Vol baseball is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It plays in the toughest conference in college baseball (six of the current top ten teams in America come from the SEC). The team had a winning record this season but it was an unimpressive 29-28. Head coach Dave Serrano has made considerable improvements to the program since his debut in 2012, but progress appears to have stalled in the last two seasons.
So, where do the Diamond Vols go from here?
It’s a difficult question that athletic director Dave Hart will soon have to answer. Serrano’s five-year contract is up for renewal and Hart can either show him the door or give him one more shot. After watching Tuesday night’s heartbreaking loss to LSU, it would be easy to snap and get rid of Serrano. His overall record stands at 130-138 and his record in-conference is an abysmal 48-100. Those are not ideal numbers but they’re arguably better than Serrano’s predecessor, Todd Raleigh, who never even advanced to the SEC Tournament in his four years as head coach. Coming in, Serrano had a gleaming resume that included two College World Series appearances at two different schools, but that success has not translated to his stint in Knoxville.
In 2014, UT looked to be on an upswing when they finished with a 31-23 record and had top talent returning. But, Serrano’s insistence on playing small ball has never truly worked in the SEC and the Vols eventually took considerable steps back in 2015 and 2016. To boot, nine players are either graduating or leaving early for the MLB from UT’s current squad, which does not bode well for the 2017 season.
And it’s not that Tennessee baseball cannot be good. Under long-time coach Rod Delmonico, the Vols won three straight SEC Tournament titles from 1993 to 1995 and made appearances in the College World Series in 2001 and 2005. Also, when UT is, at the very least, competitive, fan engagement has been historically solid. Currently, it’s difficult to give away Tennessee baseball tickets.
Thus, now the question is, should Tennessee tear it all down? Should they start with a new coach, get a fresh roster, and play a different style of baseball that might work better against SEC opponents? Or, should they stick with Serrano for consistency’s sake and hope he improves because he has actually given the program a small boost during his time in the dugout?
UT’s athletic administration has given no indication as to which path it will take, but, one thing is certain: something needs to change. With low attendance at home games, an SEC that is better than it has perhaps ever been, and significant player attrition, Serrano either needs to significantly change his ways or Tennessee needs to find a new baseball coach.
There is no simple solution to this problem, and Dave Hart, who has already been scrutinized for some of his past choices, has the unenviable task of deciding where to take the program going forward.
So, good luck, Mr. Hart. It looks like you’re going to need it.