Cal Poly pitching coach Thomas Eager has been hired for the same position at Cal, the Golden Bears announced this week.
The move came as a surprise to Mustangs baseball head coach Larry Lee, who also lost pitching coach Jason Kelly to Washington, another Pac-12 school, four years ago.
“I tried to develop (Eager) as a coach and it takes a period of time to do that,” Lee said in a phone interview Wednesday, adding losing coaches is part of having a successful program. “You would like to have them stick around for the long one, but I would never hold anyone back.”
Eager, who played two seasons at Cal Poly, was named the pitching coach in 2012 after a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his pitching elbow ended his playing career after four seasons in the minor leagues.
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In 2014, Eager coached Mustang pitchers to a school record ERA in a season (3.50) on the way to hosting an NCAA regional and compiling a 47-12 record. Eager coached seven pitchers who were selected in the Major League Baseball Draft during his three seasons with the team.
Lee, who has managed the Mustangs for 13 years, says the chips fell quickly after former Cal pitching coach Mike Neu took a job as the head coach at Pacific less than two weeks ago.
“(Neu) interviewed for the head job, then as soon as he got the interview, the Cal coach called and asked to talk to Tom and I said absolutely,” Lee said. “Tom met with him the next day.”
Lee acknowledges Eager’s new job comes with more prestige and more money and says the 29-year-old coach knows how lucky he is to join Cal head coach David Esquer’s staff at such a young age.
“It’s a coaching move much quicker than 99 percent,” Lee said. “It just doesn’t happen like that.”
Eager left Cal Poly following his sophomore year in 2007 after being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the fifth round. During his breakout sophomore season, he went 11-3, had a 3.43 ERA and was a first team all-Big West Conference selection after not playing much as a redshirt freshman.
The Visalia native spent four years pitching in the minor leagues before heading back to Cal Poly to become the director of baseball operations.
“I have always been one to try to hire someone that played for me because they understand what I’m all about,” Lee said.
Lee says the search to fill Eager’s shoes is all but over. Cal Poly brought in potential replacements to tour the campus and Lee says he knows whom the school hopes to hire but he’s “keeping it under wraps.” He expects the new hire will be announced in a couple weeks.
The coaching change won’t make things any easier, Lee says, for a Mustangs team coming off a mediocre 27-27 season, but he’s happy for his former player and coach.
“I think it’s a great situation for him,” Lee said. “Now he gets to call pitches on his own and have a much greater responsibility. He’s good at what he does.”
Multiple phone calls to Eager were unreturned.