Nothing is guaranteed in sports, but by hiring Vanderbilt’s Travis Jewett as his baseball coach, Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen is taking a proven path to success.
Jewett — whose hiring has not been officially announced by Tulane, even though on Monday it set a 2 p.m. Thursday news conference to introduce its new baseball coach — is 46 and has never been a Division I head coach, putting him in familiar company with elite assistants who excelled in their first shot at running the show in the big time.
Skip Bertman was a 45-year-old pitching coach when LSU plucked him from Miami in 1983. He had been a head coach at Miami Beach High School for 11 years before spending eight seasons with the Hurricane and winning a national championship under Ron Fraser.
Bertman retired in 2001 with five NCAA championships after transforming the Tigers into a superpower.
Kevin O’Sullivan had not been a head coach anywhere when Florida took him in in 2007 after 13 years as an assistant at Florida Atlantic, Virginia and Clemson. O’Sullivan, though, had helped the Tigers to seven super regionals and three College World Series berths in nine seasons.
“Do we have some concerns because he’s never been in the chair before?” Foley said at O’Sullivan’s introductory news conference. “That’s the one unknown. We would not give him this opportunity if we did not think he would be successful.”
O’Sullivan has taken the Gators to the College World Series in five of the past seven years, turning what always had been the No. 3 program in Florida into a squad that dominates Florida State and Miami.
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin — Jewett’s former boss — was an assistant at Clemson from 1994-2002 (after a six-year stint as coach at Division II Presbyterian) before turning the Commodores into a national power.
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor’s only experience was as an assistant at Creighton and Notre Dame before repeatedly breaking the Cavaliers record for wins in a season and winning a national championship in 2015.
UC Santa Barbara coach Andrew Checketts, thought to be a candidate for Tulane’s opening, was an assistant at UC Riverside for seven years and Oregon for three before taking the Gauchos to their first College World Series this year.
Texas Tech has been to Omaha, Nebraska, in two of the past three years under Tim Tadlock, whose only previous head coaching experience was at a community college. The Red Raiders had never reached the College World Series before his tenure.
Jewett, a native of Tacoma, Washington, last was a head coach in 1998, when he was named Junior College Coach of the Year at Edmonds (Washington) Community College. Since then, he has been an assistant at Gonzaga (1999-2001), Washington (2002-04), Washington State (2005-09), Arizona State (2010-12) and Vanderbilt (2013-16), giving him a wealth of experience that fellow candidates Andy Cannizaro of LSU and Matt Riser of Southeastern Louisiana lacked despite their ties to Tulane as former players.
Jewett was associate head coach at Arizona State and Washington State and this past year at Vanderbilt, and he served as recruiting coordinator and hitting coach at all three schools. After the Commodores’ national championship in 2015, D1Baseball.com listed him as one of the nation’s top 15 assistants ready for a head-coaching job.
In his first year at Vanderbilt, the Commodores hit .313, a dramatic improvement from .268 the season before he arrived. In his second year, they won the national championship.
In his first year at Arizona State, the Sun Devils went 52-10, earning the No. 1 national seed for the NCAA tournament. In his final year at Washington State, the Cougars finished second in the Pac-12 while breaking an 18-year regional drought.
In all three of his years at Washington, the Huskies lost in the regional finals. Washington has not advanced that far in 12 years since, making a regional only twice.
Cannizaro has been a coach for only two years, as LSU’s recruiting coordinator and hitting instructor. Riser has been at Southeastern for nine of his 10 years in coaching, including the past three seasons as head coach.
Another factor in Jewett’s favor: the success of a predecessor. Fourth-year Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday, who this season took the Cowboys to their first College World Series since 1999, was an assistant at Arizona State in 2008-09 and Vanderbilt from 2010-12. Jewett replaced Holliday as recruiting coordinator at both places.
Tulane would love for him to follow in Holliday’s footsteps one more time — by taking the Green Wave to Omaha.