it. I guess I was pretty blatant, I hate to say it now.”


But Carroll and Rice gave Hall a look. They enlisted former Tech player Cam Bonifay, newly minted general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates and a member of the search committee, to check on Hall among professional scouts. They checked in with college coaches who had played against Hall’s Kent State squads. Everywhere they called, the answer came back the same: He can recruit, and he can coach.


Hall also had a somewhat silent, but important recommendation. Carroll had talked with Tanner not so much about the job but what they were looking for. Tanner never mentioned any names to Carroll, but Hall mentioned it was Tanner who told him to contact Carroll in the first place.


“I don’t think Ray Tanner would tell just anyone to call me unless it was a legitimate candidate,” Carroll said. “That kind of stuck in my mind.”


Nineteen seasons later, Hall has more than made a name for himself.


Including six seasons at Kent State, Hall is 13 wins short of 1,000 for his career (he or Missouri State’s Keith Guttin will be the 46th Division I coach to eclipse 1,000). He ranks in the Top 15 among active D-I coaches in winning percentage (.679) and is in the Top 20 among active coaches in wins.


The Yellow Jackets have gone the NCAA Tournament in 16 of his 18 seasons and reached the College World Series three times (1994, 2002 and 2006). Over that time, Tech has averaged 43.3 wins a season – 10th best in the nation.


“I think the thing that makes Coach go so much is how much he loves trying to improve your game,” said Matt Wieters, a two-time All-American at Tech and now the starting catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. “There’s always something that he would do to make our team better or each individual play better.


Scott Stricklin, who assisted Hall at Georgia Tech before taking the Kent State head job, said: “His track record speaks for itself. It’s consistent year in and year out. They’re in the mix to get to Omaha every year.”


After going 208-117 (.640) over six years and leading Kent State to two straight NCAA tourneys, Hall inherited a gold mine at Tech. The Yellow Jackets, featuring future first-round draft picks Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Jay Payton and second-rounder Brad Rigby, were the preseason No. 1 team in the country.


“You’re excited, I knew that Georgia Tech was going to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason,” Hall said. “I knew Coach Morris had built a very good program.”


Yet, here was a coach from a mid-major program taking over one of the emerging programs in the nation.


“I guess we felt like it would be difficult for anyone to fill Jim Morris’ shoes,” Carroll said. “Do you say that’s a risk? I don’t know…Anybody following Jim Morris after he had such great success would be considered a risk.


“Jim Morris was the right coach to build our program and its facilities to a competitive level, and Danny Hall has been able to continue that tradition. Their skills seem somewhat tailored to what Georgia Tech needed at the time.”


Any concerns that his new players may have had may have been lessened by Payton. While at Kent State, Hall had recruited Payton, an all-world centerfielder from Zanesville, Ohio. He called Payton’s parents when he was going through the interview process.


According to Hall, Payton visited Homer Rice and told the athletic director that if all things were equal, he would have gone to Kent State to play for Hall.


“I almost think that he had told the players before I got here that this guy’s a good coach and good guy,” Hall said of Payton.


With all that star power, the Yellow Jackets reached their first College World Series, ultimately falling to Oklahoma in the final game.


“It was a case where you give them some structure and ideas on what was important to win and then stay out of the way,” Hall said. “Those guys could really play.”


The gold rush was on.


Hall and his staff consistently lured star recruit after star recruit, players like Mark Teixeira, Micah Owings and Matt Wieters. Those who may not have been considered top prospects out of high school developed into high-round draft picks, like Deck McGuire and Brandon Boggs. In all, 97 Yellow Jackets have been drafted during Hall’s 18 years, including 12 first-round picks.


And the Yellow Jackets took Morris’ winning foundation and made it a tradition.


“For me, he was a coach who seemed like he truly cared about the player,” said Wieters, who added that he’s even closer with Hall these days. “He wanted to win, wanted to get to Omaha, wanted to get to the national championship, but he wanted to make the individual players reach their full potential so they could pursue it as a career.”


Kyle Wren, a sophomore outfielder for the Yellow Jackets, remembers how Hall offered him and his brother Colby scholarships and told them to take their time with their decision. That relaxed vibe the brothers felt during the recruiting process has continued as they suit up for Tech.


“The biggest thing for me is that it’s a relaxed system,” Wren said. “You’re not nervous every time you go to practice. He kind of lets you feel your own way out. He lets everyone do their own thing… he really treats it like it’s a professional atmosphere.”


It’s hard to argue the approach.


Throw in players from Hall’s previous two stops – as an assistant at Michigan, where he enjoyed four trips to Omaha, and as the head coach at Kent State – and Hall’s pupils read like an All-Star lineup. Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo, Jim Abbott, Hal Morris and Scott Kamieniecki all played for Hall and head coach Bud Middaugh at Michigan. Hall coached Dustin Hermanson at Kent State.


“It’s very humbling, but very gratifying to watch how successful those guys have been,” Hall said.


Added Stricklin: “Great players have always played for him, and great players have always developed. He’s been blessed to be around a lot of those big leaguers, but he’s the guy who recruited them.”


When Larkin was voted into the Hall of Fame in January, the former Cincinnati Reds star singled out Hall’s importance in his development as a player. 


“I was very much caught off-guard,” Hall said. “That’s just the type of guy he is. It says a lot about him for him to say that. It certainly meant a lot to me. I had a lot more bounce in my step that day that’s for sure”


As unlikely as it may have been that Hall got the Georgia Tech job in the first place, it easily could have never happened.


When Hall was playing baseball and studying biology/pre-med at Miami (Ohio), he never envisioned becoming a coach like his father, who coached him in high school. While playing for Bowling Green coach Don Purvis in the Central Illinois College summer league after his junior year, Purvis offered him the chance to be a graduate assistant.


On a road trip to Central Michigan, Middaugh, then the coach at Miami (Ohio) asked him why he was going to coach at Bowling Green when he might be able to coach at Miami. Hall was under the impression that the current graduate assistant was the only one who would be on staff. Middaugh lobbied successfully with administrators to add a second graduate assistant. Hall was in a bind: He had already told Purvis he would take the job, but his head coach didn’t want to let him go.


“He proceeds to undress me for about 15 minutes on why you would think about going to Bowling Green,” Hall said. “I didn’t make the decision, Bud Middaugh made the decision for me.”


Hall stayed at Miami (Ohio). When Middaugh was hired at Michigan, he made Hall, then 24, his full-time assistant. Eight years with the Wolverines later, Hall was named head coach at Kent State. And six years after that, he checked in with a banker in Atlanta about taking over one of the top programs in America.


“The decision I didn’t make,” Hall said, “was the best decision I ever made.”


(photos courtesy of Georgia Tech Media Relations Office)