Travis Jewett says he could have spent the rest of his career as the associate head baseball coach at Vanderbilt and not had a single regret.
Still, he jumped at the opportunity to go to Tulane and try to turn the Green Wave into the next Vanderbilt.
“That’s 100 percent correct,” he said Thursday afternoon at his introductory news conference as Tulane’s new baseball coach. “Now I’m not trying to compare their way or whatever, but we can be like them. There are not a lot of places I would leave Vanderbilt for. This certainly was one of them.”
Those were bold words from a man who has won everywhere he has been in a long career as an assistant coach. Vanderbilt, a private school like Tulane, won its first national championship in 2014 and has been to the College World Series in three of the past six years under Tim Corbin.
Jewett, a native of Tacoma, Washington, spent his last four years in Nashville after successful stints at Gonzaga, Washington, Washington State and Arizona State. His track record, which included successful head coaching stints at Tacoma and Edward Community College in Washington, helped convince athletic director Troy Dannen to pick Jewett over a field that included a pair of men with Tulane ties.
Neither LSU assistant Andy Cannizaro nor Southeastern Louisiana coach Matt Riser, two of the five candidates Dannen said he interviewed, matched that extensive record of success. After hiring football and basketball coaches with similar backgrounds in what has been a whirlwind first year on the job, he decided to stick to the same path.
“We’ve been trying to establish a culture of winning here,” Dannen said. “If you go back and look, the one thing that links all the candidates I’ve hired is they’ve all been in the game 15 to 20 years and they’ve won every place they’ve been and they’re winners in every way. I purposely try to find people who only have that in their DNA.”
Tulane is not Vanderbilt in terms of the size of the endowment that helps the Commodores supplement the 11.7 scholarships the NCAA gives to baseball teams, but Dannen said he liked what he heard from Jewett, 46, when he asked him how he would manage those scholarships.
Instead of demanding more help from the university, Jewett told him the pieces were in place to contend at the highest level immediately.
After reaching the College World Series in 2001 and 2005 during a run of nine consecutive regional appearances under former coach Rick Jones, Tulane endured a six-year postseason drought until David Pierce guided it to regionals in both years of a short stay that ended when he left for Texas at the end of June.
The Wave is coming off 41-21 year in which it won the American Athletic Conference regular season title and earned a No. 2 seed in the Oxford, Mississippi regional, eliminating No. 1 seed Ole Miss before falling to Boston College.
“If you look right now, (2016 NCAA champion) Coastal Carolina is more resource-starved than we are,” Dannen said. “We beat (runner-up) Arizona. We belong in that group of schools. There’s a lot of luck and a lot of things that have to happen, but if we have the right people in place, and I think we do in this coaching staff, everything’s there. We have to put ourselves in position to catch the breaks to get there (Omaha).”
Jewett’s introduction was delayed until Thursday because his oldest son, Tanner, underwent orientation as a student at Tennessee-Chattanooga on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dannen wanted the entire family to attend, so he postponed his own vacation to accommodate them.
Jewett teared up briefly as he addressed the audience at the Glazer Family Club inside Yulman Stadium, saying his wife had urged him not to cry.
“Well you know what, Jimmy Valvano told me it’s OK because every day if you just get moved to emotions of some kind, that means things are important to you,” he said. “If I drink this water here a little bit, it’s just to drink a few tears of happiness.”
One fact became evident quickly. The fourth coach Tulane’s seniors will have played for in four years--counting interim Jake Gautreau in 2014—is very different from the introspective Pierce.
Near the end of his 14-minute acceptance speech, Jewett joked that he had been told to talk for about three minutes and had responded, “huh, sure thing,” knowing he had much more to say.
“I look forward to getting after it next year,” senior pitcher Corey Merrill said. “A couple of our guys know guys who played for him at Vanderbilt, and they said he was a great personality and just a great all-around guy. He will tell you exactly like it is, and he’s as honest as they get. Especially for a head coach, honesty is everything.”
While Pierce was a pitching coach, Jewett specializes in hitting. But while Pierce wanted the fences to be brought in at Turchin Stadium, Jewett said no changes were necessary and the facility already had everything it needed for him to win.
Labeled an ace recruiter at his previous stops, he already was making his first pitch. He insisted the high cost of tuition at Tulane and the limited amount of scholarships available for baseball would not hinder him in any way as he wooed prospects with the value of a top-notch education.
“I want to sell that to people,” he said. “I understand the academic criteria and I understand the financial-aid component. To get an educated kid in a family that wants an education, you’re already ahead of the game. That part of it will help us on the field, I promise you. We’ve got education to sell. We’ve got beautiful facilities to sell. We’ve got weather. We’ve got a destination city.
“What don’t we have?”