Coach Of The Year: Texas Tech’s Tim TadlockAwards
Only the best coaches can take over a program and become a true visionary, leading that program to heights they’ve never experienced before.
Texas Tech’s Tim Tadlock is one of those transformative coaches.
Tadlock, 49, and the 2018 D1Baseball National Coach of the Year, played for Texas Tech. He was on the first 40-win team in school history. He also starred as a junior college coach in Texas at prestigious Grayson (Texas) CC before moving on to Oklahoma and eventually landing with the Red Raiders. During those years away from Lubbock, he sat back and watched from afar as the Red Raiders consistently had quality clubs under long-time head coach Larry Hays.
Those teams were successful, but something was missing. The Red Raiders needed to get over the hump as a program. They needed to get to Omaha.
That drive and that message has fueled the Texas Tech skipper through the most successful period in program history. Before his arrival, the Red Raiders had never reached the hallowed grounds of Omaha and the College World Series.
Six years later? Tadlock and his coaching staff have guided the program to three CWS appearances, while also changing expectations on the South Plains. No longer are Tech fans happy with making the NCAA postseason. More is expected for a reason, and that credit goes to Tadlock and his staff.
Tadlock has done some terrific coaching jobs in his six seasons, but perhaps none was more impactful and impressive than the one he did this season, guiding the program back to Omaha yet again, while tallying an impressive 45-20 overall record.
Expectations were at an all-time high as the Red Raiders prepared for the 2018 campaign. They had a lofty preseason ranking and the stage was set to compete for a national title. Then, the Red Raiders got a rash of bad news.
All-American lefthander Steven Gingery went down with a season-ending injury. Erikson Lanning, another potential weekend starter, went down with a season-ending injury, and injuries to highly touted freshman Clayton Beeter and sophomore righthander Jake McDonald only seemed to exasperate Tadlock and the Red Raiders. Somehow, they weren’t deterred.
As tough as it might have been throughout the spring, the Red Raiders picked up the pieces and did big things when it mattered most. Down the stretch of the Big 12 regular season campaign, the Red Raiders lost a home series to Texas and played a rough brand of baseball in a series loss at TCU. But they finished the regular season with a bang, sweeping Oklahoma State on the road to knock the Cowboys out of the conference title, while also putting all their ducks in a row for a strong NCAA tournament run. They were where they needed to be to meet expectations.
Some call it the usual ‘Tadlock Magic’.
“You know, after Selection Monday this year, I congratulated him on hearing our name called. I never want to take that for granted, and I never want to lose that perspective, but expectations have certainly changed at Texas Tech. Now, anything but a trip to Omaha is considered a disappointment,” Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said. “You can’t lose sight of the transformation he has led us through. We weren’t playing the best baseball the second half of the Big 12, but to make it to Omaha shows how impressive these guys are.
“I call it the Tadlock Magic,” Hocutt continued. “It’s just incremental efficiency. An incremental advantage. In those moments, you need those two things, and he’s got it. I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen a team this loyal, or a staff this loyal, to their head coach. But they were to Tim.”
Kirby Hocutt had just passed the one-year mark from his arrival to Lubbock from Miami, and he was tasked with a difficult decision about the baseball program.
Dan Spencer was hired to turn the program around after the 2008 season, but for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. The Red Raiders hired Tadlock as the associate head coach prior to the 2012 campaign. That season, the Raiders went 29-26 overall, 7-17 in the Big 12 and failed to make the conference tournament.
Hocutt knew something had to be done.
Would he look outside of Lubbock for the next coach? Conventional wisdom suggested yes. But when Hocutt went to meet with Texas Tech’s players following Spencer’s removal, several players, particularly pitcher Duke von Schamann, spoke up.
Hocutt was well aware of Tadlock’s successful background. The Tech athletic director, himself, is from Sherman, Texas, home of Grayson CC, and just miles from Tadlock’s hometown of Denton, Texas. So, he knew Tadlock was a home run for Grayson. He also had heard plenty of good things about Tadlock from his time at Oklahoma, even though he and Tadlock didn’t officially cross paths while the two were employed by the Sooners.
