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Arizona baseball: Dave Lawn turns down Nevada job to coach Wildcats pitchers

The Arizona pitching staff should benefit in a big way this year by having Lawn on campus

Jason Bartel

When Greg Byrne hired Jay Johnson as the new head baseball coach at Arizona, one of the first things that Johnson needed to do was fill out his assistant staff, and do it quickly.

In steps Dave Lawn, who served as Johnson's pitching coach at Nevada for two years, He also has seven years of experience at the same position at USC in his past. But Lawn was offered a job that most people in his position would have trouble turning down.

"I had the opportunity to stay as the head coach at Nevada," Lawn told me. "And I didn't take it, and a lot of it had to do with Jay."

"I made it very clear I'd be happy for him if he took (the Nevada head coaching job) and happy for those players," Johnson said. "But I wanted our pitching coach search here to be very short."

Even though he only spent two years with Johnson, the new Arizona head coach made quite the impact on Lawn in that short time. And that relationship is why Lawn is in Tucson now.

"First, second and third it was about staying with Jay," coach Lawn said about the decision to turn down the Nevada offer. "And building something again. And obviously this league, this facility, that kind of stuff. All that stuff's great, everybody's got pretty much what they need. But I just wanted to keep working with Jay. Bottom line."

And before those two years, the two hadn't had a deep relationship or anything like that.

"Professional," Lawn explained of the two's relationship before Nevada. "Crossed paths recruiting. I was a high school coach for six years so I would talk to him periodically about players that I may have seen when I was in high school, but not a personal. It was more of a professional one."

"We had a really special two years together at Nevada," coach Johnson added. "And I think there's certainly a mutual appreciation is probably a better word than respect. It was a no-brainer for me to hire him at Nevada when he was available."

Which leads to why Lawn is the right guy for the Arizona job.

Over the past several years, the Wildcat pitching staff has left a lot to be desired, and I think some of that can be chalked up to the lack of a true pitching coach. This year, that's all about to change.

"He's had 22 Major League pitchers in his career, but I think the best work he's done was the last two years doing what he did with what we had inherited at Nevada," Johnson continued on about Lawn. "I'm very grateful, and always will be that he a) came to Nevada and then b) came to Arizona. The guys that will benefit the most from it is our pitching staff, and I'm excited to see how they evolve and transform with his leadership."

The situation Arizona is in right now is comparable to what Johnson and Lawn faced when taking over the Nevada staff in 2014.

"In a sense that there's guys that haven't had a whole lot of success in their career, but have something in them where they can pitch a little bit better," Johnson explained of the similarity in the two situations. "And with the whole roster that's going to be how it has to go for us to be successful. We need guys to be the best version of themselves, and I think (Lawn) can add to that."

One of the big things that Lawn brings to the table is developing a specific plan for each individual. Guys like Robby Medel, Austin Rubick and Tyler Crawford have told me how much it's made a difference in their weekly work, and they've also let the coaching staff know.

"I don't know a lot of what they had before, but I do know there's a great amount of detail put in to the strength and conditioning element and the throwing program element," said Johnson. "When we got them for seven, eight weeks in the fall, they did not throw a pitch competitively. They needed to build their arms up. There's been some history of some arm problems with some of the guys we have on the staff, and we wanted to make sure we were putting them in a position to be ascending to their best right now. So I think they like the attention to detail, and we've taken that to another level the last couple weeks and having to make it more game-like with signs, pitching out of the stretch, all those types of things, and coach Lawn does a really good job of setting their routines up for them."

"I'm doing what we do," Lawn added. "We have a plan for every guy, every day, every week, and a few days beyond. I think having somebody with them all the time is maybe somewhat of a difference (from Andy Lopez), but I don't know if they had a guy with them a lot or not."

"Sometimes you gotta have something they can look at to kind of measure how the previous performance was," Lawn explained of the individual sheets. "I try to look at it as how are they doing as a group, not so much as an individual, but I think when you look at things game-by-game and you look at things like 0-0 strikes, and 1-1 strikes, and overall ball/strike percentages, and taking diligent game notes, and try to point out the four or five really important things you can apply to benefit the whole group. I do spend a lot of time doing that."

So how have these new points of emphasis paid off to this point?

"Real good," coach Lawn continued. "There's some really good pitchers on this staff, and what's kind of exciting is there's a lot of guys that are going to be able to do a lot of different things."

It'll be interesting to see how the pitching staff responds in 2016 after a few down years. But I don't think there's any question that the right man is in charge of the potential development the Arizona arms could see.