#TGW: Dan For The Ages
Danny Hall still doing it the right way as he heads into 24th season as Georgia Tech baseball's head coach
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
It's difficult to imagine Georgia Tech baseball without No. 17, head coach Danny Hall.
Of course the program existed for 94 years prior to his hiring on Dec. 7, 1993, something he will be the first to tell you.
What the Coolville, Ohio, native (the son of a high-school baseball and football coach and athletic director) won't tell you is that in a program that has seen Georgia Tech legends like John Heisman and Bobby Dodd serve as head coach, he has surpassed all of them.
He doesn't have to tell you. His record does that for him.
Hall enters the 2017 season, his 24th at Georgia Tech, 30th overall as a head coach and 40th as a coach, with 961 wins with the Jackets (1,169 overall), almost double the amount recorded by Tech's second-winningest head coach, his predecessor, Jim Morris (504 wins). He extends his school-career-wins record with every `W,' something he's done since March 27, 2005, when the Jackets beat Miami, 11-10, at Mark Light Field with Morris in the home dugout, ironically.
With a typical season -- his Georgia Tech teams have averaged 40.5 wins per season -- Hall will pass the 1,000-wins plateau in 2017. So what do all these numbers mean?
"It means I've been here a long time," Hall said, breaking into a big laugh. "I don't get caught up in numbers. I've been blessed to have a lot of great players here, I've been blessed to have a lot of great assistant coaches and I've been blessed to work at a place that values baseball. I think that all goes hand-in-hand.
"Before I got here, Georgia Tech had a really good baseball program," he added. "They had a lot of history. Hopefully, we've added to that deep history here at Georgia Tech. But none of that happens without [Georgia Tech President] "Bud" Peterson and all the presidents that have been here (Dr. Peterson is the fifth president at Georgia Tech in Hall's tenure) and our administration. If they're not committed to baseball, it's not going to happen. So I've been blessed that this place has committed to being good at the highest level."
That level has meant a school-best .668 winning percentage (.663 career). He's never finished a Jackets season worse than seven games over .500, has led Georgia Tech to an NCAA Tournament Regional 20 times in 23 years and has been at the helm for the school's only three College World Series appearances (1994, 2002, 2006), including a runner-up finish in `94.
"I always say, it's good players," said Hall, a three-time ACC Coach of the Year. "I've also been blessed, whether it's been Kent State or here, with great assistant coaches. Then, I think just trying to give our teams positive direction all the time to, if we do these things fundamentally well, we're going to have a chance for success. My first two years at Kent State we were two games over .500 but we were just getting the program started and then, after those first two years, we were a dominant team in the Mid-American Conference. Then coming here, just the challenges, not only of the ACC but our non-conference schedules, to be able to say that we've always had winning seasons here, I take a lot of pride in that. Then, on top of that, 20 out of 23 years, we've been in the NCAA Tournament and I take a lot of pride in that, knowing the academic rigor that these guys have to go through throughout the year. To still compete at the highest level in the NCAA, that just says a lot about our players."
Hall has recruited and coached some great players in his years on The Flats, having seen 35 players earn 92 All-America honors and 111 players earn all-ACC honors. He's had two National Players of the Year, two National Freshmen of the Year, an ACC Player of the Year, an ACC Pitcher of the Year and three ACC Rookies of the Year. He's also had 116 players drafted into Major League Baseball, with 16 of them taken in the first round (10) or supplemental first round (6).
While the on-the-field accomplishments of the likes of Mark Teixiera, Charlie Blackmon and Derek Dietrich (who were recruited by Hall) or Nomar Garciaparra, Jay Payton and Jason Varitek (who he coached) are a source of pride, Hall finds as much satisfaction in the program's academic accomplishments.
"Georgia Tech obviously places a high premium on education. I've always tried to convince our players that they're in the best of both worlds," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to develop their professional prospects, we want to compete nationally, which we've done a good job of doing that, but we also want to prepare them for life after baseball.
"We have a little area down at the stadium, where I always take recruits. It's the Academic All-America board," he added. "If you look at that board, Nomar Garciaparra, Academic All-American; Mark Teixeira, Academic All-American; Derek Dietrich, Academic All-American; Charlie Blackmon, Academic All-American; Jacob Esch, Academic All-American. So I always point it out that some of our best players here have also been Academic All-Americans. I do think that a big reason for not only our success here but guys' success once they get out of here, is that Georgia Tech kind of makes them appreciate and understand you have to have a work ethic here, not only in baseball but also in the classroom. Obviously, to get a degree from here, it pays off."
Ironically, Hall's pursuit of a degree from Miami (Ohio) nearly led him to a field other than the baseball field.
"When I went to Miami (Ohio) I was a pre-med major and I kind of felt like I wanted to pursue medical school," he recalled. "For three years at Miami, I was kind of grinding through being a baseball player and trying to stay competitive to have a chance to get into medical school. For whatever reason, my senior year, I kind of flipped to that I wanted to try to be a graduate assistant and go into coaching, but just because what I'd seen my dad kind of go through, I'm like, `I'm never going to do that.' I kind of fought all that off and felt like my comfort zone was athletics, and in particular, baseball. The rest is history as they say."
History took another key turn when he chose to leave Michigan and mentor Bud Middaugh, his coach and boss at Miami and Michigan, in 1987 to become head coach at Kent State, where he stayed for six years, going 208-117.
"There was probably no logical reason to take that job because Kent State hadn't been very good in baseball but I just kind of reached the point where it was a point of `I need to take this and see just how good I'm going to be at being a head coach," he said. "As it's turned out, it was a great decision because I think had I not taken that job, there's probably no way I end up becoming the head coach at Georgia Tech."
He encourages his assistant coaches to act boldly when an opportunity comes their way.
"I want them to kind of be hungry in that they want to be head coaches. Then we're going to do everything we can to help them get there," Hall said. "I tell them there aren't that many head coaching opportunities in the country, so if you get a chance to get one, you definitely need to consider it and see if it's a good opportunity."
Hall sees a great opportunity for the Yellow Jackets in 2017.
"I think you're seeing all over the country schools are spending much more money on baseball, so there is a lot more parity," he said. "Some of that parity has come by the way the NCAA is structuring scholarships. Coastal Carolina won the College World Series last year and I wouldn't be surprised if there's another under-the-radar team, so to speak, that ends up getting to the World Series this year with a chance."
It's still fun to try to be that team.
"It's always fun and it's always challenging and I think that's what makes the job interesting," Hall said. "It's kind of what keeps me going, just the challenge of trying to put the best product you can on the field to represent Georgia Tech and the great history we have here."