An early list of possible Ritch Price replacements for Kansas baseball
It’s been a rough couple of years for the Kansas baseball program, which lost its final game of the season over the weekend and saw longtime head coach Ritch Price announce his retirement on Sunday.
But even with those challenges rising to the forefront, one could argue that the program is currently in the best position it’s been in in a while.
The reason? Because the man who will hire Price’s replacement — second-year KU AD Travis Goff — already has shown he knows how to handle these types of things.
Don’t get me wrong; we don’t yet know whether KU football coach Lance Leipold will be the guy who gets the Jayhawks back on track. But all signs point to Leipold being the right fit and starting down the right path.
One of the biggest reasons Goff found Leipold when he went searching for KU’s next football coach last spring was because he picked up the phone and called the right people when starting his search. More importantly, he listened to what they had to say. That led him to Leipold. And there’s no reason to think Goff will not take the same approach when looking to hire Price’s replacement.
Like Kansas football, the KU baseball program needs a serious shot in the arm. Winning has been tough. The facilities need to be upgraded. And getting people to care again is critically important and also figures to be an incredible challenge. Beyond that, there are some inherent obstacles to having success at Hoglund Ballpark that are different from those KU’s football program faces but equally as difficult to navigate.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at a few names of potential Price replacements that Goff might be given when he makes those phone calls to former Kansas baseball players and coaches who still care a great deal about the program’s success.
• Rob Childress, Director of Player Development at Nebraska
Let’s start here with this one. When I asked around about the job on Sunday night, I was told by a couple of different people that Childress would not just be a home run hire for Kansas but “a (expletive) grand slam.”
The 53-year-old may not have the most eye-popping title today, but his resume sure does. After serving as an assistant at Nebraska under Dave Van Horn, who got the Cornhuskers program going again, Childress was hired to be Texas A&M’s head coach in 2006. He was there until 2021, when a new AD inexplicably asked him to leave. Think of this as what happened to football coach Frank Solich at Nebraska.
All Childress did during those 16 seasons in charge of the Aggies was go to two College World Series, make it to 13 consecutive NCAA regionals — including six trips to a Super Regional — and finish at or near the top of both the Big 12 and SEC standings on multiple occasions.
He’s had opportunities to be a head coach again since leaving A&M, but he seems to be waiting for the right one. Could the chance to jump back into the Big 12 be enough to entice him? It’s certainly worth finding out.
• Kyle Crookes, Central Missouri head coach
Now in his eighth season at UCM, after two seasons as the program’s top assistant, Crookes has racked up a record of 302-108 at Central Missouri, including a 46-9 mark this season.
He has led the Mules to three MIAA regular season and four MIAA Tournament championships and three NCAA Central Region crowns. In 2021, he led the Mules to a runner-up finish at the 2021 NCAA-II College World Series.
Prior to joining Central Missouri, he served eight seasons as the head coach at Hutchinson Community College. He recorded a 292-164 overall record in eight seasons leading the Blue Dragons. His teams won or shared three Jayhawk League West championships, won two Region VI crowns, and made two trips to the NJCAA World Series, including a third-place finish at the 2010 World Series.
Crookes is a 1999 graduate of Centenary.
• Nate Thompson, Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas
A native of Goodland, with a master’s degree from Fort Hays State, Thompson’s Kansas connections are significant.
So is his record as a baseball coach. With stops as a volunteer assistant at Nebraska, a full-time assistant at Hutchinson Community College and the head coach at Missouri State, Thompson, 39, has enjoyed a rapid rise to a big role with a major college baseball program.
During the past four seasons, he has been in charge of Arkansas’ offense and, from 2018-20, his Razorback hitters led the SEC in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, weighted on-base average, on-base plus slugging percentage, runs, homers, extra-base hits, runs batted in, total bases and sacrifice flies.
• Kevin Hooper, Atlanta Braves Minor League director of player development for position players
You can’t talk about baseball in Lawrence, Kansas without mentioning Hooper.
