The College Baseball Blog continues our series of interviews with various head coaches around the nation. We recently had a chance to talk with Jim Toman of Liberty University. He is currently entering his second season with the Flames after spending the last 11 years on Ray Tanner’s staff. He spent seven years previously under Tanner at NC State. He had a successful first season with the Flames which saw him lead the team to the Big South Championship game. He talks about his expectations for the 2009 squad and some of the interesting rule changes over the last couple of years.
1. The Liberty Flames are coming off a 35-26-1 overall record while going 14-7 in the Big South conference. Liberty ended up losing in the Big South Championship game to Coastal Carolina thus not getting a bid into the NCAA Tournament. What are you expectations for the 2009 campaign?
We have 18 new players so it will take a while to figure out the roles but we expect to be at the top of the conference and expect to battle for an NCAA berth.
2. There is a lot of competition for starting spots in the starting lineup this year as Liberty only returns two everyday players. Who do you expect to fill all these openings?
Errol Hollinger will be back as the starting catcher and is a Brook Wallace Watch List member. We expect him to be a good senior draft pick. Cody Brown will move from third to first to make room for freshman Tyler Bream (former major leaguer Sid Bream’s son). Matt Williams is another freshman that will play shortstop from day one. He had a great fall. P.J. Jimenez is a junior college transfer from Arizona Western and will play second. Sophomore Jeff Jefferson was All Big South Tournament and also a Valley League All-star last summer. He will play left field. Centerfield will be manned by Junior College transfer Curran Redal. He was the MVP of the NWAACC last year and right field will be JUCO All-American Casey brown from Bakersfield CC in California.
3. Dustin Umberger is your top returning pitcher but you lose your top three starting pitchers and your pitching coach Scott Jackson who left for North Carolina. Do you expect any incoming freshmen to step right into the rotation or fill the spots with veterans?
We were fortunate in that although we lost Scott Jackson to UNC, we were able to hire a very good pitching coach in Garrett Quinn from Stetson, who was also at the University of Florida under Andy Lopez. Our rotation looks like Umberger, Steven Evans, who beat a very good hitting team in William and Mary last year as well as beating Coastal Caroling in the Big South tourney. Junior College RHP Mark Swanson went 11-1 at Young Harris JC last year and appears to be a rotation guy. Junior LHP Shawn Teufel has made the transition from first base to pitching, and will get a chance as a starter. Freshman Chris McDougal looked good in the fall as did Junior College RHP Carter Browning from Eastern Oklahoma JC. Junior LHP/CF Curran Redal and junior college transfer Zane Bator 1B/RHP also had productive falls. Veterans Andrew Wilson and Tyler Light will also pitch quite a bit.
4. Ryan Page and David Stokes both made the jump to Minor League Baseball after last season. Who do you expect will be the top players on your 2009 squad?
I believe Hollinger, Umberger and Wilson have a chance to be drafted along with a few juniors like Teufel and Swanson. We expect Evans to make a jump this year.
5. Last season we saw the implementation of the Uniform Start Date. What are your early impressions on it? Did you think it has leveled the playing field?
I like the uniform start date, but would prefer an extra week at the beginning and end of the season. That would give us a little more time to set the schedule, get our pitchers the proper rest and not miss so many classes in the middle of the week.
6. How will the new rules with the way the scholarships can be split on the team affect your program? Do you think it is a good change for college baseball?
I would prefer we be able to give players any amount. I would also favor a 40 man roster and no limit to the number of players on baseball monies.
7. With the removal of the one-time transfer exemption that allowed student-athletes to change schools once without having to sit out a red-shirt year, do you feel that there is more pressure on a coach to recruit with responsibility or for the student-athlete to be aware of what programs are the best fit for them?
Yes–it is very difficult to hit the 27 scholarship limit right on the head and it is also difficult to know exactly who your 35 will be. The rule hurts the student-athletes more than anything and really hurts the walk-ons chances.
8. What is your toughest challenge in dealing with young men from 18-23?
Getting them to play as hard as I would like them to.
9. Final question, who has been your biggest influence on your coaching philosophy or career?
Ray Tanner Head Coach at South Carolina. I learned how to run a clean program with honesty, integrity and learned how to treat people the right way.
The College Baseball Blog would like to thank Jim Toman for taking some time out of his day to answer some questions about his program. Special thanks goes to Liberty’s Associate Athletics Communications Director Ryan Bomberger who set up the interview for us and sent us the picture of Coach Toman.