When Tulane freshman Hunter Hope’s ninth-inning single drove home freshman Stephen Alemais to win Saturday afternoon’s game at Turchin Stadium, it officially ended the Green Wave’s season and sent the program into an era of indecision.
The 2-1 victory over Florida International could mark the final game for interim coach Jake Gautreau at Tulane, who took over for longtime coach Rick Jones when he was unable to return to the digout because of cardiovascular and blood pressure issues March 19.
Following the game, Gautreau plainly stated he wants the head coaching position if Jones is not medically cleared to return for the final year of his contract.
“Absolutely,” Gautreau said. “If coach Jones can’t return, I want to be here. This is home for me. This is a place I take a lot of pride in the way I go about my business and I want to stay.”
However, the possibility certainly exists that Tulane’s administration chooses to move in an entirely different direction with the baseball program, conducting a national search to hire a new baseball staff.
But before any potential change occurs, Jones made one final appearance in the Green Wave clubhouse before Saturday’s game to say goodbye to the seven seniors who graduated earlier in the morning — and to send a message to a team that doesn’t know its direction.
“It was just great to see him,” freshman Lex Kaplan said. “I wasn’t expecting him, and then I turned around (and) coach Jones was back where he was supposed to be. He just told us a bunch of times that he has been with us all the way ... and it wasn’t his decision not to be around, (and) that he was sorry he couldn’t help more.”
Now, the series of events leading toward a decision on the coaching staff is as gray as the future itself. Neither Gautreau nor associate head coach Chad Sutter said they knew the timetable on a decision and would shift their focus to recruiting until given an answer.
That lies in the hands of athletic director Rick Dickson, who has never had to hire a head baseball coach in the 14 years he’s led the Green Wave department.
“We don’t know the process or really what’s going on,” said Sutter, who just competed his 11th season as a Tulane assistant. “Right now we work for Tulane University, and we are going to go out and continue to do that. If that status changes, I’m sure they’ll let us know.”
Tulane’s 11-18 record following Jones’ departure and a 10th-place finish in Conference USA doesn’t lead to high praise, but several of Tulane’s players adamantly defended Gautreau and insisted he’s the right person to lead the program should Jones not return.
However, as the hitting coach of a team which entered the weekend ranked No. 292 out of 296 Division I teams in batting average, he has created skepticism around pockets of the fan base.
But a youthful team, which started six freshmen on the season’s final day, lends hope to progress taking place within the current roster. The final weekend encapsulated that belief, as a pair of freshmen — Hope and Alemais — slapped game-winning base hits to lift the Green Wave to a series victory.
“This team is only going to get better, and Jake has absolutely earned his spot here,” Kaplan said. “He is a great coach. He came in under a lot of pressure, and he proved that he could do it. When everything changed in the middle of the season, it was tough on the players and no one was sure what to do.
“But once we kind of settled down and figured out the lineup, we just started playing well. I hope we can all give it another shot next year.”