Tommy Harmon

The Longhorns open the 2013 season Friday night against the Sacramento State Hornets. Texas returns three infielders from last year and is bolstered by two junior college transfers.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Texas hit .263 as a team last year. The last time the Longhorns posted a team batting average that low, Tommy Harmon was a college freshman.

Harmon did his part for Texas that season, hitting .307 as the team’s starting catcher in 1968, when the Longhorns hit .244 as a team. James Street, the same man who led the school’s football team to a national championship in 1969, went 9-4 with a 1.86 ERA, leading a pitching staff that carried the Longhorns to their fourth straight Southwest Conference title.

After 23 years as an assistant coach, Harmon was replaced last year by another former Longhorn, 34-year-old Tommy Nicholson. Texas opens its season with a three-game series against Sacramento State, the school Nicholson left to return to the 40 Acres.

Texas wasn’t able to overcome its offensive struggles last season, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Parker French and Nathan Thornhill return to lead a Longhorns pitching staff that is good enough to get them to Omaha. But the Texas hitters have to do their part.

The Longhorns have three returning starters from last year’s infield, and yet only one of them may start — at a different position. When head coach Augie Garrido fills out his lineup card, he could have junior college transfer Madison Carter at third base, freshman C.J. Hinojosa at shortstop, junior Erich Weiss at second base and another junior college transfer, 6-foot-6 Codey McElroy, at first base.

“My idea of an RBI guy is a guy that can get a single with runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth when you’re a run behind,” Garrido said. “He’s going to get a slider. Can he hit it? Can he hit a single up the middle? If he can, we win the game. If he can’t, we don’t win the game. That’s what Madison can do.”

Weiss, the team’s leading hitter each of the last two years, started at third base as a freshman and sophomore but will return to the position he played for three years as a high schooler in Brenham. He’ll be playing at a position that Brooks Marlow started 51 games at last year.

“Brooks Marlow is a front-line player,” Garrido said. “It isn’t against the rules to have depth. We could have used some of that in the past, but since it is in the past we can stop whining about it.”

Depth in their lineup will be something the Longhorns will need to improve from last year’s 30-22 disappointment. And to do that, Texas has to be more productive with its bats in 2013. If the Longhorns do indeed have more offensive weapons, they’ve got a chance to do some special things. If not, it could be another long year.

Published on February 15, 2013 as "UT cultivates infield depth in offseason".

Longhorns hire new hitting coach

After declining to renew Tommy Harmon's contract, Texas announced on Friday that former volunteer assistant coach Tommy Nicholson has been hired as new hitting coach and recruiting coordinator.

 

A three-year letterwinner at UT, Nicholson had previously served as an assistant at Sacramento State.

 

"Tommy will be our recruiting coordinator and is a very bright guy," said head coach Augie Garrido, whose Longhorns failed t o make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. "He will build a network on a national level as well as the state."

 

Finding, and nabbing high-profile players wasn't a problem for Harmon, but high selections kept many of those players from actually getting to campus. To wit: Dylan Bundy (4th overall), Blake Swihart (26th) and Josh Bell (61), among others, spurned the Longhorns for professional riches in 2011, decimating what was previously ranked as the top recruiting class in the nation.

 

The 11.7 scholarships allotted to teams in college baseball means each team must capitalize on each scholarship offered. If a player -- Josh Bell, for instance -- informs Texas in August of the coming school year that he'll be playing pro ball instead, the team is left scrambling.

 

Reinforcements -- other options, in case a signee forgoes college -- are in place, but by that late period in time, most have already signed with another school.

 

"He and [pitching coach] Skip Johnson will be dynamic recruiters," Garrido said.

 

When Harmon was at his best, it wasn't because he was signing the top kids in the state -- the Texas brand can do that on its own. It was when he was unearthing diamonds-in-the-rough, then developing them. Texas' best hitter the last two years, Erich Weiss, wasn't drafted out of Brenham High School but will likely be a first- or second-round pick in next summer's MLB Draft. Credit Harmon for that find.

 

Sacramento State hit .298 as a team last year. The Longhorns hit 263. Improvement would be welcomed in that regard. But Texas is never, with the exception of 2010, going to be a heavy-hitting team. Offensive philosophy falls under Garrido's hands, anyways.

 

What Texas needs Nicholson to be, most of all, is an ace recruiter.

 

Here's the full press release, courtesy of the UT Athletics department:

AUSTIN, Texas – Tommy Nicholson, a three-year letterwinner and former volunteer assistant coach with the Longhorns, has been named assistant baseball coach at The University of Texas, head coach Augie Garrido announced today. 


“I’m really excited to be able to put the Longhorn uniform on again,” said Nicholson. “I’m excited to come back to Austin, a city that I loved. I loved my time coaching and playing there and can’t wait to get back.”

