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Analysis: What’s next for FSU baseball

The Florida State baseball team will be led by a coach not named Mike Martin for the first time since 1979. Athletics director Michael Alford made a commitment to a national search but one that could very well lead him to a familiar name in Link Jarrett, who is Notre Dame’s coach and was Mike Martin Jr.’s roommate at FSU.

After talking with a few people close to the program as well as gathering some national perspective, here are some answers to questions as FSU begins the search for its next coach.

Who are the top candidates?

There is a feeling Alford is seeking a big name to be Florida State’s next coach. Alford played baseball at Mississippi State (including for coaching legend Ron Polk) and UAB, so his knowledge of the sport and connections to coaches and athletics directors are invaluable when researching, gathering opinions and making a decision.

The hunt for a big name would likely eliminate some candidates with connections to FSU, such as former Noles like Mike Bell (FSU pitcher from 1994-95, FSU pitching coach from 2012-16, Pitt’s head coach since 2018), James Ramsey (FSU outfielder from 2009-12, Georgia Tech assistant coach since 2019) and Chris Hart (played at FSU from 1999-2003, NC State assistant coach for 18 seasons). Some longtime MLB coaches, like the Kansas City Royals’ Pedro Grifol, are potential options if Alford values pro experience.

If you’re looking at names outside the program, some that Alford could consider include a man he hired at Central Michigan. Jordan Bischel has gone 143-57 in four seasons at CMU, reaching regionals in 2019, ’21 and ’22. East Carolina’s Cliff Godwin and Duke’s Chris Pollard are others who could be evaluated.

Hiring Jarrett, 50, makes the most sense and he’s a familiar face to an FSU fan base, which should make reconnecting (not to mention fundraising) easier. He played at Florida High, back when the K-12 school’s campus was on FSU’s campus, and then for FSU from 1991-94. Jarrett earned All-ACC and All-American honors before playing five seasons of minor league ball in the Colorado Rockies’ organization. From 1999-2012, Jarrett was an assistant coach (including a year at FSU and aa few in Auburn) before taking over at UNC Greensboro in 2013 as head coach. (He was hired by Kim Record, who was a longtime FSU administrator during Dave Hart’s time in Tallahassee.)

Jarrett’s teams at Notre Dame went 11-2 in the shortened 2020 season, followed by 34-13 in 2021 and 40-15-15 this spring. The Fighting Irish upset No. 1 seed Tennessee on Sunday in the Super Regionals to reach the College World Series.

“I mentioned it (to the team),” Jarrett told media in Knoxville after Friday’s game. “I said, ‘I love you guys. We’re here to win this. I’m not talking about this coaching stuff. I’m talking about Notre Dame and the University of Tennessee,’ and that goes in here, too. There are distractions. That’s a unique one, and I wanted them to know that because it is out there.

“I have no idea what’s going on down there. That coach was my roommate and a good friend of mine. My focus is 100 percent on this and this team and trying to find a way to win one of these last two games. That’s it.”

Why is Jarrett a top choice?

Link Jarrett’s teams are known for playing fundamentally good baseball. (photo courtesy Notre Dame)

When asked about Jarrett, similar comments are made. His attention to detail is noted often. His demeanor is calm and quiet, which may blend in well with FSU players who are more used to a fiery coach like Martin Jr.

The Seminoles were fundamentally flawed in the field, on the basepaths and often were inconsistent at the plate. Jarrett’s track record is one of building teams with strong fundamentals. Notre Dame has six players hitting over .292 with a .378 on-base percentage. Another number that jumps out? Notre Dame has just 40 errors in 54 games with a .980 fielding percentage (FSU had 73 errors and a .966 fielding percentage in 59 games in 2022).

Why would he leave Notre Dame? 

Last summer, Jarrett signed an extension with Notre Dame through 2026. He’s clearly happy there. As a private school, it’s unknown what he is paid annually. One challenge for Notre Dame is how it has been viewed on the national level, and the school has been on the borderline to host a Super Regional the last two seasons but has been passed over both times. In 2022, ND was paired up with No. 1 national seed Tennessee. This Notre Dame team is also full of seniors and grad students, so the timing for Jarrett to jump to FSU would be favorable. Frank Eck Stadium in South Bend also seats only 2,500 (less than half of Dick Howser Stadium).

How fast will FSU’s job search move?

One source said: “The hiring will happen fast.” FSU’s late-season slump — a sweep at North Carolina, a 1-1 mark in the ACC Tournament and then a 1-2 showing in the Auburn regional — certainly added urgency to the evaluation process, which likely began two years ago when Alford left the CMU athletics director job to become President and CEO at Seminole Boosters. Even before Alford became FSU’s AD, he had taken an interest in the Seminoles’ baseball program, meeting with Martin Jr. and others to assess facility needs for a capital campaign to renovate Dick Howser Stadium.

While losing six of the past eight games certainly didn’t help Martin’s cause, sources tell us Alford’s decision was based on the team’s development over three years and not based on its performance the last three weeks.

In the interim, it’s not clear who is running the program but FSU has not made an announcement about pitching coach Jimmy Belanger or assistant coach / recruiting coordinator Mike Metcalf.

Why does search, hire need to be made fast?

Left-hander Ross Dunn opted to enter the transfer portal a few days after the season ended, the most notable potential departure (it’s possible Dunn could opt to return). There are a large number of draft-eligible players, with three of them competing at the MLB’s combine (LHP Parker Messick, LHP Bryce Hubbart and 2B Brett Roberts). It’s unlikely FSU would be able to retain Messick or Hubbart, but an infielder like Roberts may find it appealing to play for Jarrett and see how his career further develops.

A majority of the veterans will participate in summer wood-bat leagues, including the prestigious Cape Cod League. Dunn and Wyatt Crowell will participate in the Collegiate National team’s camp. The MLB draft will be held July 17-19 and teams are mindful of “signability” as they have the chance to negotiate with players, parents and advisors ahead of making a selection and negotiating a signing bonus. If the goal is to retain underclassmen as well as make draft-eligible prospects consider coming back for 2023, and it should for the Seminoles, a quick hire of a big-name coach could sway players.

How much will the new coach earn?

Martin Jr. signed a four-year deal at a discount in June 2019. He earned $425,000 in the 2022 season — considerably below the Power 5 average of $623,000. The SEC average is approximately $1 million. Clemson also dismissed coach Monte Lee in May. FSU and Clemson have the most attractive openings in the nation. 

FSU athletics and the boosters will be on the hook for Martin Jr.’s salary ($450,000) in 2023. It’s very possible FSU administrators will need to offer Jarrett (or the next coach) a five-year deal at roughly double what Martin Jr. was being paid plus incentives and a commitment to upgrade Howser Stadium. Alford is committed to long-term upgrades at Howser, including premium seating that will bring in more revenue and could offset the increased salaries for a head coach and his assistants.

Osceola publisher Jerry Kutz contributed