Tennessee Baseball Gets a New Direction, Yet Again

By Alex Norman

It didn’t work with Todd Raleigh…

It didn’t work with Dave Serrano…

Will it work with Tony Vitello?

Vols fans are hoping the third time is the charm with regards to the Tennessee baseball program.

Ever since then athletic director Mike Hamilton fired Rod Delmonico following the 2007 season, the Vols have been mediocre at best. They finished with a 108-113 record during Raleigh’s four years (2008-2011) and a 157-163 mark during the six seasons Serrano was in charge (2012-2017).  That’s a winning combined winning percentage of just under 49%.

The numbers in SEC play are even more galling. The Vols went a combined 97-198 in conference play over the past decade, an anemic 28% winning rate.

Plain and simple, that’s not going to get the job done at any level.

Delmonico might not have had the consistent success that Vols fans wished for, but he did get Tennessee to the College World Series three times (1995, 2001, 2005) and won 699 games from 1990-

2007.

That seems like a lifetime ago.

So that’s what Tony Vitello is stepping into.

While many Tennessee fans had hoped former Vol standout Chris Burke would get the head coaching job, he was never a serious candidate.

Vitello has a lot of what athletic director John Currie was looking for. Vitello has earned a reputation as one of the best recruiters in college baseball during his time at Missouri, TCU and Arkansas. He has experience in the SEC.  He’s been part of teams that have made it to lots of NCAA tournaments, a place the Vols haven’t even come close to being in more than a decade.

In a press release from the University of Tennessee’s athletic department, Currie said, “We are thrilled to bring Coach Vitello’s passion for baseball, relationship building and student-athlete development into the Tennessee athletics family. Proven experience evaluating and recruiting at the highest level and in the grind of the SEC was an absolute prerequisite, and Coach Vitello checks all the boxes. He has a track record of helping to build healthy and competitive programs–from those earliest relationships formed during the recruiting process through the development of young men into major league ballplayers. Coach Vitello has been to a dozen NCAA Tournaments, and he’s been part of a staff that led a team to Omaha. He knows firsthand what it takes to win in the Southeastern Conference, and he has triumphed in recruiting battles for elite prospects in our SEC footprint and other talent-rich areas across the country.”

In the same release, Vitello said, “This is as good of an opportunity as there is in the country.  I consider myself incredibly blessed to be a part of the athletic department at the University of Tennessee. It’s the ultimate combination of an elite conference, a state school with great in-state players, a phenomenal city and outstanding tradition that exists not just with baseball, but across all sports.  It’s no coincidence that it’s been a place where so many great coaches have been leaders in their sport. I want to work like crazy to uphold that standard.”

Currie added, “Throughout this process it has been inspiring to talk to many of the people who are passionate about Volunteer baseball–I believe that Coach Vitello is the right person to build our program into a perennial contender and bring championship baseball back to Knoxville.”

For Vitello, this will be his first head coaching job, which could be seen by some as a negative.  But considering the putrid performance of the Tennessee baseball program during the experience laden Raleigh and Serrano, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Vitello is only 38 years old, and has proven that he can appeal to young players.

Baseball recruiting is a very difficult proposition.  Players don’t all get full rides.  The maximum number of scholarships that a Division 1 team can give to its players is 11.7, so you have to wade in those delicate waters. Plus, if your recruits are drafted, you might lose them to the professional ranks.

Vitello also has to recruit with baseball facilities that have fallen a step behind many others in the SEC.

This is going to be a difficult rebuild.

We will find out in the years to come if Vitello is up to the task.

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