Nicholson spent the last two seasons (2011-12) as an assistant coach at Sacramento State, serving as the team’s infield and hitting coach. In 2012, the Hornets batted .298 as a team with 30 home runs. Nicholson helped outfielder Rhys Hoskins earn freshman All-America honors this past season, as Hoskins hit .353 with 10 home runs, 44 runs scored and 53 RBI.

After compiling a 19-39 mark in 2011, Sacramento State improved its win total by 12 and registered a 31-28 record in 2012. Under Nicholson’s direction, the Hornets finished the 2012 season with a school single-season record .979 fielding percentage. Sacramento State committed just 47 errors in 59 games this past season. The 2011 squad finished with a .969 fielding mark, the third-best in school history.

“Tommy will be our recruiting coordinator and he is a very bright guy,” said Garrido. “He will quickly build a network on a national level as well as the state of Texas with (UT assistant coach) Skip (Johnson). The two of them will be dynamic recruiters. In addition to that, in one year at Sacramento State, he improved their batting average to .298 as the hitting coach. That was 50 points higher than the year before. Defensively, our fans should remember when he was here as the volunteer coach, our team in 2010 led the nation with a .980 fielding percentage. This year, his Sacramento State team finished tied for fifth nationally in fielding percentage. He has a magical touch everywhere he goes, and that’s been the case since his days in high school. He is a very unique person and one of the young coaching geniuses in this country.”

Prior to his stint at Sacramento State, Nicholson spent two seasons (2009-10) as a volunteer assistant coach at Texas where he worked with the infielders while serving as the first base coach for the Longhorns. The Longhorns posted a 50-16-1 mark and finished as runner-up at the College World Series in 2009, before registering a 50-13 record and advancing to NCAA Super Regional play in 2010. The Longhorns batted .286 in 2010 with 87 stolen bases and recorded a .980 fielding percentage, while the 2009 squad batted .288 as a team with 74 stolen bases and boasted a .976 fielding clip.

Nicholson was selected in the 11th round of the 2000 Major League Baseball draft by the Chicago White Sox. He reached the AAA level during his professional playing career from 2000-05 during his time with Chicago and the Colorado Rockies.

For his collegiate playing career, he missed only three starts as a second baseman during his three seasons (1998-2000) at Texas. Nicholson compiled a .327 career average at UT with 147 runs scored, 223 hits, 37 doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 114 RBI and 20 stolen bases. He was named the team’s most valuable player in 1999 and 2000.

Nicholson was an integral part of UT’s College World Series squad as a junior in 2000. He hit a team-best .500 (4-for-8) during CWS play in Omaha. He was named to the NCAA Tempe Regional All-Tournament team and ranked as the top fielding (.974) and hitting (.367) second baseman in the Big 12 Conference. Nicholson earned All-Big 12 First Team honors after batting .367 with 60 runs scored, 99 hits, 18 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 43 RBI and 12 stolen bases.
In 1999, Nicholson hit .315 with 55 runs, 73 hits, 14 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 42 RBI and seven stolen bases while earning All-Big 12 Honorable Mention recognition. As a freshman in 1998, he batted .282 with 32 runs, 51 hits, five doubles, one triple, three home runs and 29 RBI.

The Tommy Nicholson File
Full Name Thomas Blair Nicholson
Date of Birth August 23, 1979
Hometown Anaheim, Calif.
High School Esperanza
College Texas 2006

NCAA Tournament Experience

2010 Volunteer Assistant Coach Texas NCAA Austin Super Regional
2009 Volunteer Assistant Coach Texas College World Series

Previous Coaching Experience
2011-12 Assistant Coach Sacramento State
2009-10 Volunteer Assistant Coach Texas

College Playing Experience
1998-2000 Texas

Former Longhorn Tommy Nicholson returns to Texas as assistant head coach. Nicholson played under Texas head coach Augie Garrido from 1998-2000.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas baseball program is defined by success, pride and tradition, and very few know of or exemplify those points better than Tommy Nicholson.

At the end of June, Nicholson was named the new Texas assistant baseball coach to replace Tommy Harmon after Harmon’s 23-year tenure came to end after being fired.

“Right now, I can’t wait to get started,” Nicholson said. “I’m really excited to start coaching and get my feet on the ground. Austin and the baseball program here feel like home.”

Nicohlson, 32, is 31 years younger than Harmon, but has been around the game a long time.

Nicholson played at the 40 Acres for three years under current head coach Augie Garrido from 1998 to 2000. He was a three-year letterwinner that played second base, and was part of the program’s 27th appearance in the College World Series in Omaha in 2000.

