Amid the news that the men’s basketball team was not even invited to the NIT, the NCAA Tournament’s ugly stepsister, Longhorn fans are having a hard time remaining clear-eyed.
Like its hoops counterparts, the Texas baseball team will travel to the University of Houston to face the Cougars this week. The Longhorns, who play Houston on Tuesday, typically has a powerhouse baseball program that compensates for any sort of shortcoming by the basketball team.
This year’s baseball team, unfortunately, has also given fans little to cheer about. The Longhorns concluded a lackluster beginning to Big 12 play on Sunday with a 4-2 loss to Texas Tech, leaving them at 12-7 on the season and full of question marks. Although they were supposed to overcome last year’s disappointing season, many of the same problems Texas had in 2012 still plagues it this year. This especially applies to the hitting department, which has been the Longhorns’ Achilles heel the past two seasons.
Fans hoped hitting coach Tommy Nicholson would provide a remedy for Texas’ issues at the plate, but the Longhorns show no such progress. In fact, they have regressed as a team and the offensive void puts more pressure on a young pitching staff — one that has performed very well but cannot carry the team all season. If Nicholson and head coach Augie Garrido do not come up with a solution before conference play is in full swing, they will most likely join their basketball counterparts in missing out on the NCAA Tournament.
166: The Longhorns’ national rank in team batting average as of last week, which is lower than all but two Big 12 teams. Texas is currently hitting .258, a five-point drop from last year’s .263 batting average. Although more than half the season still remains, it is obvious that hiring Nicholson as the new hitting coach has done little to improve Texas’ offense up to this point.
70: The number of runs Texas has scored this year, averaging out to roughly 3.7 a game. Just as with batting averages, the Longhorns are worse in run scoring than they were last year, when they scored 86 runs through 19 games. Much of this can be attributed to this year’s club’s inability to get extra-base hits, as the entire team only has 33.
29: The number of stolen bases Texas has this year out of 35 total attempts, good for an 82 percent success rate. The Longhorns clearly have speed and Garrido would be wise to exploit that in order to maximize the team’s scoring opportunities.
27: The Longhorns’ national rank in team ERA as of last week, highest among all Big 12 teams. Texas pitchers are giving opposing hitters all they can handle, registering a 2.51 team ERA and striking out nearly three hitters to every one they walk. However, it is hard to win games when the offense scores fewer than four runs per game. Consequently, this impressive effort by the Longhorn pitching staff has been overshadowed by the team’s offensive struggles.
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
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.”