From the perspective of new coach Rick Heller, success for an Iowa baseball program that hasn’t won a Big Ten championship since 1990 must start close to home.
“We have to do a better job of getting the right kids in state and getting those right kids to stay at home,’’ Heller said Monday following an appearance at the Davenport Grid Club.
“It’s always been attractive for Iowa kids to either go South (and play at the collegiate level at warm-weather schools) or to sign professionally, but for us to compete in the Big Ten we need the right kids to want to stay home and want to be part of our program.’’
Heller said those “right kids’’ are players who fit within the team structure Heller built in leading teams at Upper Iowa, Northern Iowa and most recently, Indiana State, to NCAA post-season berths.
“The right kid might not always be the one with the biggest stats,'' Heller said. "What I’ve found at every place I’ve been is that it takes players who care more about winning than about their own stats. With selfish players, you have no chance.’’
With only three seniors on the current roster, Heller’s recruiting emphasis is geared toward 2015, when 17 Iowa players will complete their eligibility.
The only remaining NCAA Division I program in the state after Heller-led Northern Iowa dropped its program in 2009, the Hawkeyes have finished with a winning record just twice in the past 17 seasons.
Heller was hired in mid-July to turn that around and in the weeks since he has been working to build a foundation, beginning with hiring two assistants who like himself are also natives of the state, pitching coach Scott Brickman and hitting coaching Marty Sutherland.
“The Big Ten has changed a great deal in baseball in the past four, five years and we have to change with it,’’ said Heller, an Eldon, Iowa, native.
He points to a Purdue program that qualified and hosted NCAA regional finals in 2012 and an Indiana program which reached the College World Series this year as examples of change within the league.
“Five years ago, they were at the same level Iowa was at then and is at now,’’ Heller said.
He views a commitment both on the part of personnel within the program and from the university in terms of facilities as necessities to turn things around.
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From current players, Heller wants a commitment to change the culture and expectations of the program, saying they will provide the foundation for future success.
He expects the coaching staff to commit itself to developing players on the roster.
And, Heller said the university must commit to improved facilities.
A new FieldTurf infield will be installed at Duane Banks Field beginning Friday and Heller hopes next summer an artificial surface will cover the rest of the facility.
He would also like a new stadium structure to be in place within five years. His preference is for that facility to be built at the site of the current stadium on the main campus, adjacent to Iowa’s new indoor football practice facility.
“Our facilities haven’t changed much in the past 20 years and we have fallen behind those at virtually every other Big Ten institution,’’ Heller said. “We have some catching up to do and the university understands that. It is all part of the equation.’’