There was no team meeting for David Pierce to call.
Instead, when Tulane’s newest baseball coach took over the Green Wave program last month, rather than gathering players in the clubhouse, he was handed a sheet of phone numbers and a plane ticket. With nearly his entire roster outside of New Orleans playing in summer leagues, there was no opportunity for a central meeting point.
That set the tone for Pierce’s first month. The 51-year old coach, who came to Tulane after leading Sam Houston State to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances following nine years as an assistant at Rice, is now trying to fill the shoes of Rick Jones.
Over 21 seasons, Jones earned distinction as the best coach in school history, and now Pierce said it’s his job to return Tulane to its place as a consistent threat for the College World Series, six years removed from Tulane’s last postseason appearance.
Getting back there starts with maintaining the foundation already in place. Although the Green Wave finished just 23-29 last season — its first losing record since 1993 — the Green Wave’s youthful roster featuring 13 rising sophomores is at the heart of the rebuilding process.
With that in mind, Pierce began contacting current Green Wave players and signees in earnest, making a barrage of phone calls and emails before he even moved any personal items into his office. He travelled to Bethesda, Maryland. to meet four players in the Cal Ripken League (Stephen Alemais, Grant Brown, Tim Yandel and J.P. France) face-to-face, expressing the importance of continuity.
“All of the current players are important to us, and my main goal right now is to reassure them that this is going to be great,” Pierce said. “I so badly want to start teaching them, but they’re out with their summer teams and working, and I have to respect that. So, I’m trying to communicate as best as I can, and it’s not ideal, but they need to know the situation.
“They’re going to come back and be in a program that is run very much in a pro style. We are not going to surprise them or have any inconsistencies. We do the grind the same way every day and they’ll see returns from it.”
In the meantime, Pierce is familiarizing himself with Tulane.
Following his introductory news conference at Turchin Stadium on June 12, he was whisked to nearby Bruno’s Tavern to meet and greet the program’s supporters. The boisterous and crowded bar stayed busy for hours and reflected the level of responsibility that comes with the position.
“There was a great buzz stretching from the number of media at the press conference to the almost 1,000 people who went and met us over at Bruno’s,” Pierce said. “It shows me Tulane fans are anxious to win, and sometimes change on its own can really add to the sense of excitement. Everyone was there with open arms to greet us, and that really meant a lot to me about how much accountability comes with this job.”
But there are plenty of obstacles for Pierce to overcome.
Within his first week, Tulane’s only drafted signee, left-handed pitcher Zach Warren, asked for a release and eventually signed with Tennessee. A few 2015 recruits and even some current players took to Twitter lamenting the departure of former recruiting coordinator and interim coach Jake Gautreau, who was a candidate for the job.
There are also institutional problems that Jones critically aired, mainly revolving on the changed rules in college baseball which made it harder on a program limited to just 11.7 scholarships while charging a $60,000 tuition with far fewer need-based scholarships than the top private school baseball teams in the country.
“I spent nine years at Rice, so I think I understand as well as anyone about how to get a young man to play at this level at this type of university,” Pierce said. “Basically, you have to eliminate a lot of players. You have to understand that. You can’t let a ‘no’ discourage you, because it’s going to happen because there are certain guys that simply can’t afford it here or make it academically here.
“So, we have to really work hard at exploring every option at our disposal. The 11.7 scholarships make it difficult and make the playing field uneven. But we need to identify the right players for us and limit the field, then bust it hard to bring them in.”
The faith from Tulane’s administration is clear. Pierce emerged quickly from a crowded field of candidates thanks to his work at both Sam Houston State and Rice.
Former Tulane president Scott Cowen became closely involved in the hiring process and said he knew quickly Pierce had the experience of success to fit the job. Tulane then lured Pierce with a lucrative five-year contract, a steep bump from his $110,000 salary at Sam Houston State, according to several sources close to the Green Wave program.
A month into his tenure, Pierce and his staff are living on the recruiting trail trying to live up to the expectations. They’ve already landed two signees for upcoming season in pitcher Jordan Hicks and first baseman Jake Crain.
There’s a long way to go, but Tulane believes progress isn’t far behind.
“I was so impressed with what I saw from him almost immediately,” Cowen said. “Winning in baseball is important to the Tulane community, and I think we found the right person to get us back to where Rick Jones led us a few years ago — Omaha.”