At Baggett Stadium, building a program isn’t just about developing players.
Cal Poly baseball coach Larry Lee knows a mid-major program’s role is also to mentor assistant coaches.
Players move on to the professional ranks. Eventually, successful assistants move on to higher-paying jobs, too.
“I always try to bring in coaches that I think are good teachers first and then worry about the recruiting side,” Lee said. “And they learn on the job, they continue to get better the longer they coach within the program.
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“Just when they get to a really high level of coaching and recruiting, then they’re very attractive to programs in conferences that are able to pay much more than Cal Poly.”
With Pac-12 program Washington expected to announce the addition of Cal Poly pitching coach Jason Kelly to its baseball staff, Lee has another spot to fill.
Kelly, a St. Joseph High graduate who played under Lee at Cuesta College and joined the Mustangs’ staff as pitching coach in 2007, guided the Mustangs to a Division I program record 3.60 team ERA in 2011.
In Seattle, Kelly will be reunited with fourth-year Washington coach Lindsay Meggs, who Kelly served under as Chico State’s pitching coach in 2005-06.
After graduating from St. Joseph, Kelly pitched a season at Cal Poly in 1999 before transferring to Cuesta, where he played under Lee in 2001. After Lee was named head coach at Cal Poly in 2003, he brought Kelly in as an administrative assistant in 2004.
“He’s been great over the last couple years,” Lee said. “He really developed into a good pitching coach and in all facets of pitching: being a quality teacher, ability to call a good game, being a good recruiter. It’s kind of what has happened and what will probably continue to happen.”
Kelly’s story is similar to former Mustangs assistant Jesse Zepeda, who also played for Lee at Cuesta and coached at Cal Poly for seven years before taking a higher-paying position with Big West Conference rival Long Beach State prior to the 2011 season.
They both joined the Mustangs staff very early in their careers, built up a résumé of experience and were wooed away by high profile programs.
“The last two coaches we lost, Jesse and now Jason, neither of them wanted to leave,” Lee said. “They understood I took a big chance on both of them because they were so young, they had very little coaching experience, but having played for me in junior college, they were very intelligent baseball players and understood the game.
“I thought that both of them would be great teachers, and I was right. They continued to grow in all aspects of the coaching profession.”
Now, Lee must find another assistant that he hoped can develop into a valued teacher of the game. After 10 seasons at Cal Poly, Lee said he usually settles on his former players as new assistants because they best understand his coaching philosophy.
Former Santa Barbara City coach Teddy Warrecker, who replaced Zepeda at Cal Poly, didn’t play for Lee but got to know him well through baseball instruction camps.
After a standout career at Allan Hancock College and Arizona, Warrecker pitched in the minor leagues for six seasons but seems well entrenched in his current role with the team.
Former Mustangs pitcher Thomas Eager has been the director of baseball operations at Cal Poly for two years and could be in line for the pitching coach position.
Lee said he brought Eager on with the hopes of grooming him into a future pitching coach. With Kelly on staff, Lee had been helping promote Eager as a candidate to other programs.
After two seasons at Cal Poly, Eager was a fifth-round draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals. He played four seasons in the minor leagues before experiencing arm trouble and returning to San Luis Obispo.
Another former Mustangs pitcher, Kevin Castner, was also on staff as an undergrad assistant this past season. Castner underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009 shortly after being drafted by the Texas Rangers.