Like any good athletic director, Hocutt listened while von Schamann and other Red Raiders players spoke in favor of Tadlock. Then, he became convinced of one thing: Tim Tadlock needed to be the next head coach of the Red Raiders.
“We knew that Tim could have the same kind of impact at Tech that he did at Oklahoma, and we wanted that. But things just didn’t work out in 2012, so we made a move. We had the talent — I think we had seven or eight guys drafted from the team — but something was missing,” he said. “So, I’m sitting there talking to the players and Duke von Schamann stands up in front of all of his teammates and says ‘You’ve got the guy right here for the job’.
“For a pitcher to stand up and say that about a coach just stuck with me in addition to everything I knew about Tim’s background. So, what we needed to do became pretty obvious to me,” he continued. “He was the best fit for Texas Tech. Not only was he a proven winner at every step of the way in his career, he played for us and he bled Red and Black. Everything about the situation was unorthodox and unique, but I knew the man, and I knew he was a leader. It’s amazing how quickly things have happened under Tim’s leadership.
J-Bob Thomas remembers the first time he met Tim Tadlock.
Thomas now serves as one of the nation’s premier assistants and recruiters and has been by Tadlock’s side during his tenure with the Red Raiders. But his interactions with Tadlock began as a high school player.
Thomas vividly remembers his high school interactions with Tadlock. He was recruited by Tadlock at Grayson, while also strongly considering Howard (Texas) College at the same time. Thomas visited Howard toward the end of his high school career and loved the visit. He waited for Tadlock and Grayson’s phone call, but it didn’t come for a couple of weeks, so he committed to Howard.
Late in Thomas’ freshman season at Howard, he had a good game against Tadlock’s Grayson club, and as the two teams walked off the field, he approached Tadlock.
“I’ll never forget it. I went over to shake his hand, and I remember telling him if he had me, he’d have two more rings on his finger,” Thomas recalls. “I think he looked at me like “dammit”.
“Flipping forward in life, I’m coming out of Abilene Christian and he’s still at Grayson. He says I want you to come coach for me at Grayson. A week later, I think, he goes to Oklahoma and I go to Howard. Literally, as soon as I got to Howard, we talked once or twice a day for seven years. It was that often,” he continued. “As soon as he got the job at Texas Tech, he called me up and asked me if I was ready to do this. I had always wanted to be like him, so it was a no brainer.
“I packed up a big duffle bag and I don’t think I went back to Big Spring, Texas, for three months. I lived at Tadlock’s house when I first arrived at Tech,” he continued. “I’ll never forget going through the process of getting that job. I was telling him I want to be your guy, but you might want to go find someone else who has been through these rigors. He just told me he didn’t care about that, and said he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.”
Thomas remembers other terrific stories from his early days with Tadlock at Texas Tech.
As Tadlock, and especially Thomas, looked to make an early imprint on the recruiting scene with the Red Raiders, the young assistant spent much of the first few months on the job on the recruiting trail. In essence, he didn’t have much time to take care of any business in Lubbock. Not even his salary.
Well, that was until he got a phone call from Tadlock after about a month straight on the road.
“I think I had been gone for a solid month, and he calls me one day in kind of a panic and says ‘Hey, man, you got to get over to the HR people’. So, I go back to Lubbock and it’s me, Tadlock and the HR lady. I give her my date of birth, social security number and things like that, and then she asks me what my salary is,” Thomas said. “I said I didn’t really know. She was confused. She just said ‘I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but how in the world did you go work for someone and not once talk about salary?
“I just told her it didn’t really matter, I wanted to coach with him that bad,” Thomas continued. “Tadlock looked over at me, said a number, and I think I said you got it before he could even finish saying it.”
That loyalty and those relationships Tadlock has built have carried over to the rest of the team, and has helped Tech become one of the nation’s best programs over the past six seasons.
