When he got into his car at the Nashville International Airport and headed for home Monday evening, Erik Bakich was most concerned with speed.
“I’m driving about 70 miles per hour, but my mind is going about 1,000 miles per hour,” he said.
The 31-year-old had nothing to limit the number of thoughts that raced through his mind or how rapidly they came to him hours after he was introduced as the new baseball coach at Maryland.
An assistant and recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt for the past seven seasons, Bakich was chosen to try and turn around a program that has not had a winning conference record and has not been to the NCAA tournament since 1971. The one thought that continually resurfaced was that the challenge is nothing new.
“I would compare it to the same job as Vanderbilt seven years ago,” he said. “You’re going into a power conference with not much tradition on your side. You have to recruit kids who want to be builders and on the idea of turning the program around.
“You have to create a team identity, the same identity that we tried to build the foundation of Vanderbilt with – a hard-nosed, blue collar, aggressive, competitive mentality.”
His task is to rejuvenate a program in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which has sent at least seven teams to the NCAA tournament each of the past five years. His predecessor, Terry Rupp, resigned in May after nine seasons with a 227-271 (61-183 in conference) record.
“Erik will bring instant enthusiasm and energy to the program,” Maryland associate athletics director Dan Trump said in a statement. “He was part of building Vanderbilt baseball from the ground up, which was of great appeal to me and the search committee. We expect our program to be competing in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments in the very-near future.”
Bakich proved immediately that he was prepared to move quickly.
By Monday evening he already had hired the first of his three assistants, Dan Burton, a volunteer assistant this past season at Austin Peay. Burton played at Louisville and was a member of that school’s 2007 team, which went to the College World Series.
On Tuesday, he planned to attend a tournament in Atlanta and begin the recruiting process.
“I’ve been recruiting since our season ended for Vanderbilt,” he said. “(Tuesday) will be the first day I’ll be out recruiting for Maryland.
“Vanderbilt has a totally different set of needs than what Maryland has right now. … (The Commodores) have six kids committed already in the junior class and probably only need four more. Maryland doesn’t have any kids committed in this junior class, and we’re going to look to sign a big class – probably a minimum of 12 players.”
Bakich was a volunteer assistant for one season at Clemson on a staff that included current Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin. He came to VU in 2003 when Corbin was hired.
In that time he distinguished himself as a top-flight recruiter. Everyone one of Vanderbilt’s recruiting classes under his direction where ranked in the top 25. The 2005 group was rated the country’s best, and the 2008 class was ranked No. 2.
He also was the Commodores’ primary outfield coach. He assisted in hitting and base-running and this past season he moved to third-base coach after having been the first-base coach for several seasons.
“I would say I’ve had other opportunities in the past, but I would never have considered leaving such a great situation like Vanderbilt unless it was an opportunity like this one – an opportunity to jump into a conference like the ACC and to continue to be able to play at the highest level and recruit at the highest level,” he said. “I didn’t want to sacrifice that and go to another stepping stone when I felt like everything at Vanderbilt was such a great opportunity.”