for CBI Big West preview
click here for
Big West preseason coaches' poll
Vanderhook ready to take over
By Sean Ryan
the past 24 years, Rick Vanderhook (left) has experienced just
about everything in college baseball.
He’s been to the College World Series 11 times,
leaving Omaha with two national titles. He’s coached alongside
some of college baseball’s finest in Augie Garrido, George
Horton and John Savage. He’s been a part of 1,026 wins.
But he’s never gotten to claim a win as his own.
His time has come.
In two weeks, Vanderhook will coach his first
game as a head coach. He’ll do it at Cal State Fullerton, the
school he seemed destined to lead one day. And soon after,
Vanderhook will add another win to his tally, a win that will
have special meaning.
will be different,” Vanderhook said. “It will be a first win for
all of us.”
Vanderhook spent 21 of his
24 seasons as a Division I assistant at Fullerton, starting as a
bullpen coach under Garrido in 1985. He spent the past three
seasons as the hitting coach for Savage at UCLA, helping the
Bruins to the national championship series in 2010.
When Dave Serrano left Fullerton for Tennessee,
the door was open for Vanderhook to return home.
“When Cal State Fullerton decided to hire Rick
Vanderhook, they made the right decision, absolutely,” said
Serrano, who was an assistant along with Vanderhook under
Horton. “Rick Vanderhook is Cal State Fullerton.”
Kirk Saarloos, who starred for the Titans and
will serve as his former coach’s pitching coach, said, “This is
something he’s seen himself being since he became an assistant
at Fullerton. He’s living his dream.”
Vanderhook’s dream began
when he played for Horton at Cerritos College. He became part of
the Fullerton program in 1983 during a redshirt season then
played on the Titans’ 1984 national championship team coached by
Garrido. Vanderhook joined Garrido’s staff in 1985 and stayed
until 1989, when he left for Cal State Northridge, then a D-II,
to assist Bill Kernen.
When Garrido returned to Fullerton to replace
Larry Cochell in 1991, Vanderhook came back with him and stayed
for the next 17 years.
“To be a head coach, it’s an honor to at least
say that someone thought that I did a good enough job as an
assistant to help,” Vanderhook said. “To be at Fullerton, it’s
about all I know. I spent more than half my life out here.”
That familiarity is a big reason why Serrano
doesn’t think the switch from lifetime assistant to rookie head
coach is a big leap for Vanderhook.
“He knows the strengths and weaknesses of Cal
State Fullerton,” Serrano said. “He knows what he’s in for. He’s
not going to skip a beat going from assistant coach to head
Vanderhook knows each day as a head coach will provide a new
The day before leading his first spring practice
as a head coach, Vanderhook joked, “I need to figure out what to
do.” He noted that when the Titans traveled to play Vanderbilt
in a fall weekend series, that he figured out what to do.
Saarloos said he told the freshmen after that weekend, “I know
exactly what you’re feeling like.”
At times, the rookie coach has called on some of
his mentors for suggestions or advice. And he’s relied on the
experience of coaching with some of the best in the business.
“He’s done it for a long, long time,” Saarloos
said. “He’s learned a lot from a lot of great, great coaches.
He’s paid attention to things he liked and didn’t like because
one day he knew he was going to be a head coach.”
Vanderhook said, “I’ve
tried to take things from each of them. That’s my style. I don’t
think I can change my style. That’s what I do.”
What Vanderhook does is prepare his teams, both
mentally and physically. What Vanderhook does is motivate his
players. What Vanderhook does is make his players better.
“He wasn’t my coach directly, but some of the
things I learned from him, I still use today,” Saarloos said.
“He shaped me – not pitching wise – but the mental aspect of
getting better every day.
“He challenged me in that way while I was there.
As a player, you don’t get the method. Being on the flip side of
it, I see why he does things and the ability to get the most out
of his players.”
Added Savage: “He brings a lot of knowledge, a
lot of experience. The guy has coached at the highest level,
been a part of a lot of good teams, helped a lot of good players
get better, has a tremendous passion for the game of
baseball…he’s a baseball guy and certainly deserves this
opportunity before Vanderhook is one that is nearly 25 years in
His first edition will be young on the mound and
seasoned in the everyday lineup. The nation will get an early
read on Cal State Fullerton the first weekend as the Titans
travel to meet consensus preseason No. 1 Florida. Not many
coaches can claim their first win as one against the No. 1 team
in the land, but for a guy who has been a part of more than
1,000 wins, not many coaches around the country would be
surprised if it happens.
Either way, Vanderhook will be ready.
“He’s seen everything, he’s been around a long
time,” Savage said. “I don’t think anything will surprise him.
He’s just in a different chair now.”
Serrano added, “The only thing I’d probably say
to Rick is to continue to be himself. His baseball knowledge is
very well recognized. Enjoy the journey he’s about to go on with
his players and his coaches. That program is the right fit for
him…if he’s himself, nothing but success will come his way.”
(photos by Matt Brown)