By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — No matter what, Oklahoma did something to boost its baseball attendance Thursday. A few minutes after Pete Hughes was introduced as the Sooners’ next baseball coach, he pointed to his wife, Debby, and five children.
“We’ve got six more right here,” he said. “We’ll start there.”
Hughes’ hiring ended a two-week search to replace Sunny Golloway, who left for Auburn June 14 after eight full seasons in OU’s dugout.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione never said exactly what he was looking for in Golloway’s replacement. What he found might not have been what everybody expected.
Instead of hiring the hot young coach with a proven track record with ties to the area or a coach with roots in the program, Castiglione chose someone with a proven track record of building programs outside of typical baseball hotbeds and one who speaks with a thick New England accent.
“His work ethic is unquestionable. Many of the people that we talked to throughout baseball always listed that among his greatest characteristics,” Castiglione said. “Also … a tireless recruiter, a great motivator, a charismatic leader, a superb teacher of the game of baseball, and one that invests himself in the lives of his family. First, his own family, as well as his extended family, those players that he coaches.”
Hughes comes to OU after guiding Virginia Tech for seven seasons. The Hokies went 222-174 during that run. It was a case of program building. Virginia Tech hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in a decade until Hughes guided the Hokies to a 40-win season and their first ACC winning record in 2010.
This past season Virginia Tech went 40-22, reached the championship game of the ACC tournament and hosted an NCAA regional for the first time.
The team that ended Virginia Tech’s season was the Sooners. Having a knowledge of OU’s roster helped raise Hughes’ interest in the job.
“I saw a ton of young positional players, I saw some good young arms … I saw a team that was fundamentally sound, that played hard and was talented,” he said. “I really like what we have returning.”
Before Virginia Tech, Hughes led Boston College’s program for eight seasons. Prior to that, he led Division III Trinity, in San Antonio, for two seasons. He still has the Texas contacts he developed at Trinity, though Hughes admitted he’s become accustomed to being “a stranger in a strange land.”
“It’s a matter of getting out there and hustling and communicating with people and making yourself accessible,” Hughes said, adding “families and people that trust you with their sons, if they believe in the (coach) and they respect their work, that’s how you recruit.”
His first recruiting job will be keeping the current roster and recruiting class together. Outfielder Craig Aikin was the only player at Thursday’s press conference. He drove up from his home in Texas.
“I had a feeling in my gut it would happen soon,” Aikin said. “I hoped it would be and I wanted to be here for it. I wanted to be here to make an impression … and be here to kind of represent the team.”
Most college baseball players go home for the summer and play for local teams or travel to play in wood-bat leagues as far away as Alaska or Cape Cod.
The remaining members of OU’s coaching staff — pitching coach/recruiting coordinator Jack Giese, assistant coach Aric Thomas, volunteer assistant Rich Hills and operations director Ryan Gaines — attended Thursday’s press conference. None of them will be joining Golloway at Auburn.
“I’m going to attract the top coaching staff that I possibly can that’s Omaha-worthy,” Hughes said. “I will certainly pay attention to the staff that I inherited. Their track record speaks for itself. There will be no stone unturned.”
His pitching coach at Virginia Tech, Patrick Mason, was announced as the Hokies’ new coach Thursday.
Hughes, 45, suffered a heart attack shortly after a season-ending loss to OU earlier this month. Castiglione said the issue was addressed during the hiring process. Hughes addressed it Thursday.
“I thought I had something caught in my chest from dinner and it stayed for an extended period of time. I drove myself to the hospital. I’d had a heart attack,” he said. “I had 99 percent blockage in my main artery. The doctor (called it) in front of my wife, ‘The widowmaker.’ We got past that.
“We got a stent put in. Where I was 99 percent blocked, I’m 100 percent wide open now. I feel great. I feel very fortunate. There’s no damage to my heart. I’m 45 years old and in pretty good shape with bad genetic history. Now we can stay on top of it.”
Hughes hopes he can raise the level of OU baseball. It won’t be easy.
The program averaged more than 40 wins a season, played in four NCAA super regionals and reached the 2010 College World Series under Golloway.
“I really believe that this program is built to go to Omaha every year,” Hughes said, “and built to win a national championship.”
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