The rise of Texas Tech’s program under Tadlock has many heroes.
These days, some might not remember Cam Smith, but they should. Smith was Tadlock’s first commitment after he was named head coach.
Fast forward to 2014, and Smith was in the limelight in the biggest moment of the season. Texas Tech was in the Coral Gables Regional and had started the tournament 2-0. However, Miami beat the Red Raiders 2-1 in 10 innings to force a second championship game, and the Raiders, like anyone in that situation, were running a little low on pitching.
Smith had missed the entire weekend to that point because of arm soreness, but with the season on the line, he approached Tadlock. He wanted the ball — no questions asked.
“We had a righty up in the pen warming up before the game, and Cam just walks over to Coach Tadlock and tells him he wants the ball. Tadlock told him no. After all, his arm had been barking at him a little bit, but Cam said he was pitching, no questions asked, and everyone got kind of quiet,” Thomas said. “Cam’s first inning was a little rough, but he went out there and threw a complete game, four-hitter and we won.
“Going back to junior college, the players just love playing for him. It’s really baseball at its finest. It’s not a bunch of X’s and O’s. He lets kids play with freedom and they play with that freedom,” he continued. “He says this adage all the time ‘this should be as easy as me telling you to go turn out that light, or turn that light on’. He always says he has to trust you that much.”
That trust and his approach has allowed the Red Raiders to ascend to a place few in Lubbock thought was possible.
Tadlock has had some terrific teams, but Texas Tech has had better teams on paper. The Red Raiders were a beast in the late 1990s and won 46, 44 and 42 games, respectively, in 1997, ’98 and ’99. Those teams didn’t advance past the regional round. And until Tadlock arrived, that feeling of heartache in the postseason became entirely too familiar for Tech fans.
Everything is different now.
“You look at some of those guys that were on those 1990s teams and you’re thinking no way did they not get there [to Omaha]. Those teams had some great players. But that’s the magic of pitching and defense,” former Texas Tech player and the College Baseball Foundation’s Mike Gustafson said. “He’s recruited very well and he’s a great cultural fit at Texas Tech. There wasn’t a lot of drama within the program when he took over and he made his mark pretty early. He stabilized things for Tech pretty quick.
“Tadlock and the staff gained a lot of momentum from that 2014 trip to Omaha, and I give them a lot of credit for building on that. They’ve now been to Omaha three times in six years,” he continued. “It’s definitely a little crazy, but the expectations now come as a result of going to Omaha three times.”
Tadlock’s vision and his success at Texas Tech has been one of the better stories in college baseball over the past few seasons, and the fact he’s a Tech guy through and through makes it even more special.
It also leads us to one more Tadlock story.
Remember that Coral Gables Regional the Red Raiders won back in 2014? With College of Charleston upsetting Florida in the Gainesville Regional, Tech hosted its first super regional in program history against College of Charleston. It was a huge accomplishment, and it was the moment Tech, and Tadlock, had been waiting so long for.
Before the opener against College of Charleston, Mother Nature attempted to throw a wrench into Texas Tech’s parade. But the skies eventually cleared and Texas Tech took infield. Fans splashed in Red and Black and with Double T’s on their hats serenaded the players with chants of ‘Raider!’ ‘Power!’, and Thomas remembers noticing something peculiar about Tadlock’s attitude while hitting the fungo.
“We’re in the super out there against C of C, and he’s hitting in and out with the fungo. It’s so loud in that place that the stands are vibrating, and every time he swings the bat, I see tears rolling down his face,” Thomas said. “As we walked back into the dugout, I asked him if he was doing good.
“He just looked at me and said ‘Hell yes, I’m good’,” he continued. “Then he said ‘What’s better than this? I went to school here, I was on the first team to win 40 games here and I met my wife here. They believed in me enough to be here and we’re about to go to Omaha’. It’s worth mentioning all of this happened before we had even won the first game, much less two.”
Tadlock already has reached legendary status in Lubbock, but he’s not finished.
His vision calls for more.