OU introduced Pete Hughes as its new baseball coach Thursday afternoon, and the best part of the day was Larry Cochell dropping by to welcome Hughes. A program that had been fractured perhaps began to heal.
Cochell and Enos Semore, two coaching cornerstones of Sooner baseball, had remained distant from the program during Sunny Golloway’s tenure as head coach. Cochell, fired in 2005 for racially-insensitive remarks (think Paula Deen), was perhaps bitter or perhaps felt awkward or perhaps felt both. He had slipped into the ballpark a few times to watch a game but hadn’t appeared for any kind of public function. Semore (and his generation of players) were angry with Golloway because they blamed him for Cochell’s firing of Ray Hayward as pitching coach in 2004, when Golloway was Cochell’s assistant.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione called both Cochell and Semore, on short notice, to invite them to Hughes’ introduction. Joe C. didn’t reach Semore, but he did reach Cochell. And Cochell came.
“What an honor to meet someone so accomplished,” said Hughes, who said all the right things with his thick Yankee accent. “I was glad to see him here.”
Hughes talked of trying to reach out to all the former players and bring them into the fold, though he expressed no great knowledge of the rift of recent years.
It was a good day for OU baseball. I’m not crazy about Hughes’ resume. Except for two years at Trinity University in San Antonio in the late’ 90s, Hughes has been an East Coast guy his entire life. Grew up in New York, played at Davidson College in North Carolina, head coach at Boston College and Virginia Tech. To win at OU, a coach must recruit Oklahoma, Texas and, if necessary, California. Plus, he didn’t win big at either BC or Virginia Tech.
But Hughes answered all those concerns as well as a guy could. He said recruiting is about hard work and relationships. Said if someone demands Oklahoma/Texas recruiting connections, he still has recruiting connections in Austin, Dallas and Houston, where in his two years at Trinity he drove to those cities the weeks after signing day and recruited players for his non-scholarship university. And as far as lack of success at BC and VPI, a source (not Hughes) told me he had three baseball scholarships at Boston College (the limit is 11.7).
So Hughes absolutely deserves the benefit of the doubt. It was just good to see a no-nonsense guy take the job. I’m actually one of Golloway’s supporters — it will be hard for anyone to match his record of three Super Regionals in the last four years. That’s the baseball equivalent of the Sweet 16. Kelvin Sampson never went to three Sweet 16′s in a four-year span. Neither did Eddie Sutton. So Golloway did a fantastic job building up the program.
But it always drama over something. Coaching feuds. Player unrest. Something. I’m not blaming Golloway for all of it, and while some of it was serious stuff, some of it was just silly. It was a spirit of nonsense. Hughes appeared to be no-nonsense. That’s just what OU needed. Not necessarily an OU guy. A Semore or Cochell guy. Not even a big winner. The first priority for Castiglione should have been a no-nonsense guy. That doesn’t mean a strict disciplinarian. Just no nonsense.
That’s what Hughes appears to be, and Cochell stepping back into the fold just a little made it even better.