Thursday, March 8, 2007

What if . . . Baseball edition: What if Tim Jamieson had been given the boot after the 2002 season?

Being a man of little originality, I am borrowing [aka stealing shamelessly] an idea from a fellow Mizzou Sanity blogger. As he said, "This isn’t meant to be some rose-colored fantasy so much as a chance to do two things a) satisfy some curiosity, and b) prove my ultimate nerd-dom in front of the entire blogosphere."

And so the question is: What if . . . Tim Jamieson had been sent packing after the 2002 season?

It was widely rumored that just such a move was being seriously contemplated by in May of 2002. This was the spring that Alden fired MU Softball Coach Jay Miller, and many assumed Jamieson would follow.

When word came just before the final series of the year that Jamieson would be back in 2003, scuttlebutt was that TJ's immediate supervisor, then-Associate Athletic Director Gene McArtor, gave his former protege a life-line that perhaps was not what Mike Alden would have chosen if not for the lobbying of Coach Mac.According to the rumors, Coach Mac put some important expectations on the rehiring. These included making it not only to Big XII Tournament, but making it to the NCAA Regionals. In addition, Coach Jamieson would need to go get some additional training and inspiration during the summer, and return with a plan to make the changes necessary to turn the team's fortunes around.

Of course, none of what I've said to this point is cold hard fact. It's all just my recollection of the speculation going on at the time time. But the fact is that Jamieson was given another chance.

We all know the result (or at least all of us who have been paying attention).

Mizzou is one of only two Big XII teams to make the NCAA Regionals the past four straight years. The other is that perennial underdog, the Texas Longhorns. And this past year, MU won the Malibu Regional - the hard way - and moved on to a Super Regional for the first time since the Supers were invented.

There are, however, still doubters - perennial Jamieson-haters who say he hasn't done enough, that Mizzou could do better.So ... what if Gene McArtor had lost that discussion with Mike Alden back in May of 2002, and called Tim Jamieson into his office after the Northern Iowa series and said, "Sorry, old friend, but we've decided to make a change."What then?I'll try to be lest verbose than my fellow "What if" blogger.

Just a few points:

1. Classy farewell. Tim Jamieson has always been a classy guy, and his departure would have been no different. No recriminations, no throwing Tex Little under the bus, just a humble 'good-bye' and on to look for a job elsewhere.

Where would he have landed? Hard to say. Certainly not in the Big XII or another of the top conferences. He would have had to get a head coaching job in a mid-major conference or an assistant's job at a major school before earning his way back to the "big time".Maybe, just maybe, he would have gone just down the road to Central Missouri State. Yes, I know Brad Hill didn't leave CMSU for Kansas State until after the 2003 season. But, what if . . .

2. Brad Hill signs on as Head Coach of Missouri Baseball.

Part of the rumors flying around that spring included Mike Alden's interest in Brad Hill, who was coaching just over in Warrensburg at Division-II CMSU. He was taking his Mules to the D-II World Series with regularity, and even winning national championships. This was a guy who excelled in recruiting, finding great players in spite of competition from several area D-I schools. He was a guy who emphasized discipline and conditioning. He was a guy who was bringing national attention to tiny little CMSU.

And he was a also a guy who reportedly was quite interested in the Missouri job - if it became available. I have no doubt that if Tim Jamieson had been given the heave-ho in May of 2002, Brad Hill would have jumped from the MIAA to the Big XII a year earlier.

Would that have been a better deal for Mizzou Baseball

3. The Brad Hill Tigers, 2003-2006

It's hard to say what the Tigers would have looked like, how well they would have fared under Brad Hill these past four years. A few things to consider:

· What has Hill done at Kansas State since jumping there a year later?

In three years, KSU has posted a record of 87-75-2, finished 10th, 10th and 9th in the Big XII, and failed to make the Big XII Tournament or the NCAA Regionals. This followed Mike Clark's record in his last three years of 70-90, 9th, 5th, 10th, with 1 trip to the Big XII Tournament.

This compares to Tim Jamieson's record with the Tigers in the same three years: 113-74-1; 7th, 4th, 7th; Big XII Tournament all 3 years, NCAA Regional all 3 years, Super Regional 1 year.

· Recruiting: With Jamieson gone, would Brad Hill have given a assistant's job to Tony Vitello? It's my opinion (shared by many others), that Tony V has contributed greatly to the Tigers' success, playing a key role in recruiting many of the top players the Tigers have signed over these past few successful years. I know of one key player on the team over those intervening years that was recruited by Brad Hill to go to CMSU, but turned him down, not only because he had a shot to play in the Big XII, but because he clicked better with Jamieson and Company than he did with Brad Hill.

My guess is that the Mizzou Athletic Department gives marginally better support to their Baseball program than Kansas State does, so Hill may have done better at MU than he has at KSU. But any time you get rid of one coach and hire another, the change has an impact on the team. I doubt if Hill would have made an immediate impact enough to achieve what Jamieson has done.

And, given the level of support Baseball gets from MU, there would not have been the option of going after a big name coach to turn things around in a Huge way. The Tigers were not that attractive a program, and they won't be until the AD raises the program up a notch or two in priority in budgeting, facilities and promotion.

Conclusion: As I said in my annual "Tip of the Cap Awards" after the 2006 season:

A really good coach, goes the argument, would not have taken a team ranked #10 pre-season and knocked it down so far they were unranked in the polls by the end of the regular season. But Tim Jamieson, magician extraordinaire, pulled a rabbit our of his hat by pushing this team to peak at the right time, sweeping through Texas and on into a strong run in the Big XII Tournament, and all the way to somehow grabbing that last spot on the NCAA bracket. And, to top it all off, Tim Jamieson put his name permanently in the NCAA Division I record books by coaching the only 4th-seeded team to ever win a Regional. Coach J, you deserve an unreserved, long overdue tip of the cap (or perhaps, a tip of the magician's hat). We're proud to have you as the Tigers' head coach.