After a brief period of playing professional baseball, Nicholson came back to Disch-Falk Field and spent two years as a volunteer assistant coach during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

He then spent the two most recent college baseball seasons (2011-2012) at Sacramento State, where he served as the team’s infield and hitting coach. Under Nicholson’s guidance, the Hornets finished the 2012 season with a single-season record .979 fielding percentage, and committed only 47 errors in 59 games.

Though he has had much success over the past two seasons, Nicholson still has much to build on in Harmon’s offense at Texas. The Longhorns have finished no better than seventh in batting in the Big 12 over the past four years, including finishing last in 2010.

“I can be tough when I need to be, and I can also be fun and energetic when I need to be, but I think every player is a little different, and so I hope to teach each of them differently to get the best out of them,” Nicholson said. “I hope each player can get better and reach their full potential at the plate.”

While Nicholson has made coaching leaps of his own, he also stated that he looks forward to working with Garrido again.

“I honestly can’t wait to be under his guidance again. He truly is the best in the game,” Nicholson said. “I learned a lot from him while I was under him as a player, and again as a volunteer assistant, and now I’m looking forward to learning more.”

Garrido welcomes back his former student, and believes he will bring much to the table, especially in the recruiting field.

“Tommy will be our recruiting coordinator and he is a very bright guy,” Garrido said. “He has a magical touch everywhere he goes, and that’s been the case since his days in high school. He is a very unique person and one of the young coaching geniuses in this country.”

Texas baseball let go one of its oldest members Wednesday afternoon when associate head coach Tommy Harmon’s contract was not renewed for the 2012-2013 season.

Serving as an assistant under both Cliff Gustafson and Augie Garrido for the past 23 years, Harmon was the longest-tenured coach on any Texas coaching staff.

Harmon played on the UT baseball team from 1968 until 1970, and helped Texas to nine total College World Series appearances as a coach, including two National Title victories.

In a statement released by the school, Garrido said of letting Harmon go, “This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make.”

The news came after the Longhorns failed to make the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 1998.

“I bleed orange and I wish the best for the student-athletes on the team,” Harmon said in UT’s statement.

Freshman Mark Payton reacts after a collision with Kent State’s first baseman in the Austin Regional. Payton was on the All-Regional Team.

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

This weekend’s Super Regional has been a long time coming for freshman right-fielder Mark Payton.

Payton gave an early verbal commitment the summer after his sophomore year of high school. It wasn’t too hard of a decision. After all, he wanted to play for a successful coach at a school with a rich baseball tradition and a history of sending players to the bigs.

He was headed to Arizona State.

A highly regarded outfielder from Chicago’s St. Rita of Cascia High School, Payton was set on being a Sun Devil until murmurs of potential allegations started to spread. Head coach Pat Murphy — who took Arizona State to the College World Series four times in his 15 years — was being accused of academic fraud, improper recruiting travel, improper use of nearby training facilities and violations concerning players working for Murphy’s nonprofit organization, according to a 2009 report by ESPN. Murphy’s contract was terminated without clause in November of 2009, the start of Payton’s senior year, after the NCAA informed Arizona State that it would be performing an investigation.

All the uncertainty led Payton to decommit from his dream school.

“They had some violations, broke a couple of rules. I didn’t decommit because the coach was leaving; there were just too many unknowns,” he said. “It hurt. But we thought Texas would be a better option.”

Payton had already signed a letter of intent to play for Arizona State. Once he got his letter of release, the Longhorns entered the picture.

“Texas never called me until I got my full-release letter, then we got in contact with [associate head coach] Tommy Harmon,” he said. “I came out here, took a visit, and committed.”

It was a major coup for the Longhorns, which desperately needed an outfielder.

“I was really excited,” Harmon said. “At that point in time, we needed somebody. We had lost some guys to the draft, and we had lost some guys who ended up going to junior college. There was an open spot for him, and that’s rare here.”

In his first year, Payton has locked down the starting spot in right, and is the team’s two-hole hitter. A member of the Big 12 All-Freshman team, Payton was awarded a spot on the NCAA Austin Regional All-Tournament Team after he went 8-for-16 in the tournament.

“I couldn’t have picked a better place than Texas, I’m happy I’m here,” he said. “God puts everything out there for a reason, and I know I made the right choice to come here.”

While Payton will try to help his team pass the Sun Devils this weekend, with the winner getting a berth to the CWS in Omaha, there was a time not too long ago when he was rooting against the Longhorns — in 2009 when they met and took down ASU in Omaha.

“That was a tough week for me,” he said, laughing. “The day earlier, I had lost the State Championship 5-4. And then of course, Texas comes out and beats Arizona State 5-4. Then the walk-off the next day, that hurt.”

This time, Payton wouldn’t mind the same results.

“It’s cool to play them, and it’s going to be a fun weekend,” he said. “We’ll come out ready to play.”