Cedar Rapids, Iowa News, Sports, and Weather
IOWA CITY, Iowa Rick Heller promises a bright future for Iowa baseball.
Flanked by Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta, who promised his unwavering support for the baseball program, Heller vowed to quickly turn Iowa into a contender.
"There's no question we're going to get this thing going," Heller said Monday at a news conference introducing him as coach. "We are the University of Iowa, one of the best universities in America. If we can't get this thing done in baseball, there's something wrong.
"The future starts today, and the future is bright."
Heller was raised in Eldon and led two different college baseball programs in the state to national tournaments. He coached Upper Iowa for 12 seasons, then shifted to Northern Iowa for 10. When UNI dropped baseball in 2009, Heller took over at Indiana State for four seasons and guided the Sycamores to an NCAA tournament berth in 2012. He has a 692-563-4 overall record.
"We did the best we could with the resources we had, and we overachieved," Heller said. "I always said if I got to a place where they had a loaded gun, the philosophy will work even better. I think we proved that a little at Indiana State, and I think it will be even more significant here."
Heller was one of 80-plus candidates who applied to replace Jack Dahm, whose contract was not renewed after 10 years as head coach. Iowa's seven-member search committee, who was led by associate athletics director Fred Mims, cut the field to 10 candidates initially, then five or six finalists. Mims said four Major League Baseball general managers called and offered recommendations and input.
"All of them said the same thing," Mims said. "Iowa is a place ready to explode. You have great talent in the state. You just need to get it rolling. You're the only Division I institution in the state, They all thought very strongly we'd have great success here at the University of Iowa."
With Iowa's facilities lagging and salaries among the Big Ten's lowest, Barta had to step up his commitment to baseball. He said salaries for Heller and his assistants will shift to the Big Ten's upper half, and the program will have use of a new $15 million indoor facility in 2015. The department also is considering putting FieldTurf on Duane Banks Field and possibly building a new stadium in the western campus.
Barta said he spoke with two or three candidates late in the process but, "I only offered the job and it was accepted by Rick."
Heller said mining the state's prep baseball talent is crucial to any measure of long-term success.
"We have to take advantage of the good high school players that are here, keep them from leaving, close down the borders, get the kids we need," he said.
"I've had the knack of finding the right player for a long time."
The 50-day search showed Iowa baseball players that fans do care about the program, pitcher/left fielder Taylor Kaufman said.
"It's almost surprising a little bit that you hear forums and stuff on the Internet," Kaufman said. "Last year just judging by our crowd size, you would have been completely shocked. You'd think we didn't have any followers but obviously we have.
"I think that with Coach Heller being in here and sparking a little bit of energy, not only with the team but everybody else in the state of Iowa, it's going to bring a lot of passion back."