These are interesting times for the baseball programs at Oregon and Oregon State.
Both schools are shopping for new coaches. The Ducks have a chance for a fresh start. The Beavers are debating whether to stay in-house or look outside.
Depending on what they decide, this rivalry will feel a little or a lot different next season. Pat Casey and George Horton were the faces of this series for a decade. Two baseball men, both College World Series champions, totally different in temperament and style.
Feels like the Ducks and Beavers are at a crossroads, no?
Right in the middle of that is Andrew Checketts. He’s the coach at UC Santa Barbara, a West Linn High graduate, an Oregon State alum and a former Oregon assistant. He should be at or near the top of Oregon’s list, and if the Beavers look outside, he’d be a logical candidate in Corvallis, too.
The buzz in baseball circles is that Checketts may have his pick of a couple jobs — he’s on USC’s list as well — and the other pieces will fall into place from there. Which brings up an interesting question: If you’re a coach with a choice between Oregon and Oregon State, which is the more appealing job?
“If Pat Casey’s not the coach at Oregon State,” one Pac-12 source told me, “I think Oregon could be a very attractive job.”
The Beavers have tradition and Casey’s three national titles. They’ve got a rabid college baseball fan base and a great stadium. They also have a nearly impossible standard for the next coach to manage.
That becomes even trickier if the next coach is an outside hire. Pitching coach Nate Yeskie and interim coach Pat Bailey, both longtime Casey assistants, want the job. Bypassing both could create an awkward situation, especially with Casey still on campus as a senior associate athletic director.
Oregon is a different story. The Ducks have great facilities and manageable expectations. The new coach will have to win over the fans, but there’s a precedent for Duck fans supporting winning baseball.
Also, and this is important, the new coach won’t have to compete against Casey. Of all the factors that conspired against Horton, losing 12 of his last 14 games against the Beavers certainly didn’t help.
Oregon’s next coach will come in with a clean slate. That’s not necessarily the case at OSU. Former players have come out in support of Yeskie, who’s been the Beavers’ pitching coach since 2009. He’s a popular figure in Corvallis, and he’s probably due for a promotion.
Athletic director Scott Barnes surely knows the risks of hiring an outsider. Get it wrong, and Beaver fans will never forget the slight to Casey’s legacy. You’ve got to be convinced the new guy is going to win big, and I’m not sure there’s an outside candidate who offers that kind of certainty.
The Ducks, meanwhile, have the freedom to roll the dice. They haven’t been to the postseason in four years, so a new coach could score points just by getting Oregon to an NCAA regional.
The question looming over both of these searches is what will become of college baseball in this state post-Pat Casey. Does it fizzle out? Does it evolve into something new? Is there room for both the Ducks and Beavers to win big?
Coaches say they’ve seen an uptick in the quality of baseball talent available in the Pacific Northwest. By one count, 37 players with Northwest ties were drafted this year. With the right recruiting approach, Oregon and Oregon State could challenge the notion that there aren’t enough players to go around.
Finding power hitters remains the biggest challenge. It’s said that coaches in other parts of the country can sign power guys, but in the Pac-12 you’ve got to develop them. Oregon’s struggle to do that was one of the big frustrations of Horton’s tenure.
With the right coaches, there’s an opportunity for Oregon and Oregon State to kick their rivalry up a notch. There’s also the risk of a baseball recession. The only certainty is that, when the Ducks and Beavers take the field next year, it’ll be a new day for college baseball in the state of Oregon.
We’ll see which one comes out of this ahead.