Iowa’s new baseball coach is no stranger to the diamonds of the Hawkeye state.
Rick Heller grew up in Iowa, played collegiately in Iowa and led two collegiate programs in the state to NCAA tourney berths before enjoying similar success at Indiana State.
“Rick knows the state of Iowa, and Iowa knows Rick,’’ director of athletics Gary Barta said Friday in a statement announcing Heller’s hire as the Hawkeyes new coach.
“His roots run deep, and he has earned the trust and respect of the baseball community in the state, as well as across the country. Coaching is a critical part of our ability to win championships. Rick is the right individual to lead our program."
A native of Eldon, Iowa, Heller has a career record of 692-563-4 in 26 years as a head coach at Upper Iowa, Northern Iowa and Indiana State.
Most recently, he led Indiana State to its first outright Missouri Valley Conference championship in school history in 2012 and guided the Sycamores to a 131-91 record during four seasons.
"He is a player’s coach," said Moline native Dakota Bacus, one of 12 Indiana State players to sign professional contracts during Heller’s tenure and pitching for Beloit in Midwest League.
“He’s a good teacher, a good motivator and he does a good job of preparing players for the next level both in baseball and in life. He doesn’t let you forget the academic side. He’s a good all-around coach."
Heller built that reputation at his college alma mater, Upper Iowa, where he was hired as the head coach in 1988 two years after graduation and where he built a 291-194-3 record over 12 seasons before being named as the head coach at Northern Iowa in 2000. He led the Peacocks to four NCAA Division III tourney berths, including a spot in the 1996 Division III College World Series.
At UNI, Heller’s teams won 270 games while earning the 2001 Missouri Valley Conference championship and an NCAA regional berth. He remained the coach there until the school dropped its program in 2009, landing at conference rival Indiana State.
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He directed the Sycamores to winning records in each of his four seasons and coached teams to the semifinals in the Missouri Valley tourney in three of the past four years. His most recent team finished 26-25.
Heller, who had four Iowa natives on his roster at Indiana State last season, welcomes the return to his home state.
“The opportunity to come back to the state and the challenge of turning the Iowa program into a championship-caliber team is something I’ve dreamed about," Heller said in a statement.
At Iowa, Heller replaces Jack Dahm whose contract was not renewed after his teams posted two winning seasons and a 235-302 record over 10 years. Then coaching at UNI, Heller was a candidate for the Iowa position at the time when Dahm was hired from Creighton.
Iowa won its last Big Ten title in baseball in 1990, which was also the last season the Hawkeyes appeared in the NCAA tourney.