By Clay Horning
NORMAN — Isn’t it interesting what a little time and a different sport can do for an athletic director?
Isn’t it interesting, too, when both approaches, executed by the same person, end up working?
Of course, the jury’s out on new Sooner baseball coach Pete Hughes, who Sooner athletic director Joe Castiglione introduced to the world Thursday.
Yet, it’s only because Hughes has yet to put together a body of work at L. Dale Mitchell Park. As much as he could have put the Sooner Nation’s heart to rest over his hire, he did so Thursday.
“I’m excited to be a part of such a phenomenal college community,” Hughes said during his first monologue as Sooner coach. “There’s nothing like coaching a baseball team with a rabid following that is emotionally invested in the same thing you are.”
He must have already met Bob Stoops before taking the lectern, because that’s a guy coaching a team with a rabid following. Anyway, but for inflating the following of the program he’s taking over, Hughes was aces in his first public appearance as new coach.
What’s particularly interesting are a couple of things about his ascension into the role.
“I was contacted,” he said. “I’m leaving a tremendous situation, so that should tell you what I think of this job and this athletic department. I was fortunate enough and grateful enough to be contacted.”
Castiglione went after him. Know another guy Castiglione went after? Lon Kruger.
What’s interesting about that? Well, Hughes has very little in common with Kruger, but he has a fair amount in common with the guy Kruger replaced, Jeff Capel.
Capel was a young coach on the move, from Virginia Commonwealth, who’d made his name by making noise in the NCAA tournament. He was the shot OU took when it went looking for the nation’s next great college basketball coach.
Billy Tubbs came from Lamar, Kelvin Sampson from Washington State. OU had enjoyed past success finding an overachiever who might be interested in a bigger stage and a bigger budget.
But when Capel flamed out, amid losing seasons, probation and recruiting that hit the skids after Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin didn’t go one-and-done so much as they lost their minds, Castiglione did not want another Capel.
He didn’t want a high ceiling nearly as much as he wanted a vaulted floor. He got just what he wanted in Kruger, who could be categorized as a fantastically successful journeyman or a successful leader of storied programs, just not a fantastically successful leader of storied programs.
Kruger has been successful since his arrival. If he can make the Sooners as successful as he made Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV, he’ll have done something. If he can make them more successful than all of them, he’ll be right there with Tubbs and Sampson the same way Stoops is right there with Switzer and Wilkinson.
Back on the diamond, Castiglione, rather than going safe, chose to swing for the fences.
OU has won 40 games in four consecutive seasons and has been to three super regionals in four seasons. Hughes has won 40 games in a season twice, in 2010 and 2013, and has never reached a super regional.
On the other hand, he made Boston College a winner, which is like making Baylor or Iowa State a gridiron winner, and he turned Virginia Tech from an also-ran to a power program in the ACC, one of college baseball’s best conferences.
No small things.
“He did achieve a lot of success making the most out of the resources that he had,” Castiglione said. “And, you know, when you look around the University of Oklahoma, it’s easy to see that we have a lot of great resources at our fingertips that maybe don’t exist at other programs.”
Hughes has done more with less. Now he’ll try doing a whole lot more with a whole lot lot more.
If he flames out like Capel, maybe Castiglione can make a play at Augie Garrido or try brining Gene Stephenson back again.
The safe route.
Thankfully, that’s not Hughes, who offers the possibility of so much more.
Isn’t it nice when that can be your play? Come to think of it, maybe all the factions can thank Sunny Golloway for that.
He left the gift of stability, allowing Castiglione to take a big swing.
Horning is sports editor of the Norman Transcript.