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Covering the Bases With Rick Jones

February 9, 2003

Jeremy Hall and Jaime Oppenheim, <i>Hullabaloo</i> Associate and Assistant Sports Editor

hullabaloo.main@tulane.org

You might say baseball coach Rick Jones has a talent like Midas. Everything he's touched has been gold, from Green Wave baseball to Nomar Garciaparra. Jones, who got his Division I start as a pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, has won and been successful at every level. Over his 10-year tenure at Tulane, Jones has turned what was at his arrival a decent program into a program that two years ago visited Omaha, Neb. for the College World Series.

Along with that success has come the ever increasing support of fans, alums and Tulane itself. "Our facilities have improved, our support and fan base has increased tremendously, our season ticket sales have gone up from 100 to a couple thousand -- that makes a big difference."

"We have great fan support which we did not have when I first came here," Jones said. The support from the administration also has improved as the team got into the habit of appearing in the top ranks of college baseball. With five straight NCAA tournament appearances and a 2001 journey to the championships, high school players across the country have also come to know the Green Wave.

Going to the College World Series and being consistently in the NCAA tournament, that has put us in position to recruit some of the best players in the country who also are great students. If you look at our recruiting class, GPA has reflected that, he said. Jones career has spanned over 20 years, ranging from his high school coaching in North Carolina to his collegiate experience at Ferrum College, Elon College and Georgia Tech.

At every stop along the way Jones has forged a winner. Before heading to Georgia Tech, Jones had amassed a record of 276-95-1 at Elon and Ferrum, and the move up to Georgia Tech and the elite ranks of college baseball seemed logical. For three years between 1990-93, Jones served as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.

He once again struck oil, as his pitchers posted a team ERA below 4.00 for three of his four seasons, and his shrewd recruiting netted major league talent in the forms of Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Payton. Now after his success in turning around the Green Wave program, one has to wonder whether or not greater things lie in store for Jones, possibly at the next level of the sport.

"I don't know how you get bigger," Jones said. "I started at a young age, coaching junior high, high school, junior college, small colleges. The only thing that's ever interested me was trying to get to the level where I could be at a school that had the opportunity to win the National Championship. I'm in the South, where the weather allows you to practice all year round, we have one of the best fan support bases in the country, we've been in the top 10 three years in a row in attendance, I coached in the largest attended game in the history of college baseball. I have a chance at the pinnacle of college baseball. To be in an area where it's supported, the fan interest is great and you have an opportunity to win at a high level, without sacrificing academics. Personally, I don't think there's a better situation."

When looking back on his long career, it's easy to see the impact his coaching has had on the people around him. Whether it be on his coaching staff, or on the men who play for him, Jones' impact is felt far and wide.

Brian Cleary, his first recruiting coordinator, is now the head coach at the University of Cincinnati, and another of his recruiting coordinators and assistants for seven years, Jim Schlostinger, is the coach at UNLV. The latest addition to the Tulane coaching staff is former Tulane standout Brandon Belanger. Jones seems to beam with pride to have a former player join his ranks.

"Any time you have former players, they have to be very passionate about it. Also, when a player leaves my program I hope that we can then become very good friends. When one of those players goes to work for you then obviously he is in a position now that he is being evaluated on his job performance, just like I am, so the relationship changes a little bit. But when you have somebody who is passionate about it and very competent in what they do, and they've played under you at the same institution that you're coaching, I think that can only be a positive. They understand what I expect, they understand the rigors that the players are going through. They can relate at a different level," Jones said.

Now what is left is the task at hand. Heading into the 2003 season, great things are expected of the Wave. With the team basically split between veteran leadership and young freshman talent, there is a healthy balance in the dugout. Where as the pitching staff is overflowing with raw talent, the inexperience of the freshman-heavy rotation leaves the major question mark for the team's success.

"These freshmen pitchers are extremely talented, and they're very mature. They're very intelligent and very motivated, but they're still freshmen, and they're going to go through the pains of growing because they've never pitched one inning of a college baseball game," Jones said. "With Cory Hahn and Joey Charron, our two juniors that were going to count on, those guys can give us enough maturity and leadership that this staff can very well be the basis of a staff that can take us very deep in postseason play in two or three years."

With all but one of the team's position players returning from last season, the backbone of the team is in place to possibly make a serious run at another World Series appearance. Roadblocks to the big game are always present though, and no one knows that better than Jones. "Our pitchers are going to have to pitch at a high level, we've got to stay as injury-free as possible. You need to have great years out of a lot of guys, and then the intangibles," Jones said. "You've got to have things fall your way."

Guys have to start believing in it, and you got to start feeding off that stuff. But there is no question as to what the boss expects of the players underneath him.

"Our expectations are the same every year and that is play as well as you can play during the course of the season so that you can get into the NCAA Tournament. You start in February, the College World Series is in late June, so its a long season many things can happen. You cant expect to be on top of your game every day but over the course of this grind, this three or four-month grind, get into the NCAA Tournament."

A new season now lies ahead, fraught with Cardinals and Tigers and Horned Frogs. Every player surely coddles aspirations of World Series glory and Green Wave fans would be all to happy to play host to a champion's homecoming celebration. Much may lie in the hands of Lady Luck, or Fate if that is your preferred stance on life, but the right man is in place for the race to the ultimate prize in college baseball.

"From my stand point, this is the only thing I'm really passionate about on a daily basis, and that hasn't changed in 28 years of coaching," Jones said. "I'm sort of myopic in that respect, and I think that helps in times when you may be in tough situations, when this is all you really want to do. It sort of helps you overcome some of those obstacles and handle those challenges in a positive manner."

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