When coaching decisions are determined from Rick Dickson’s office, he isn’t used to waiting on a doctor’s report.
But Tulane’s athletic director is facing a special dilemma in choosing a path for the Green Wave baseball program. Sources close to the situation told The Advocate that a decision on coach Rick Jones’ status, after 21 years with the program, is pending on those results and could be announced as soon as Friday.
Jones, whose 12 NCAA tournament appearances and two College World Series berths makes him the most successful leader in school history, was forced to step down for the 2014 season on March 21 because of an array of cardiovascular and blood pressure issues which rendered him unable to take his place in the Tulane dugout. If he’s able to return, only one year remains on his contract.
Jones’ absence thrust Jake Gautreau, who served as recruiting coordinator and hitting coach, into the interim role and shook up the status of Tulane’s most stable program. Now, following a 23-29 season, the program’s first losing record since Jones’ arrival in 1994, Tulane faces a crossroads.
“As we speak, the uncertainly continues,” Dickson said Wednesday afternoon, claiming he was still waiting on a full medical report. “I’m confident it will get resolved shortly, but I’m not sure which way it’s going to go because we need to know the health outlook on Rick before we do anything.
“So much of this is contingent on his ability to continue. Then looking beyond that we need to see what needs to happen in regards to the program moving forward.”
If Jones is unable to return, Tulane has the option of maintaining most of its current staff by promoting Gautreau into the full-time role, a promotion the former Green Wave all-American said he’d eagerly accept. Several players publicly lobbied on Gautreau’s behalf following the conclusion of the Green Wave’s season Sunday.
“This team is only going to get better, and Jake has absolutely earned his spot here,” freshman outfielder Lex Kaplan said. “He is a great coach. He came in under a lot of pressure and he proved that he could do the job.”
Although Dickson acknowledged the difficulties of the transition, particularly on a team which started seven freshmen on most days, he said the results were below Tulane’s standards. Without Jones, Tulane’s went just 13-19, 0-10 on the road, and its 10th place finish in the Conference USA standings left it exiled from the C-USA tournament taking place this weekend.
It marked the sixth consecutive season Tulane missed the NCAA tournament, the longest drought between appearances in school history.
On the other hand, if Dickson chooses an outside hire to helm the baseball program, its freshmen-laden roster and incoming recruiting classes are in jeopardy of fleeing for other opportunities, making the climb to a potential rebuild even steeper.
“You are always going to have to evaluated it from the best health of the program and what’s best for it,” Dickson said. “Sometimes the best thing is to make an immediate change because something isn’t right and is toxic. In other instances, we are partially complete and another year or two in this direction will make us more complete.
“The current makeup of the roster and the recruiting will obviously be factored in because it plays a role as to deciding what the best step is for us to move forward as opposed to going backward.”
Dickson also pointed to the team’s somewhat rejuvenated performance in the season’s final month, which included series wins over Wichita State, Southern Miss and Florida International sandwiched around being swept at Alabama-Birmingham.
No matter what the bill of health looks like for Jones, Dickson must decide if the most promising future for Tulane’s baseball program is maintaining the current course or veering onto an entirely new road.
“The team got knocked back pretty good when the issues with Rick arose and the uncertainty that surrounded it seemed to flatten everyone initially,” Dickson said. “But I have high regard for how the entire group pulled together and dug themselves out of the hole the last three or four weeks to become an even more competitive club than we were at the start of the season.
“But winning 23 games and not being a part of our conference tournament is not something we are used to by any means. The standard hasn’t changed and it won’t.”