Friday, May 9, 2014

An Embarrassing Lack of Leadership at CSF

By Samuel Chi

As a Cal State Fullerton alumnus, booster and (former) donor, I cannot begin to tell you how embarrassed I am by the administration that's currently running the university. That begins with president Mildred Garcia and includes VP Johnson Eanes, VP Lori Gentles and AD Jim Donovan.

Their handling of the Rick Vanderhook situation was a spectacular display of incompetence. The entire ordeal lasted four weeks, with Vanderhook reinstated after missing four series and 16 games. The school issued two not-widely-distributed press releases to bookend the entire ordeal, all the while the program floundered.

Let's be clear that I'm no fan of coach Vanderhook. I do not believe that he's the man who can continue the program's tradition of excellence. But the way the university administration treated the situation made him a victim, and his job only gets harder from here on out.

He will be back to coach a team that will become the first Titans squad to miss the postseason since 1991. There will be a significant number of transfers from the current roster. There will be recruits who decommit from the program because of the saga, as other schools gleefully expose what an amateur operation Cal State Fullerton truly is, from the top on down.

If the administration did not have enough goods to fire Vanderhook for cause, then he should've been reinstated quickly. If it did, then he should've been fired with cause and let the lawyers handle the aftermath. But the entire situation was treated as if he's a chemistry professor and that his taking four weeks off is no big deal.

But Vanderhook is not a chemistry professor, but the most high-profile employee at Cal State Fullerton, the face of the university's most visible and valuable commodity. Those in charge clearly did not understand this and proceeded like the second-rate bureaucrats that they are.

No one ever called a press conference. Nobody took charge. Not Garcia, not Donovan, no one. No one gave account of what exactly happened and what was done other than a terse press release with one Donovan quote. There is no leadership, no accountability.

Make no mistake, this will be a watershed moment for the program. The Titans last season for the first time failed to make a trip to Omaha in four consecutive seasons, this will make it five. They will have made the Super Regional just once in the last four years after appearing in the Supers in eight straight seasons from 2003-2010.

Vanderhook, made to apologize to the players, will find himself in a toxic situation where he will trust neither his superiors nor those in his charge. This is a recipe for disaster. After Donovan gave him a four-year extension that won't run out until the 2018 season, he'll be determined to toe the company line just to make sure that he sees the end of his contract.

So this program will go nowhere in the next four seasons, and probably beyond. The golden age of Cal State Fullerton baseball is over. It took 40 years to build it and just four weeks to leave it in ruins.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Titans Baseball Needs a Regime Change

By Samuel Chi

I realize by writing this post I'll offend a strong contingent of coach Rick Vanderhook's supporters. But my loyalty is to the Fullerton baseball program, far and above any individual, so here goes:

Hook was never the right guy to lead this program and that's compounded by AD Jim Donovan's ill-advised decision to extend him last year. But now, Donovan has a chance to take a corrective course of action to save the program.

When Dave Serrano left for Tennessee, it was a pivotal time for the Titans. Under siege from big-budget schools putting more emphasis on baseball, we were faced with a landscape increasingly dominated by BCS powers. We needed an infusion of new blood and new ideas to take us boldly into a more challenging terrain.

Instead, bowing to pressure from alums and some fans, then-AD Brian Quinn hired Hook. Not only that, he did not even bother to conduct a meaningful national search to find the right guy for the job.

Now, Hook's loyalty to Cal State Fullerton isn't to be questioned, but that should not be the first, second or third qualification for the job. This is an elite program that needs elite leadership, and Hook doesn't fit the bill.

Hook's a career assistant for a reason, with a temperament ill suited to be the leader of an elite program. He also betrays a certain amount of small-mindedness, with his decision to meddle with the Titan Central message board and then try to shut down live streaming being glaring examples.

In short, Hook's stuck in the past, on and off the field. He does not have the vision that's desperately needed to lead this program.

While I don't personally approve the secret recording of a tirade (IF THAT'S INDEED WHAT HAPPENED), the allegations must be serious enough for Donovan and the administration to mount an investigation. And make no mistake, this wasn't an isolated incident.

Viewed in totality, you can make a case for abusive treatment of players. Please spare me the Junction Boys tales, these are different times whether you like it or not. And the best coaches find ways to adapt. Coach K does not go about his business the same way he did in the 1980s.

The sunflower seed incident, the post-game rant at USD, the 7 a.m. scrimmage after a late-night game, the pregame tirade before the UCSB game - just using a few examples already mentioned on the message board - prove to be very illuminating.

It shows that Hook has but one play in his playbook. A few commenters mentioned that Augie went on epic tirades, too - yes, I know, I've seen them personally. But that's not the only thing he does. Augie was - and still is - a master motivator. He has many more devices from that coaching tool box.

Hook, on the other hand, is a one-trick pony - which we all knew. And he's not going to reverse this season's epic meltdown because he's already out of ideas. The constant ranting and raving - and badmouthing the players to the press - is already old and the players have tuned him out.

Now we must not allow this disastrous season go beyond 2014, and the only thing to do is cut Hook loose.

