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Baseball Been Very Good to Danny Hall

Feb. 23, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn | Sting Daily

– For a guy who’s been around on The Flats for as long as Danny Hall, you might be amazed at the roundabout path he took to get here.

The Georgia Tech baseball coach’s journey from his Midwestern roots did not exactly traverse the globe; he’d in fact been a head coach at just one other place — Kent State, near Cleveland — before being hired on Dec. 7, 1993 as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach.

But Hall, who has signed a five-year contract extension with Tech, sure didn’t simply send in a resume and land the job. His hiring was something of an upset.

Although he’d enjoyed success coaching the Flashes, and had spent time as an assistant in what was a very fine program at the time while Bud Middaugh was running the show at the University of Michigan, he was in these parts a relative unknown.

The Tech program was more than well known. When former coach Jim Morris bolted that fall for Miami, he did not leave behind a team so much as a budding titan. The Jackets would enter that season ranked No. 1 nationally, and finish it in the national championship game with a loss to Oklahoma.

First, they had to hire a coach. Perhaps more accurately, Hall had to get himself hired. Here, his connections came into play, but only after he kicked the door open himself.

In checking around with some peers in the game, particularly in this part of the country, he was told that he ought to call Randy Carroll, long a benefactor to the Tech baseball program.

“I didn’t know who Randy Carroll was, and he didn’t know me. He was the head of the search committee,” Hall recalled on Thursday’s eve of the season’s home opener against Ohio State. “Dr. [Homer] Rice was the athletic director. In a roundabout way, I happened to have a Georgia Tech media guide in my office. I don’t know why.

“I was thumbing through it, and it had an ad for Mountain National Bank. And it said bank president: Randy Carroll. I called the bank and asked for him, and kind of got the ball rolling. I sent my resume and things to Homer, and to Randy.”

There would be plenty more to the process.

That coach-less Tech team had three larger-than-life college baseball players in catcher Jason Varitek, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and outfielder Jay Payton. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say that Payton helped bring Hall south. He was from Zanesville, Ohio, and Hall knew him from the recruiting trail.

Payton paid a visit to Rice, and Hall said, “He must have said the right things about me.” Rice had quite a bit of background in Hall’s stomping grounds. The legendary Tech athletic director had coached the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals and at the University of Cincinnati, just down the road from where Hall had played, matriculated and assisted at Miami of Ohio.

Another former Miami man, a fella named Bo Schembechler, had worked near Hall at Michigan. In case you’ve lived under a rock all these years, Schembechler was the head football coach and later athletic director at Michigan.

That’s a big deal, and it was bigger still when Schembechler put in a word for Hall with Rice.

Carroll and/or Rice at some point contacted then-Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Cam Bonifay, who’d played and coached at Tech, and sought his view on the would-be head coach. Bonifay in turn called one of his area scouts, the guy based in the Cleveland area, and he, “gave me a pretty good endorsement,” Hall said.

Years later, that former Pirates area scout would send his grandson, former shortstop Derek Dietrich, to play for the Jackets.

A legendary story emerged out of the hiring process, a tale that Carroll has been known to re-tell.

In it, Rice said something like, “This guy at Kent State … is he winning?” After Carroll explained that Hall had indeed succeeded to the tune of a 208-117 record even while being bound by certain constraints obvious in northern climes, Rice supposedly responded thusly: “‘He must be a good coach; there’s no reason to win at Kent State.” Soon, Hall was hired.

His teams have gone 783-350-1 in 18-plus seasons since, leading Tech to the College World Series its only three times, winning three ACC tournament titles, five regular season titles and advancing to the NCAA tournament nearly every year since he arrived.

With 991 career wins, he’s not far away from becoming the 46th coach to win 1,000 games at the Division I level.

“Georgia Tech and Atlanta is our home. We’ve been here going on 19 years. It was never a case where I was looking to go elsewhere,” he said Thursday. “The place attracts very smart people, very bright people, and very focused people. That certainly makes my job a lot easier. I’ve been blessed to have great coaches.”

When Ohio State plays in Russ Chandler Stadium the next three days, Hall will be able to look into the opposing dugout and see how he’s paid forward what others have done for him.

Buckeyes coach Greg Beals was one of Hall’s first players at Kent State, a super-smart catcher in whom Hall said he saw a coach all along. When Hall was hired here, Beals was in the minor leagues with the Mets.

“It’s very ironic,” the Tech coach said. “When I got the job, and knew I was coming to Georgia Tech. I called Beals and said, ‘You need to retire from baseball and come back and be [an assistant at Tech]. He did. He’s one of those guys I felt all along when I recruited him would end up in coaching. He’s done very well.”

There are several other examples of coaches whom Hall has had as players who are now head coaches or assistants at various levels. He’s also had 97 former Tech players drafted by Major League teams.

Baseball’s been very, very good to Danny Hall.

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