Arizona baseball coach Jay Johnson is leaving for LSU, forcing the Wildcats to make yet another head coaching hire this year.
Johnson’s departure means UA will have new head coaches in baseball, football, men’s basketball, softball, soccer, and cross country in this upcoming academic year.
Here are some candidates Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke should consider for the baseball vacancy, in no particular order:
Nate Yeskie, Arizona associate head coach
Yeskie joined Arizona’s staff in 2020 after 11 seasons at Oregon State and three seasons at UNLV. He immediately turned a poor UA pitching staff into a good one. He has been named the national Pitching Coach of the Year by Collegiate Baseball twice and in 2017 was named the D1Baseball Assistant Coach of the Year.
Under his direction, pitchers have earned 14 All-Conference honors and 15 All-America selections. In 2018, Yeskie helped Oregon State win a national championship.
Of all the candidates on this list, Yeskie would allow for the smoothest transition from one era of Arizona baseball to the next. However, Texas A&M is reportedly hiring him as its new pitching coach/associate head coach.
Andrew Checketts, UC Santa Barbara head coach
Checketts has a 330-199-3 record at UCSB, including five NCAA Tournament appearances in 10 seasons. (It likely would have been six if not for the 2020 season being cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.)
Checketts led the Gauchos to the 2016 College World Series and a 99-33 record over the past three seasons. UCSB actually came to Tucson for the NCAA Tournament this year and beat Oklahoma State twice in the Tucson Regional before falling to Arizona.
While the Big West does have some other quality head coaches like UC Irvine’s Ben Orloff and Long Beach State’s Eric Valenzuela, they have only been head coaches at their schools for three and two years, respectively.
Andy Stankiewicz, Grand Canyon head coach
A former utility player for the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Montreal Expos, and Arizona Diamondbacks, Stankiewicz has been GCU’s head coach since 2012. He has posted a 300-216-2 record and guided the Lopes to four WAC championships.
GCU was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament for most of his coaching tenure as it transitioned to Division I athletics, but the Lopes broke through in 2021, winning the WAC conference tournament to punch their first ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Under Stankiewicz, GCU has produced 17 MLB Draft picks.
Prior to taking the reins there, Stankiewicz was a minor league field coordinator for the Seattle Mariners, as well as a member of the Arizona State coaching staff. The Pepperdine grad helped lead the Sun Devils to three Pac-10 championships and two College World Series appearances.
Chip Hale, former UA player and longtime MLB manager/assistant coach
The 56-year-old Hale is currently the third base coach for the Detroit Tigers. He has racked up tremendous MLB experience over the years, spending the previous three seasons as bench coach for the Washington Nationals and winning a World Series in 2019.
He was the Diamondbacks' manager from 2015-16, compiling a 148-176 record in the desert. he also coached with the Oakland Athletics and New York Mets. His first managerial gig was with the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders.
Of course, Arizona fans probably know Hale best from his time as a Wildcat. He was an infielder at the UA from 1984-87, including on the 1986 College World Series title team. He was later selected in the 17th round of the 1987 MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his pro debut with Minnesota in 1989. He played for the Twins through 1996 before finishing his playing career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1997.
Shelley Duncan, former UA player and current Chicago White Sox analytics coordinator
If an Arizona alumnus is what you want, then Duncan wouldn’t be a bad candidate, either. The former All-American outfielder has been coaching for several years in the major and minor leagues. At different points, he was the manager of the Diamondbacks’ Short Season-A affiliate, High-A Affiliate and Double-A affiliate. In 2018, he led Double-A Jacksonville to a Southern League championship.
The Toronto Blue Jays hired him as their Major League field coordinator later that year and the Chicago White Sox hired him away as their analytics coordinator in December 2020.
Duncan was a second-round pick in 2001 and played in MLB for seven seasons.
Jordan Bischel, Central Michigan head coach
Bischel has led CMU to two NCAA Tournament appearances in three seasons (though only two full seasons because of COVID). Over that span, the Chippewas have posted a 100-38 record and won two regular-season MAC championships.
Bischel is a Wisconsin native who has exclusively coached in the Midwest. That would make him an out-of-the-box hire for Arizona, but he has coached Heeke’s son Zach for the past three years, so his name could come up at some point during Arizona’s search process.