When Larry Lee went into the state Hall of Fame for junior college baseball coaches earlier this year, he called on one-time rival Teddy Warrecker to introduce him at the induction ceremony.
Now, signs are pointing to the Cal Poly head coach calling upon Warrecker to perform another task.
Warrecker, who turned a dismal Santa Barbara City College program into a playoff contender during his 10 years as the Vaqueros head coach, has stepped down and intends to take a job assisting Lee with the Mustangs.
Unofficial since the hiring has yet to be finalized, Warrecker would replace former Cal Poly assistant Jesse Zepeda, who recently left San Luis Obispo to become an assistant coach at Big West Conference rival Long Beach State.
The first two years of Warrecker’s tenure at Santa Barbara City overlapped with Lee’s last two at Western State Conference foe Cuesta College, and Lee has had a big influence over the younger coach since then.
“He has absolutely been my mentor,” said Warrecker, 37. “I tried to build my program at City College kind of around the model that he had at Cuesta when I used to coach against him. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to learn under him and help that program go where it hasn’t been before.”
Lee, who spent the 1980 season of his playing career at Santa Barbara City, went 460-241-3 as Cuesta’s head coach, winning nine conference titles — six in a row — and taking his team to the playoffs 11 times in his last 13 years. He made four Final Four appearances with the Cougars before his first season at Cal Poly in 2003.
Reached Wednesday, Lee was unable to comment on the opening before anything becomes official, but Warrecker credited much of his success to the relationship he forged with Lee when they stopped being rivals.
“After he left Cuesta, I picked up the phone and asked him if he’d talk to me about different aspects of the game, the real technical side of the game, things I needed to be a better teacher.
“I worked at several camps up there and really tried to soak up everything I could from him.”
Since taking over the Vaqueros in 2001, the 6-foot-6 former professional pitcher in the Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves organizations has a 193-198 overall coaching record but has drastically changed the fortunes of the program in Santa Barbara.
Prior to his arrival, the Vaqueros hadn’t won a conference title or been to the playoffs since the 1970s.
In 2004, Warrecker recorded a 19-16 record, the program’s first winning season in 23 years.
The next year, Santa Barbara City got a postseason berth for the first time since 1978, and when the Vaqueros went 34-10 under Warrecker in 2007, it broke the program record for victories and was the first conference title season at Santa Barbara City since 1972.
This past year, the Vaqueros were eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the regular season by rival Cuesta and Cougars head coach Bob Miller.
Miller, who took over for Lee at Cuesta in 2003, has seen Warrecker take the Vaqueros to the playoffs in three of the past six seasons.
“Having coached against Teddy, he’s a high-energy guy,” Miller said. “He’s going to give them everything he’s got.”
Warrecker is a Santa Barbara native and played at Santa Barbara High under his father, Fred, who just finished his 37th season coaching the Dons.
He went on to become an all-state honoree while playing first base and catcher at Allan Hancock College, played the same positions after transferring to Arizona and spent six seasons in the minor and independent leagues as a pitcher, amassing a 22-28 record and 5.93 ERA.
Warrecker said he was returning from a trip to this season’s College World Series when he first became aware of an opening at Cal Poly. He’s hoping the next time he goes to Omaha, Neb., it will be with Lee and the Mustangs.
“I hope to bring a new energy to the program and coach has always told me about breaking down barriers,” Warrecker said. “Poly got that first regional in 2009, and there’s several more to get over.”