The Lawrence native who starred at Lawrence High and later with Wichita State, is one of the greatest baseball players to ever come out of Lawrence.
He was originally drafted in the 49th round of the 1998 MLB draft by Cleveland but did not sign and was drafted in the eighth round in the 1999 draft by the Florida Marlins. From there, he played with five different Major League organizations, including the Detroit Tigers, who called him up to the big leagues for parts of the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
He then went on to play for the Wichita Wingnuts, which named him team MVP in 2008 and later named him the team’s manager.
Beyond that, Hooper, 45, already has shown interest in returning to college to coach. He was in the mix for the WSU job in both 2013 and 2019. In 2013, the Shockers hired someone with proven college experience. In 2019, they hired a former pro but not Hooper.
More important than his baseball success stories, however, is the fact that Hooper’s a winner. He has won everywhere he has been, he has overcome all kinds of adversity and people telling him he couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that and has proven the doubters wrong at every step.
If KU were to go this direction, there would be doubters. After all, Hooper has not recruited at the college level and would need to surround himself with quality assistants who know that grind and know the college game inside and out.
But Hooper loves being doubted and he’s smart enough to do whatever is needed. Beyond that, building the Wingnuts’ roster year after year was like recruiting and he’s always been viewed as a great leader who guys love playing for.
• Reggie Christiansen, Sacramento State head coach
Let’s move quickly into a few names with KU ties and it starts with Christiansen.
Although he hails from California and did not play at KU, he was a Price assistant in 2003 and 2004. He then went to South Dakota State, where he won 96 games over four seasons before moving on to Sacramento State in 2011.
Interestingly enough, it was his departure at SDSU that cleared the way for Ritchie Price to take over the Jackrabbits program before joining his father at Kansas.
In 11 seasons at Sacramento State, Christiansen, 46, has won 368 games and finished fourth or better in the WAC nine times. That includes three trips to NCAA regionals in 2014, 2017 and 2019.
• Shane Wedd, Sam Houston State assistant
Wedd, 44, is one of the few former KU players currently coaching college baseball.
A catcher and designated hitter at Kansas from 1997-2000, Wedd is also a Lawrence native who grew up bleeding crimson and blue.
His path in coaching has taken him on a journey in and out of the state of Kansas, starting as both the director of baseball operations and general manager of the Kansas City Sluggers youth organization under former KU coach Dave Bingham to a stop in the Jayhawk League at Pratt Community College.
From there, he went to North Central Texas College, where he was an assistant from 2012-14 and the head coach in 2017.
After that, he made the jump to Division I with Sam Houston State, where he started out as a volunteer assistant in 2018, moved to director of ops in 2019 and has been a full-time assistant coach for the past three seasons.
Despite being in Texas for the past decade, Wedd has stayed in close contact with the KU program and cares about it as much as anyone. Even if he’s not a finalist for the job, he’d be a smart person to connect with during the search.
• Ryan Schmidt, Hutchinson CC head coach
Another former KU player, Schmidt pitched at Kansas from 1999-2000 after starting his playing career at Barton Community College.
A native of Valley Center, Schmidt won 107 games in five seasons as the head coach at Pratt Community College before being hired by Hutch in 2013.
During his 10 seasons leading the Blue Dragons, Schmidt has racked up 356 wins, which included three seasons of 40 or more wins and two more of 39.
Schmidt has produced 51 All-KJCCC players, 20 All-Region VI Players and 65 total players to four-year programs, including 58 to Division I. Schmidt has also produced eight Dragon players to be drafted or sign undrafted free-agent contracts into professional baseball.
Before Pratt, Schmidt served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Barton Community College from 2004-07. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach and intern for the entire athletic department at Fort Hays State University from 2002-04. Schmidt graduated from KU in 2000 with a degree in secondary education and earned his master’s degree in sports administration at Wichita State in 2003.