We thank him for all he's done as a player and assistant and these last 2 1/2 years that included a 51-win season (but no trips to Omaha). We go out and conduct an honest and serious national search, trying to locate the best candidate for the job, whether he's ever set foot at Goodwin before or not.

We should never fear whomever we hire would move on to greener pastures. If they do, we wish them well and we move on. We're Cal State Fullerton, there are plenty of top coaches who want to leave their mark here. What we can't do is let the program slip into irrelevance like Titans softball.

That's the danger facing us now. We have failed to recruit top position players after Serrano's departure. We have not been to Omaha since 2009. We have been eliminated by a lower-ranked team in each of the past three seasons. We'll likely miss the postseason for the first time since 1991.

Was it all Hook's fault? Maybe not. But at the same time, Hook isn't going to get us out of this very mess - arguably the program's only major crisis in its 40-year history (I was around in 1989 and this easily tops that) - that in no small part was his creation.

Donovan gets a second chance to make the right move. He needs to find a coach to take Cal State Fullerton back to Omaha and sustain our record of excellence.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Don't Blame Players for Titans' Mess

By Samuel Chi

Where does the buck stop?

When Hook says to a reporter that this team "lacks leadership and accountability" that is the most damning indictment ... of himself.

When the preseason No. 1 USC football team went down in flames in 2012 with a Heisman-worthy QB, did you blame the Trojans players?

But when the preseason No. 1 Titans - with STILL the nation's best pitching staff - about to become the first team since 1991 not to make the postseason, it's all the fault of the players?

When Serrano's teams unraveled in the postseason, did you blame the coach or the players?

You can't have it both ways.

You want to call the players soft and call them a bunch of names, to me that's despicable. Other than the completely understandable loss on Thursday, they have fought hard all season, they just kept coming up short.

So I ask you, other than pitching, which is handled superbly for the most part by Jason Dietrich, who's in charge of everything else? Who recruited these players here? Who's responsible for coaching hitting and fielding? Who's supposed to motivate these players?

That we have a huge talent problem with respect to position players, whose fault is that? Our two best position players are both Serrano recruits. Last year's team that won 51 games had a lineup that was nearly exclusively Serrano recruits.

When things started going south this season, did Hook make any adjustments to right the ship besides ranting and raving at the team AND to the press? How many times has he thrown all the players under the bus, and how many times has he pointed the finger at himself?

Of the 15 losses this season, 10 were one-run games or in extra innings and another two were by two runs. This isn't a team that's not trying hard. This is a team that lacks some talent and the coaching needed to get it over the hump.

I, for one, will salute the players for putting forth the effort and try hard every game. And for enduring the endless tongue-lashing, punishing post-game workouts and early morning scrimmages after coming up just short many times.

These players aren't soft. They needed guidance, leadership and support. They aren't getting it from their head coach. And sadly it seems like they're not getting it from the fans, either.

Shame on you, Titans fans, for throwing these kids under the bus, too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

CSF Places Coach Vanderhook on Leave

Cal State Fullerton has placed its head baseball coach on leave, the university announced Thursday.

"Effective today, Cal State Fullerton's head coach Rick Vanderhook has been placed on paid administrative leave. The university has received allegations that it is obligated to review," a school release said.

"Assistant coaches Mike Kirby and Jason Dietrich will serve as acting co-head coaches when the Titans take on Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Thursday afternoon to start a three-game series through Saturday."

Fullerton is 18-13 after losing two of three games last weekend at UC Santa Barbara.

Vanderhook took over the Titans program in 2012, when four-year head coach Dave Serrano left for Tennessee. Vanderhook was 36-21 in his first season and followed up with a 51-10 record in 2013, which tied the mark for the fourth-most wins in program history. Fullerton won 66 games in 1984, 60 in '79, 57 in '95 and 51 in '82, all under Augie Garrido.

Fullerton won its postseason regional last year before losing to eventual national champion UCLA in the super regional.

The Titans won the College World Series in 1979, '84, '95 -- with Garrido at the helm -- and 2004 under George Horton. Fullerton has 12 other CWS appearnces.

Friday, February 14, 2014 Shutdown Announcement

Dear fellow Titans fans:

I'm saddened to announce that I will be shutting down the web site, which has been operating since the 2009 season. The decision will stand for the 2014 season, and perhaps for good.

The reason for the shutdown is that I belatedly realized that the site is doing much harm to the success of our beloved baseball team. FBF's previews and Don's recaps are so accurate and insightful that their continued publication would provide coaches of future opponents too much valuable information.

This falls in line with the school's recent decision to discontinue video streaming of Titans home games. In fact, I would urge the administration to cancel all telecasts planned for ESPN3 and ESPNU and hack the streaming service of our road opponents so that no one will see or read about even one pitch of our games. These measures should greatly enhance our chances of winning a fifth national championship, hopefully in an empty stadium in Omaha.

I'd like to thank you for your support and suggestions over the years. Our Twitter feed @CSFBaseball will still be active, but only to disseminate non-proprietary information such as what will be on the latest rerun of "Breaking Bad" episodes.

See you at the ballpark, but remember: Do not discuss the game or our team with anyone - you just never know if Mike Gillespie's great grandson might be in attendance masquerading as a fan. Loose lips sink ships!

- Proprietor, CSFBaseball (Class of '91)