Let's cut right to the chase -- Iowa probably isn't going to replace Jack Dahm as head coach.
Hearing that Jack Dahm will return as the Iowa baseball coach for at least one more season, but a new deal hasn't been finalized yet.— Pat Harty (@PatHarty) May 24, 2012
But should they be looking at replacing Dahm?
The Big Ten Baseball Tournament is going on right now. We would have mentioned it earlier, but, well, Iowa isn't in it. Which is nothing new -- they've been in only 3 of the last 9 Big Ten Baseball Tournaments. (Unlike the Big Ten Tournaments in other sports, the baseball version takes only the top-six finishing teams each year.) Iowa did manage to end the season on something of a high note -- they won their final two games and took a three-game series over the Big Ten regular season champions, Purdue. (Suck it, OMHR.) Unfortunately, that was only the second series they had won all season in conference play (they also took the opening series of B1G play, against Northwestern). They went 10-14 in league play, finishing ninth overall (only Michigan, 8-16, and Northwestern, 6-18) were worse than Iowa).
They last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1990. But, okay, it's tough to get to the NCAA Tournament in baseball, especially for a northern team. What about the Big Ten Tournament? Three appearances since that 1990 run -- 2002, 2005, and 2010. On the bright side, two of those appearance have come with Dahm in charge. On the not-so-bright side, well, that's a lot of years without appearances. Especially since until this year, the Big Ten had just ten teams (Wisconsin long ago allocated their baseball budget for more brats) which meant 60% of the teams made it into the tournament. Most of the time, Iowa couldn't even manage that.
Of course, you can also argue that they're not that far away, either -- just two more wins this season and they would have made the Big Ten Tournament as the sixth seed. There have been several other "almost got 'im" seasons recently, too. Iowa's not a bottom-feeder in the Big Ten (which is nice), but they're also not much of an achiever (which is not nice).
Wins and tournament appearances aside, there are also positives to look at re: Dahm's tenure. He consistently has one of the highest graduation rates among Big Ten program (they are student athletes, right?) and his players are active in community service and rarely appear on the police blotter. By many accounts he's also an excellent fund raiser and he's done a great deal to keep the baseball program afloat and not overly dependent on the athletic department's largesse. He also seems to be a good recruiter, judging by the high marks his classes receive from experts year in and year out (although those rankings often don't reflect that Iowa seems to lose a few high school prospects a year to the MLB draft).
And yet we can't really just put the wins and tournament appearances (or rather, the lack thereof) aside, can we? That's still a pretty vital part of the equation when judging a head coach's success and Dahm doesn't measure up too well there. For his career, Dahm is now 212-275 at Iowa with just three Big Ten Tournament appearances to his credit. There was that magical, improbable run through the Big Ten Tournament in 2010 where they came thisclose to making the NCAA Tournament, but other than that significant runs of success have been few and far between for Iowa baseball under Dahm.
To be sure, Iowa has disadvantages: being a midwestern team automatically sets up several obstacles for them in college baseball. Being in a small-population state doesn't help. And yet... Iowa has no other competition within the state of Iowa at this level; Iowa State long ago sacrificed their baseball team on the Title IX altar and UNI recently gave up the ghost themselves. Not to mention the fact that other midwestern teams have been able to thrive (relatively speaking) in college baseball despite the same cold weather and small-population handicaps that Iowa operates under -- just look at Wichita State or our new conference neighbor Nebraska. What are they doing right that Iowa isn't? What can we learn from them?
I don't expect Iowa to ever become a powerhouse in baseball -- there are too many factors working against them for that to seem plausible. But couldn't they be better than they are? Couldn't they make the Big Ten Tournament at least 50% of the time? Couldn't they pull everything together once in a great while and have an exciting, NCAA Tournament-worthy season like (spits on ground) Purdue is doing this season? Is that so much to ask of the program?
If it's not, how does Iowa baseball get to that point? Can Dahm move Iowa up another rung or two on the ladder? We have nine years of evidence now that says "ehh... probably not." We hoped that the 2010 run might springboard Iowa to greater success -- nope. We've waited for the recruitnik-approved recruiting classes to pay off in greater win totals -- nope. Has Dahm taken this program as far as he can take it?
On the other hand, we also need to consider what we want out of the Iowa baseball program. In terms of fan interest, it's no better than fourth among men's sports at Iowa -- and it's a pretty distant fourth (behind football, men's basketball, and wrestling). How much do we really care whether or not we have a winning baseball program? Are we just happy to have a baseball program, period? Do we not even care whether or not Iowa has baseball at all?
For my part, it seems like Dahm is a really nice guy, but it's depressing to watch Iowa baseball toil away in mediocrity (which might be a charitable assessment). I would love to get excited about an Iowa baseball team and write reams about them. But it's hard to do that when the product on the field is so uninspiring. Fandom isn't just a one-way street -- the team needs to give me a reason to get my hope up, a reason to get invested in them, a reason to give a damn.
What about you? What do you think about Jack Dahm's tenure as Iowa baseball coach? Or about the Iowa baseball program in general? Feel free to lob some knowledge grenades at me in the comments.