Former Arizona Wildcat and newly hired baseball head coach Chip Hale has plenty of experience coaching at the professional level.
Hale spent the last 15 years coaching in the MLB, including a stint as the manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2015-16 and a World Series championship as an assistant coach with the Washington Nationals in 2019.
Hale also has plenty of experience as a player at both the college and Major League level, having set Arizona’s all-time record for games played, hits and total bases during his time in Tucson from 1984-87 before playing seven seasons in the MLB with the Minnesota Twins (1989–90, 1993–96) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (1997).
Although Hale’s impressive list of baseball experience runs incredibly deep, his resume of coaching at the NCAA level is a short one. In fact, it’s nonexistent.
The upcoming 2021-22 season will be Hale’s first season as a college head coach, a job that he has never had but dreamt of his entire life.
“My dream job was always to coach the University of Arizona and I've dreamt about this for years and years and years,” Hale said at his introductory press conference on Wednesday, July 7. “We live here in Tucson, this is our community. I've lived here for over 30 years now. I grew up in California, but this is my home. … I finally got to come home.”
Not long after former head coach Jay Johnson left for LSU, Hale texted athletic director Dave Heeke after the position opened up and expressed his interest in the head coaching job.
Hale, who was still with the Detroit Tigers as the third-base coach, had a conversation with Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. Following the discussion, Hinch knew he wouldn’t have one of his assistant coaches around for much longer.
“We were walking up the stairs at [Comerica Park] and A.J. Hinch tapped me on the back of the shoulder and said ‘Am I going to lose another coach?’" Hale said. "I had to be honest with him, I said ‘I did text the athletic director and told them that I've had a lot of interest,’ and he goes, ‘I’m going to lose you.'”
Oddly enough, Hale isn’t the only coach returning to the college game with extensive Major League experience as the NCAA has seen a recent surge in MLB coaches flocking to the college level. Former player Willie Bloomquist was recently hired at Arizona State while former MLB manager Eric Wedge was named the head coach at Wichita State in 2019.
“There's a number of guys that want to do this; it's just hard. These are hard jobs,” Hale said on coaching in the NCAA. “I also think they love what I love, and that's mentoring kids and making them major league players because, unfortunately, it gets tougher as you go. … I think a lot of us who've done professional baseball for a long time really want to take that challenge.”
Part of that challenge of coaching at the college level is staying aggressive on the recruiting trail. Hale has already emphasized and begun doing just that his first week as head coach — thanks, in part, to longtime assistant coach and newly appointed Arizona pitching coach Dave Lawn.
“[Lawn] and I have been working the phones, parents of kids coming in and talking to players, and they've been fantastic,” Hale said. “[Lawn] has done yeoman's work since [Jay Johnson] left of keeping this thing together. I'm gonna tell you that right now, he is responsible for everything that's going on right now. I'm getting in there and learning, but I mean, he's calling me at 10 o'clock at night, ‘we got to call his parents,’ you know, and he's on it.”
Hale admitted that he has no prior experience on the recruiting trail but has come up with a way to counteract that potential weakness.
“I'm hiring people who have done [recruiting] for years, and I'm going to learn from them, and we're going to get after it,” Hale said. “It's about relationships, and kids want to come play with a coach.”
Hale also fuels his passion to grow as a coach through his mentor and longtime friend Jerry Kindall, who coached Hale during his time as a player in Tucson. Hale said he still keeps a saved voicemail on his phone from Kindall that was sent to him a month before he passed away to forever honor and remember their friendship.
“Unfortunately, I wasn't able to call back before he [passed away] but he would tell me that you're prepared for this and to jump into it with passion that you played with, that you coached at the pro level,” Hale said. “Everything we do here in Arizona is going to be above board just like coach was, as you know.”
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