The coaching carousel in college baseball is winding down.
Wofford, Mississippi Valley State, Siena and Northwestern are the only Division I teams without a coach at the time of writing. Of the 11 MAC programs, five will be under new leadership heading into the 2024 season, compared to one change in 2022 and one in 2021.
It’s a sea of change in the Great Lakes-based baseball conference.
Akron, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Miami and Northern Illinois found new head coaches for a variety of reasons. EMU, Miami and NIU moved on for on-the-field performance, CMU had to replace a coach hired away to a bigger job and Akron finally lands a head coach to replace Chris Sabo.
Let’s meet the new coaches and the situations they take over.
Out: Chris Sabo / Greg Beals / Tim Donnelly
In: Bryan Faulds
Akron’s head coach position has been a violently rotating door since Chris Sabo retired in 2022. Former Ball State and Ohio State head coach Greg Beals was hired to continue the rebuild. He had a 117-72 MAC record in eight seasons with the Cardinals and seemed like a great fit to lead the Zips.
In January, before ever filling out a lineup card, he left for the Marshall job in the Sun Belt. His assistant Tim Donnelly took over as the interim and got out of the MAC basement with a 12-18 conference record. It was a good year for the Zips but at the end of the season, Akron opted not to keep him as the permanent coach, hiring Bryan Faulds as the new head coach. Donnelly has since joined up with Beals at Marshall.
Faulds was a pitcher at the College of San Mateo and Western Illinois in college and became a college pitching coach after his playing days. He started coaching where he played at San Mateo and moved on to spend three seasons at Ohio and four at Saint Edward's as the pitching coach. Rob Penders, the head coach of 15 years, was fired and Faulds took over for two seasons.
At Saint Edwards, Faulds's overall record was 72-43 with back-to-back Division 2 tournament appearances. This season was the best of the two for the Hilltoppers. A 40-17 overall record and a 34-13 conference record were headlined by excellent pitching. St. Edward’s was second in the conference in ERA, third in strikeouts and allowed the fewest walks.
Akron was ranked seventh of 11 MAC programs in ERA, and a boost would take pressure off of struggling bats. Aside from the on-field improvements that Akron is searching for, they certainly want stability at the top. Chris Sabo retiring after two seasons, hiring a manager that never coaches a game and having a season with an interim head coach was not the plan when Akron baseball made its comeback. For the health of Akron baseball, they hope they found their guy.
Central Michigan Chippewas
Out: Jordan Bischel
In: Jake Sabol
Jordan Bischel was hired by Cincinnati after Scott Googins resigned at the end of the season. Two assistants in the Bearcat program were let go after an investigation stemming from the firing of Alabama’s head coach Brad Bohannon. Bohannon was found to be passing information to Bert Neff, a parent of a Cincinnati player and the UC assistants may have had knowledge of his activities. Bischel will have his work cut out for him as Cincinnati joins the Big 12 next season.
Jake Sabol replaced Bischel at Northwood [MI] College and now follows after him at Central Michigan. Sabol pitched at CMU from 2007 to 2011 before getting into coaching. Central Michigan will be Sabol’s third head coach position after successful stops at Division III Alma (67-59 overall) and Division II Northwood (140-90-1 overall).
Northwood dominated the Great Midwest Athletic Conference in 2023 and finished five games ahead of Ashland and Trevecca Nazarene. Their 27-5 record was a complete team effort. Their in-conference ERA was the best in the league with the fewest runs allowed and the lowest opponent batting average. They also scored the most runs, had the highest on-base percentage and led the league in doubles. You don’t have to be a baseball analytics person to know that first in runs scored and fewest runs allowed is a great way to win a lot of games.
Northwood made it to the Midwest Regional in all four full seasons that Sabol coached, which is a tradition that Central Michigan would like to get back to. The Chippewas had been the MAC representative for three consecutive seasons until this season when Ball State punched their ticket.
The cupboard is far from bare in Mt. Pleasant, but holding up to Bischel’s standard won’t be easy. Central Michigan never finished lower than tied for second under Bischel and they were able to find ways to replace high-level talent routinely lost to the MLB Draft. Sabol was able to do it at Northwood and should keep CMU playing high-level baseball.
