KNOXVILLE — Needing to rescue its lowly baseball program from the bottom of the Southeastern Conference, Tennessee went out and hired a proven winner.
UT named Cal State Fullerton's Dave Serrano as Raleigh's replacement on Wednesday after he made the trip east for an interview. The school will introduce its 24th baseball coach at a news conference at 2 p.m. this afternoon.
The Volunteers hadn't reached the postseason in four years under Todd Raleigh, so they nabbed a coach who's been there in 16 of his 17 years in Division I and reached the College World Series, the sport's pinnacle, twice in the past five years with two different schools.
“After an overwhelming 24 hours of events, I have made the decision to leave a great program at Cal State Fullerton to take on the challenge of returning the University of Tennessee to a spot among the nation's elite,” the 46-year-old Serrano said in a university statement.
“While this decision was not an easy one, it makes it a little easier to say yes when you have an entire family completely in support for you. We hope to be proud and active members of the Knoxville community and will work hard to give Volunteer fans a baseball team that they can cheer on for years to come.”
One of just 11 coaches to take two schools to the CWS, Serrano led the four-time national champion Titans to the CWS in 2009, two years after taking California-Irvine to Omaha. In his seven seasons as a head coach, Serrano has won more than two-thirds of his games and averaged 41 wins per season.
“Dave is a proven winner and is a perfect fit as the head baseball coach at the University of Tennessee,” UT interim athletic director Joan Cronan said. “He has taken two programs to the College World Series as a head coach, and we are confident that he is the right coach to lead our program to national prominence.”
It won't be Serrano's first stop at UT. He was an assistant coach for UT for two seasons (1995-96), when current Major Leaguers Todd Helton and R.A. Dickey helped the Vols to 97 wins and the 1995 College World Series.
UT reached Omaha two more times (2001 and 2005) in the next decade under Rod Delmonico, who was fired after the 2007 season. The Vols struggled under Raleigh, who was fired in May after UT missed the eight-team SEC tournament in each of his four seasons.
The Vols won just seven league games this season, and Raleigh was just 42-78 in four years in the SEC, a league that's stacked with great baseball programs. Florida, Vanderbilt and defending-champion South Carolina — three teams from UT's division alone — clinched CWS berths last weekend.
“I have known him as a player, an assistant coach and competitively as an opposing head coach,” Oregon coach George Horton said in UT's release. “I think the world of him, not only as a baseball coach, but as a businessman and a people person.
“From the chair I sit in, Tennessee's search has been a very successful venture and will be putting a coach in a position to make a significant impact for the sport of baseball at that university. The SEC is already a great league and the addition of Dave only makes it even more competitive. He is simply one of the brightest young minds in college baseball.”
According to the Orange County Register, Serrano's salary at CSF was $140,244 not including equipment compensation and performance bonuses. When UT fired Raleigh, the school paid more than $330,000 for the final year of his contract.
Four area players signed with UT last fall: Polk County outfielder Jared Allen, McMinn County pitcher/outfielder Drew Masingale, Meigs County outfielder Jake Rowland and Walker Valley pitcher Brandon Zajac, who was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 28th round (842nd overall) of the MLB draft last week.
All four told the Times Free Press last week they hadn't been contacted by UT since Raleigh was fired on May 23.
“I've heard the news,” Allen said Wednesday afternoon. “I'm glad that they got somebody named pretty quick. It's good to know you can talk to someone you know is going to be your coach. [Going to UT] is something to look forward to. I'm sure I'll get a phone call in the next day or two after the press conference.”
Allen, the Best of Preps male and all-area player of the year, said he will enroll in July for the second semester of summer classes. Nashville's Mookie Betts, who was selected by Boston in the fifth round, was UT's highest drafted signee.
South Carolina assistant coach Chad Holbrook interviewed for the job on Tuesday, according to a statement the school released on Sunday. Holbrook, however, withdrew his name from consideration earlier Wednesday.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...