Stan­ford couldn’t pry away Ba­kich

New UM deal has coach as­pir­ing to achieve sta­tus of school leg­ends Beren­son, Hutchins

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY TONY PAUL The Detroit News tpaul@de­troit­news.com twit­ter.com/tony­paul1984

Erik Ba­kich owed it to him­self to at least lis­ten when the phone rang shortly af­ter Michi­gan’s base­ball sea­son ended in the NCAA Re­gion­als.

And in re­gard to Stan­ford, look­ing to re­place its leg­endary, re­tir­ing coach, Ba­kich did have dis­cus­sions.

He never had talks with South Carolina, how­ever, even though that had been widely and falsely re­ported.

“The dis­cus­sions I al­ways wanted to have were with Michi­gan,” Ba­kich said ear­lier this week. “And ob­vi­ously, I’m re­ally, re­ally thank­ful that those dis­cus­sions took place. I get to keep coach­ing here.

“My fam­ily couldn’t be hap­pier.”

Ba­kich, 39, said thanks but no thanks to Stan­ford, an­nounced June 14 he was stay­ing in Ann Ar­bor, ac­cepted the five-year ex­ten­sion ath­letic di­rec­tor Warde Manuel had wait­ing for him on the ta­ble — and then hit the re­cruit­ing trail. The new deal keeps Ba­kich un­der con­tract through the 2022 sea­son, am­ple time to keep build­ing on a pro­gram he’s taken to the NCAA Tour­na­ment in two of the last three sea­sons.

The task will be tall, as it al­ways is at a north­ern school — but es­pe­cially now, es­pe­cially with Michi­gan, which this month saw a pro­gram-record 11 play­ers taken in a sin­gle Ma­jor League Base­ball Draft. All 11 signed, in­clud­ing seven ju­niors, plus two top recruits. Most of his start­ing ro­ta­tion from 2017 is gone, in­clud­ing left-handed ace Oliver Jaskie (sixth round, Seat­tle Mariners) — as is pitch­ing coach Sean Kenny, who took the same job with Ge­or­gia.

It’s a dou­ble-edged sword. That’s a mas­sive loss of tal­ent, to be sure, but also a sign of the times for the pro­gram.

Not that Ba­kich is pat­ting him­self on the back. Not even close.

“We have far from made it,” Ba­kich said, the day af­ter Florida beat LSU to win the Col­lege World Se­ries. “If I need to re­fresh your mem­ory, we lost our last four games. If we were still play­ing last night, I would say we’re get­ting closer.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re climb­ing. We’re climb­ing the moun­tain.”

And he has the re­cruit­ing class to con­tinue the as­cen­sion, in­clud­ing Portage Cen­tral righthander Jeff Criswell, a draft pick of the Tigers this month.

There’s also lots of of­fense re­turn­ing, in­clud­ing sopho­more in­fielder Ako Thomas, who led the Big Ten in bat­ting av­er­age (.363) and on-base per­cent­age (.472), de­spite miss­ing three weeks with a bro­ken bone in his left hand.

Thomas ac­knowl­edged the tal­ent among the de­par­tures, but is thrilled one man is stay­ing put — Ba­kich.

“I love the coach­ing staff, they pretty much taught me ev­ery­thing I know,” said Thomas, a Chicago na­tive who com­mit­ted to Ba­kich and Michi­gan as a sopho­more in high school, turn­ing away the likes of Iowa, Kansas and Cen­tral Michi­gan. “I would’ve been pretty hurt if they had left. I knew in their heart they wanted to stay here.

“The pro­gram is on the rise right now.”

Ba­kich ar­rived in Ann Ar­bor in 2012, af­ter a four-year run as Mary­land’s head coach. And the Wolver­ines were com­ing off back-to-back los­ing sea­sons for the first time since the mid-1990s, and hadn’t been to the NCAA Tour­na­ment since 2008. Ba­kich was 29-27 in Year 1, 30-29 in Year 2, and fi­nally had a break­through in Year 3, go­ing 39-25, win­ning the Big Ten tour­na­ment and mak­ing the NCAA Tour­na­ment.

In five sea­sons, Ba­kich hasn’t had a los­ing sea­son, and had his best, record-wise, this past year at 42-17, even if it ended in dis­ap­point­ment, with no wins in the Big Ten tour­na­ment or the NCAA Re­gion­als.

That left a bit­ter taste, but pro­vides mo­ti­va­tion, too.

“I do think this is a pro­gram that can be a peren­nial con­tender for a cham­pi­onship in the Big Ten, as well as ad­vanc­ing through the post­sea­son,” he said.

And that’s what kept him at Michi­gan, even if Stan­ford has the richer history, with two na­tional cham­pi­onships to its credit, plus 12 NCAA ap­pear­ances this decade.

Ba­kich looks around at Michi­gan, and sees his peer in soft­ball, Carol Hutchins, whom he doesn’t re­ally con­sider his peer — be­cause she’s had such a leg­endary ca­reer, on the job since 1985, with a na­tional cham­pi­onship on her re­sume.

And he also sees Red Beren­son, who ar­rived on the job a year be­fore Hutchins, and who just re­tired as hockey coach — also with a na­tional cham­pi­onship.

That’s what Ba­kich wants, to some­day be in their strato­sphere.

If and when that hap­pens, he wants it to be at Michi­gan. And he pledged as much this month.

Lon Horwedel/Spe­cial to Detroit News

Michi­gan coach Erik Ba­kich has taken the Wolver­ines to the NCAA Tour­na­ment two of the past three sea­sons.

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