2013 TCU Baseball: What Went Wrong

Head Coach Jim Schlossnagle has some soul searching to do this offseason. - KEITH ROBINSON

After what was easily the most frustrating TCU Baseball season in well over a decade, our natural impulse is to try and answer the eternal question, "How did this happen?" The reasons are many, and many are hard to swallow.

TCU finished the 2013 season with a record of 29-28, their worst season since 2002 when the Frogs went 30-29 under then head coach Lance Brown.

Jim Schlossnagle's next worst season: 2004, when the team went 39-26, won the C-USA tournament, and made it to the Austin Regional.

10 years of sustained excellence, postseason play, and general dominance of just about every conference TCU played in, until this year. My, how the mighty have fallen.

Many, many of you have written me throughout the season with similar messages: "What is going on with this team? Where is the fight? Why can't we turn the corner?"

Current players, former players, player parents, current TCU Athletics staff, life-long fans of the team... It was more clear this year than any year prior that TCU Baseball has a legion of dedicated, ardent followers, and they were hurting for most of 2013.

I remember talking to a member of the staff after the Ole Miss series, and the general feeling was, "We're ok... The bats will come around, we have been unlucky... the baseball gods are testing us... we will figure this out."

Another popular refrain: "We are too good to not turn this ship around."

For a moment, that seemed true, when TCU pulled to 8-9 overall with a win over Kansas, capping off a four game winning streak. But it was all downhill from there.

By the time TCU had dropped a 5-4 decision to DBU on a Tuesday night, the refrain had changed: "Maybe... we aren't good enough to turn this ship around."

There are a lot of factors that played into this teams demise: Schedule, talent, fight, coaching, the MLB Draft... But, with the benefit of hindsight, I think it is fair to say that that is the most honest assessment of the 2013 team: They just weren't that good.

THE SCHEDULE

(The following is my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views or reality of any member of the TCU Baseball organization)

The Gary Patterson model of non-conference scheduling needs to be applied.

- One stretch series, where you play a team at home who is better than you or you play an equal on the road.

- Two push series, where you play an equal at home or a slightly lower level team on the road.

- Rest are winners, series that you should win, regardless of where they are played.

When we were in the CUSA and the MWC, we had to be much more aggressive to try and supplement a lackluster conference schedule. No more in the Big 12, which will always be a top 4 conference nationally.

I won't spend much time on this one, because it is A) The lowest level issue, and B) Has already been publicly addressed by Schloss and we will see changes starting in 2015.

THE COACHES

(The following is my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views or reality of any member of the TCU Baseball organization)

This is the one most fans point to.

This is the one that makes the most sense on paper.

This is the one that will be the hardest to implement, and that is the bottom line.

You all know the history: Following TCU's historic 2010 season, Todd Whitting (then the teams hitting/position coach) left for the head coaching job at Houston.

(Updated to reflect accuracy)
He was replaced by Tony Vitello, an up and coming pitching coach and recruiter from Missouri. And, from my perspective: A friend of mine, who was a part of the Missouri program during several Vitello years, has a clear memory of his role at Mizzou: Vitello was much more of a pitching coach, not a hitting coach, coaching the position players was not his strong suit. According to him, all efforts to paint Vitello as both hitting and pitching coach at Missouri are misleading at best. But, as is still the case at TCU, Vitello was tremendously respected by players and helped, through his recruiting efforts, turn that program around.

TCU, at this point, had three pitching coaches (if you include Schloss).

Following the 2011 season, long time assistant coach Ryan Shotzberger, who had primarily handled the fielders and catchers for TCU (while also being a vocal leader), left for a full-time gig with Whitting at Houston.

He was replaced by Chuck Jeroloman, a young man who had just retired from pro ball and came into the gig with zero coaching experience on his resume. He was tasked, fairly or not, with coaching the hitters alongside Vitello.

Following the 2012 season, longtime pitching coach Randy Mazey left for the head job at West Virginia.

He was replaced with an up and coming star, Kirk Saarloos, who in just a few years at Cal-State Fullerton had made a name for himself as a strong pitching coach and quality recruiter.

So, to recap: To start 2013, TCU had three pitching coaches, Schloss/Saarloos/Vitello, and one "hitting coach", Jeroloman.

What most don't know is that during the 2012 season, it is my understanding that there was a small change made in "responsibilities" on the staff mid-way through the season. Jeroloman (the guy who had been coaching for less than a year) took more responsibility in coaching the hitters, while Vitello stepped to the side, technically "sharing" the job with Jeroloman but also focusing much more on his new primary job, head recruiter for TCU.

These roles stayed the same in 2013, with Vitello visibly absent at times from games and Jeroloman working 100% with the hitters.

This history, and foundation of understanding, leads to my primary point: It is my belief that Jim Schlossnagle has had three chances to make his staff right since the Whitting departure, but hasn't been able to do so. To take it a step further: In my opinion, the best thing for TCU would be to have Vitello take a pitching coach job/head coaching job elsewhere, let Jeroloman go, and bring in a true hitting/position coach along side Saarloos and Schloss. Before you go off, let me explain.

The NCAA limits baseball coaching staffs to one head coach, two full-time assistants, and one volunteer assistant coach.

Thus, in my belief, there is no room at all for one coach to be a "full-time recruiter".