Eastern Michigan Eagles
Out: Eric Roof
In: Robbie Britt
Eastern Michigan was a team full of promise at the beginning of the season and after doing research, I thought they had a chance to be a dark horse in the MAC. Six of their seven qualified hitters had above MAC average OPS and wOBA. Their starters were solid, but the bullpen gave away too many games and a little bad luck put the Eagles in a tie for ninth place at the end of the season.
Eric Roof was let go after the program's first winning season since 2011, but the conference record wasn’t good enough. Overall, Roof ended his time in Ypsilanti with a 105-179-1 record and 63-101 in MAC games. Roof was the interim head coach in 2018 and led the Eagles to a 14-13 record and a spot as the sixth seed in the MAC Tournament. Since then, their best finish has been seventh in the MAC.
Robbie Britt comes in to revitalize the program after a stellar run at the University of Charleston in West Virginia. Charleston’s baseball program was in a good place before Britt took over, but he certainly kept it going with a 125-48 overall record.
Charleston made the postseason each of the last two seasons and played their way to a sudden-death regional final game in 2022. They didn’t have the same regional success in 2023, but the team was dominant in conference play. They had the best record in the league by three games and led in almost every statistical category. The Golden Eagles out-slugged every other team by at least 100 points and scored two more runs per game than the second-best team in the conference.
On the mound, they weren’t as dominant, but they did still lead the league with 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings. The Golden Eagles were second in ERA and opponent batting average which would be a pair of traits that Eastern Michigan hopes to see.
Adjustments must be made to the new school and Division I resources, but Britt has been around that throughout his career. Britt’s resume should have Eagles fans' confidence high in the future of the baseball program.
Out: Danny Hayden
In: Brian Smiley
Miami University Athletics and Danny Hayden came to a mutual agreement to part ways at the conclusion of the season. Miami baseball has been in a gradual decline since they last qualified for the MAC Tournament in 2019. Hayden had been the head coach since 2014 and had the RedHawks in first place in the East his first season. In 2018, the MAC eliminated divisions in baseball and Miami was second and fourth the next two seasons and made the MAC Tournament.
After the canceled 2020 season, it was just not the same. Miami went 18-22 in back-to-back seasons, which was five games out of the final spot in the MAC Tournament in 2022. The 13-17 record this season was too much regression, despite having a pitching staff that led the MAC in strikeouts per nine innings.
The RedHawks are the only team hiring an assistant from another Division I program this cycle. Brian Smiley has been an assistant coach at Indiana State for the last 14 seasons and is going to Miami to lead the program. Indiana State is an excellent baseball program in the Missouri Valley Conference that hosted an NCAA Regional in 2023. The Sycamores swept their home regional but were eliminated by TCU in the Fort Worth Super Regional.
Smiley has been the recruiting coordinator at Indiana State since 2009, and is regarded as a great recruiter and talent evaluator. Miami is getting a coach that has been crucial to building a nationally-ranked team for a long time. The RedHawks need him to replicate that success in Oxford.
Northern Illinois Huskies
Out: Mike Kunigonis
In: Ryan Copeland
Mike Kunigonis was relieved of his duties on May 8th, before the season was over. To that point in the season, the Huskies were 8-38 overall and 4-19 in MAC play. The previous two seasons weren’t much better and Kunigonis’ run comes to an end after eight seasons. The Huskies made the conference tournament in three of his first five seasons, but that all changed after the canceled 2020 season.
Ryan Copeland is another successful Division II head coach making the jump to the MAC, this time from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Copeland was the pitching coach for four seasons at Illinois-Springfield before taking over the head coaching position.
Chris Ramirez was hired away and when Copeland took over, the Prairie Stars took off. His overall record was 131-38 and dominated their conference 81-16 over the four seasons. In 2022 Illinois-Springfield made a run to the Division II national tournament after sweeping the Midwest Regional and winning a super regional.
Copeland is unique in that way. Each of the Division II coaches making the jump have been post-season regulars, but Copeland is the only one to get out of the regional.
Copeland was a pitcher at the college level and a pitching coach before head coach and it shows. The Prairie Stars are headlined by their pitching, and Northern Illinois was at the bottom of the MAC in pitching stats. Hopefully, that translates for the Huskies.
Editor’s note: our original piece stated, in error, Brian Smiley had coached at Illinois State for the last 14 seasons, then correctly referring to his tenure at Indiana State over the rest of the piece. We regret the error and have corrected it in the new version.