The Arizona Wildcats have hired Chip Hale as their new head baseball coach. The 56-year-old returns to Tucson after a standout career at the UA, where he was an infielder from 1984 to 1987. Hale won a College World Series as a Wildcat and still holds the UA records for games played (255), hits (337), total bases (507), sacrifice flies (21) and walks (162).
Since then, he has coached in the major and minor leagues for more than a decade. How do you feel about the hire? Our staff members graded it.
Ryan Kelapire — B
Hale has no college coaching experience, which is a major red flag. He will need to hire assistant coaches with strong knowledge of the recruiting process and ties in the West Coast. But as far as coaching goes, Hale is qualified for the job. He has coached in the major and minor leagues for almost two decades. He managed a Triple-A team—the Tucson Sidewinders!—to a championship in 2006 and won a World Series as a bench coach with the Washington Nationals in 2019. He was also the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015 and 2016 (albeit the team struggled) and has been a bench/third-base coach with several other MLB clubs. That experience will appeal to recruits who are hoping to play at that level. According to players who worked with Hale, it should translate to the college level as well.
“I always felt like he would be PERFECT for the college game,” tweeted former MLB pitcher Dallas Braden, who played for Hale when he was a bench coach for the A’s. “Prepared. Motivated. Grinder. Disciplined. Regimented. He will have expectations & should those young athletes pay attention they will exceed them on & off the field.”
And I found this old quote on Hale in the Arizona Republic from the late Jerry Kindall: “He is one of the most dependable, upright people I’ve known. He made the right decisions on and off the field all the way through his four years here and beyond. He was a terrific student. He’s a great father and husband. He is a model of stability. I coveted him as a college coach. I thought he would make a terrific college coach.”
Meanwhile, Hale’s UA background will appeal to fans, boosters and former players. That’s important when it comes to generating buy-in from the community. And unlike his predecessor, Hale won’t see this job as a stepping stone to something better. That could mean sustained success if the Wildcats can pick up where Jay Johnson left off. That won’t be easy, though. More than a dozen UA players are in the transfer portal and a couple of key 2022 recruits have already decommitted. This could be a major rebuild. Will a first-time college coach be up for the challenge?
Ezra Amacher — B-
Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke could have done much worse than hiring Hale. Heeke also could have done better. Hale was apparently the second choice for the job, after Oregon coach Mark Wasikowski turned down the position and signed a five-year extension with the Ducks, per Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball. Arizona didn’t make a serious run at UC Santa Barbara coach Andrew Checketts, either, with Rogers speculating that the UA didn’t want to pay the money it would have cost to get Checketts to leave the beach town.
With options running out, Heeke went for the safe pick: an alum of the program who is well respected in pro baseball even if he lacks college baseball coaching credentials. Hale is a consummate baseball lifer, having spent nearly a decade playing in the big leagues and another 14 years on MLB staffs. Only time will tell whether that experience translates to grand success at the college level.
At 56 years old, it’s hard to gauge how well he’ll connect with teenagers or how motivated he’ll be to go on recruiting trips. Hale will have to learn the ropes of allocating 11.7 scholarships among 27 players – always a delicate process – and he’ll have to navigate an ever evolving college athletics landscape that now allows for players to make money off their name, image and likeness.
Hale needs to surround himself with highly motivated assistants who don’t mind doing the dirty work that comes with coaching college sports: recruiting, working the transfer portal, keeping players happy. Arizona baseball has a lot to sell, but it will take significant work to bring elite talent to Tucson.
Brian J. Pedersen — B+
Of all the coaches Arizona was reportedly looking at, none has bigger boom-or-bust potential than Chip Hale. His connections to the UA program, his longtime residence in Tucson and his extensive coaching experience are all on the plus side, while this being his first time coaching in college could make for a steep learning curve.
But anyone who knows Hale, or has worked with him, knows he doesn’t put anything less than 100 percent effort into whatever he does. And I have firsthand knowledge, having covered him when he managed the Tucson Sidewinders from 2004-06.
There were certainly “better” candidates out there from a college perspective, but considering when Arizona needed to find a coach and the leverage many of those options would have, Hale works because he wants the job not because it’s a springboard to something else.
A good comparison might be Eric Wedge, the former Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners manager who in 2019 left the pros to coach his alma mater, Wichita State, with whom he won a College World Series title in 1989. That same Wedge came to Hi Corbett Field back in March and split a pair of games with Jay Johnson’s Arizona squad.
Adam Green — D+
Did you see Arizona’s tweet about the news? The very first thing mentioned was how Hale played for the Wildcats, which in no way makes one qualified to lead the program nor able to do so successfully.
Yes, he’s a local legend and sure he has MLB experience. But he didn’t exactly win as a big league manager and it’s fair to question if he’ll be able to recruit at a high enough level to at least maintain the program’s status.
None of this is to say Hale will not do well. He’s well-liked and will certainly give the job his all. But as of this very moment, it’s tough to get excited over Arizona hiring a coach no one else would have to lead a program that has legitimate championship expectations.
How would you grade Arizona’s hiring of Chip Hale?
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