The College Baseball Blog recently had a chance to talk to Dan Hartleb of Illinois. He is entering his fourth season with the Fighting Illini after spending 15 years as an assistant coach at Illinois under Richard “Itch” Jones. Coach Hartleb talks about his expectations for the 2009 squad and some of the hottest topics in College Baseball today.
1. Illinois is coming off a 31-25 campaign while going 16-15 in the Big Ten. What are your expectations for the 2009 season?
Our goals and expectations are to continue to improve our overall record as well as to continue to climb to the top of the Big Ten Conference.
2. Kevin Manson and Aaron Martin are entering the 2009 season as your top two starters. Who do you expect to fill the third spot in the rotation?
I think it’s too early to tell which pitchers will fit into starting roles and into the important bullpen roles. However, I’m excited about the depth and the improvement in our pitching staff and I feel like we have quality arms to fill all the roles.
3. Illinois return five out of their nine position starters from the 2008 season. Who do you expect to fill the four holes in the lineup?
We have some fierce competition going on at multiple positions. I feel good about the young athletes as well as some of the role players we had in our program last year. Our staff feels as though we have the right people in our program to step in for the highly productive players that left our lineup through the draft and graduation.
4. Have any of your incoming freshmen impressed you during Fall Workouts? Do you see any of them breaking into the starting lineup/rotation this season?
As a group, this has been the most impressive freshman class since I’ve been at Illinois. I’m very confident that many of these young players will play important roles as the year progresses. I think that several of the players in that class can be consistent starters and others will play important roles as they continue to develop their skills.
5. What is your opinion the Big Ten switching from four game weekend series to the traditional three game sets played in most conferences?
Strictly from a baseball standpoint, I’m excited about the switch to three nine-inning games. My only apprehension is the fact that we would play two nine-inning games in a given day with weather-related issues. I’m excited that each series will end with a team who won the series. This will also give us the opportunity to play more teams outside the conference and give us the ability to raise our RPI as a league.
6. 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 really like the common start date. It’s been interesting to listen to feedback from across the country. Many of the Sun Belt schools have had to deal with the same compaction issues that the Northern schools have dealt with for many years. I think it’s been an important step in leveling the playing field, however, there are still other areas that need to be adjusted to further enhance the level playing field at the collegiate level.
7. 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 have preferred to have flexibility to give any percentage of a scholarship. We have had many great players at the University of Illinois that came in with minimal scholarship money and eventually earned solid scholarships. I think you will see programs that recruit ethically have depth issues from time to time. My preference would have been to stick with percentages that weren’t monitored while keeping the cap on the number of players on scholarship. The major issue still haunting college baseball is the inequity caused by schools over-recruiting and over-signing student-athletes.
8. 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?
I think at the University of Illinois, we’ve always recruited responsibly. I think student-athletes need to do their homework with regard to recruiting class size and history of programs that force players out on a regular basis. I would hope that coaches would continually recruit ethically and that student-athletes, parents and high school coaches would gain information and an awareness of recruiting practices throughout the country.
9. Final question, who has been your biggest influence on your coaching philosophy or career?
Richard “itch” Jones has been the most influential person on my entire career. Having the opportunity to play for Itch and coach with him for 17 years has been invaluable. He has treated my family and me like members of his own family and continues to give me great baseball insight to this day. I’m one of the very fortunate few that have been touched by such a great person and mentor. I would not have had the opportunities nor be in the position that I’m in without his guidance.
The College Baseball Blog would like to thank Dan for taking some time out of his day to talk with us about his 2009 squad. Special thanks to Benjamin Taylor of Illinois Media Relations for setting up the interview and sending us the picture of Coach Hartleb. If any more coaches or SID’s are interested in doing a similar interview feel free to email us by clicking here.