Don't get me wrong, Tony Vitello is a very, very good recruiter... Some of the best talent TCU has seen, including the excellent 2011, 2012, 2013 and still forming 2014 classes were his production. He has a very bright future ahead of him as a coach and recruiter, and I hate the idea of having him recruit players away from TCU.

But, you just can't have a full-time recruiter on staff... That burden has to be shared amongst the three primary paid coaches. Just like you can't have the burden of hitting coach left to a volunteer assistant with no coaching experience.

The other option would be to let Saarloos go and move Vitello to full-time pitching coach, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if this was a truly feasible option, it would have happened already, and Kirk Saarloos wouldn't be here.

Who is on my list to replace Vitello? Mike Martin Jr. (Florida State), Todd Butler (Arkansas), and Dan Fitzgerald (DBU). Might as well aim high, right?

But, none of this is going to happen (other than Jeroloman not coming back). It won't happen until Schloss is ready to take a more active role in recruiting again, and none of it will happen because doing this would require letting go one of the best recruiters in the nation. (As the saying goes, there are no simple solutions to a complex problem, there will always be collateral damage)

I think it is now arguable now (hadn't been in previous years, but is now) that the staff is an impediment to continued success at TCU, but I'm not holding my breath. I absolutely, 100% still believe in the leadership of Jim Schlossnagle, I still believe he knows in his heart what needs to happen. But, as I said before, we have had multiple opportunities to get things right since the departure of Todd Whitting, and so far we are 0 - 3 in my book.

THE PLAYERS

(The following is my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views or reality of any member of the TCU Baseball organization)

Odell_medium

(You know, at least he said, "With all due respect...", because that makes it better)

I have a standard rule: When an athlete is enrolled at TCU, they get a certain amount of leash from me. Limited direct criticism focused only on performance, and no intrusion into a players personal life. An example of this: Not releasing why three players were dismissed from TCU midseason in 2012.

But, for this one occasion, I have to break my rule... In my mind, when a player goes out of his way to reach out to the public and say something, he loses his protection, he took the risk, he has to live with the consequences.

I look at this roster, and I see talent. The majority of it is on the pitching staff, but there are some real gem position players as well. Witte has always produced at third, Hendrix has tons of tools, Cron has loads of potential, Odell has some tools and Featherston-like moxy... There is something there.

But, in 2013, there were exceptions to each of these rules.

Witte has talent, but refused to truly lead, and instead decided to be everybody's friend (can't fault the guy, not everyone is made to be a scream in your face leader).

Hendrix has tools, but the coaching staff didn't trust him in the field until a quarter of the way through the season...

Cron still has potential, but there is literally something blinding him from achieving it... Seudo-ego? Lack of coaching? Regardless, the man can't see a breaking ball to save his life.

And finally, Derek Odell... He is Taylor Featherston-lite, in that he has 100% the attitude of T-Bird, half the range, half the glove, and 75% of the hit tool and potential.

Regarding the direct message I received: That was after saying I didn't think Odell would get back on 2B full-time now that Hendrix was there (he didn't), and no I did not respond to his message. What would I have said?

(And besides, who cares? I am sure he doesn't actually want me dead... And to that end, there was a hilarious encounter in Manhattan, Kansas this year, when my fiance and I were stopping for ice cream after dinner and ran into a group of 5-6 players doing the same thing. Everyone recognized each other, but there was no point in making a scene... Kudos to those young men on keeping their cool and not deciding to be Mr. Hot Shot, I was impressed.)

There are many, many, many other stories just like this one that could be shared, but what is the point? The point I would like to make is simple: We are dealing with young adult males, who don't always make good decisions and often make the wrong ones, it isn't just Odell and Odell isn't the first and won't be the last bad-attitude to ever take the field at Lupton.

There is a fine line you walk when building a contender: You have to balance leaders, talent, head cases and all the rest in a delicate mixture that produces and reaches, as a group, its maximum potential... A major problem this year was that clearly, this team, was a bad mixture.

You don't always have a Holaday, but you always need a leader. You will NEVER have no head cases, but at a certain point, when the bad attitudes are the plurality and there is no leader to focus them or, if needed, put them in their place, you aren't going to see much success, regardless of the sport.

Derek Odell has potential, scouts see him as a infielder but also as a potential catcher at the next level. To that end, Boston was willing to offer Odell major money (six figures) after drafting him in the 42nd round (2011) to explore exactly this possibility.

But, regardless of the potential, sometimes treating the cancer doesn't work. Sometimes, the hard decision has to be made, and you just have to cut bait and run. To be clear, I don't necessarily want to see Odell go, but I do want to see these guys grow up, I do want to see a different approach to the game (no longer a child's game). If he can do that as a Horned Frog, I want him in purple, simple as that. If he can't?

I don't know what is going to happen with the returning players (sans Mitchell and Seidenberger, more on that next week), I doubt any will be told to find a new pasture. But, if you are putting together a winning formula on paper right now, I don't know how you don't address the current personnel issue in the same way you would every other aspect of your program.

There are many, many other issues we could address... But, these three items stick out most clearly to me, as I am sure they do to most fans who watched this team flounder all year long. Being smarter about your schedule, getting your staff balanced, and getting the right formula of players on your roster seem like simple changes, but there is no doubt they will be hard ones to make... Hopefully, for the team's sake, something is done so that 2014 is the year TCU gets back to business.

But hey, what do I know?

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