We're approaching a month since Jack Dahm was let go as Iowa's head baseball coach (or, more specifically, didn't have his contract renewed), but there have been very little updates about the progress of Iowa's coaching search. Admittedly, this is not terribly surprising, given that baseball is not exactly a marquee sport at Iowa. But still, what is the progress of the Iowa coaching search? Who's on the shortlist to replace Dahm?
Fortunately for us, even if no one is setting up FlightAware searches to track candidates for this job, there are sources that are a bit more plugged into the college baseball scene -- namely Kendall Rogers, a columnist for Perfect Game, a website specializing in coverage of high school and college baseball. Take it away, Mr. Rogers.
So who are we talking about here?
Rardin would be Marc Rardin, the current head coach at Iowa Western. Rardin has built an absolute JUCO powerhouse at Iowa Western. In his 11 years at Iowa Western, Rardin has won over 500 games, participated in 7 Junior College World Series, won 8 Regional Titles, 7 Northern District Titles, and, last but certainly not least, won a pair of Junior College World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. Admittedly, JUCO success does not necessarily translate to DI success, but his success is still eye-opening, especially considering that the JUCO baseball landscape appears to be skewed to the West and South just as much as the DI baseball landscape.
Rardin is also an Iowa native (he grew up outside Lamont, IA) and attended college at Indian Hills Community College and Iowa Wesleyan and given his position at Iowa Western, he's probably every bit as well-versed in the talent in Iowa (and neighboring states) as any other candidate Iowa could find. On the other hand, Rardin has precious little experience coaching in DI baseball outside of a 2-year stint as a volunteer coach at Baylor. Of course, "head baseball coach at Iowa" is not exactly a job that highly-qualified candidates with significant amounts of DI experience are going to be beating down the door for -- Iowa's not likely to find a replacement for Dahm that's going to check off every box on our wishlist.
Heller would be Rick Heller, the current head coach at Indiana State. Heller has been the head coach at Indiana States for 4 years, leading them to winning seasons in every season and an overall record of 131-91 with the Sycamores. He's never won a Missouri Valley conference title at Indiana State (the closest he's come are three appearances in the conference tournament semifinals), but he has led the Sycamores to their longest stretch of above-.500 finishes in 20 years.
Like Rardin, Heller also has state-of-Iowa ties. He was a former coach at Upper Iowa University (where he also played), a DII school, and he also served as the head coach at UNI. He won 270 games at UNI and took the Panthers into the NCAA Regionals in one particularly heady year (2001). While his DI experience has come exclusively at Missouri Valley schools, the gulf in competition between the Valley and the Big Ten is nowhere near as deep in baseball as it is in football.
Jeff Duncan is the associate head coach at Purdue and recently helped lead the Boilermakers to a Big Ten title and NCAA Regional berth in 2012. Duncan's specialty is in improving hitting and he's had a dramatic impact on the Boilermakers' bats in his time there -- they set several single-season hitting records during his first season in West Lafayette (2010) and they had a lethal offense during their B1G-winning season in 2012. Prior to landing in West Lafayette, Duncan coached at Auburn. He spent most of his playing days at Arizona State and, for what it's worth, carved out a reasonably solid career as a professional player as well -- 9 years with the Mets, Padres, Blue Jays, and Dodgers organizations, including six seasons at AAA or higher and two seasons with the Mets. Like Heller and Rardin, he also has some Iowa ties -- while he spent most of his collegiate playing career at Arizona State, he spent his freshman season at Iowa State. He's also originally from Frankfort, Illinois, so he has some ties to the general area.
One name not mentioned by Rogers, but who seems worth considering is Mike Clement, the current hitting coach at Kansas State. Clement arrived at Kansas State last summer from Texas A&M, so he has significant first-hand experience of what it takes to win in DI college baseball. (Kansas State won the Big XII this year and advanced to the Super Regional round, while several of the A&M teams he served on also made the NCAA Tournament.) Given his experience in Aggieland, he should also have some pretty solid Texas recruiting ties, which certainly couldn't hurt. Like most of the names above, Clement also has Iowa ties -- and his might even be better than most. His father is a long-serving high school coach at Marshalltown (where his teams won three state titles) and he played college ball at Kirkwood and Morningside. Like Duncan, Clement lacks head coaching experience, but here again I would reiterate that Iowa is highly unlikely to get a proverbial home run hire for this job (pun intended -- sorry).
There's going to be a blemish on every candidate's record, whether it's a lack of DI coaching experience, a lack of recruiting ties to the sport's hotbeds, or a lack of head coaching experience. (Of course, this is also true for candidates in sports where Iowa has an actual track record of success; Kirk Ferentz came to Iowa as a former offensive line coach at the college and pro level and a failed head coach at Maine, while Fran McCaffery had no head coaching experience at the high-major level.) The key is finding someone whose pros outweigh his cons and who can lean on the stuff he's good at while improving the areas he's deficient at. As for who that might be... I'm not sure. But it might be one of the guys listed above.