Rutgers announced the hiring of an assistant softball coach.
** crickets **
Yeah, I know, another story about an Olympic sport. And not even a head coach hire.
Well, it is about an Olympic sport, but the hiring is different. It ties in a bit with the hiring that Steve Pikiell did with basketball and that Chris Ash did in football. This hire is different because of the level of success the hiree has had in his previous stops as a coach.
Jay Miller is the new associate head coach of the Scarlet Knights. Miller served as the softball pitching coach at the University of Louisville from 2014-16, driving the Cardinals to four NCAA Regional appearances as well as an American Athletic Conference Championship title in 2014. This past season the Louisville pitching staff posted a 2.30 ERA to rank 26th in the nation. This past season, Rutgers (24-33) had a staff ERA of more than double that at 4.95.
Prior to Louisville, Miller spent ten years as head coach at Mississippi State. With the Bulldogs, he had six regional appearances including being a Regional Finalist in 2005. While at Mississippi State, Miller became the 13th Division I softball head coach to earn his 1000th career victory.
Not enough? Try his stint at Missouri. Miller led the University of Missouri softball program from 1987-2002. In 15 seasons with the Tigers, Miller compiled a record of 556-309 and guided the program to two WCWS (1991 and 1994) and a total of five NCAA regionals. In 1997, Miller was named Big 12 Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers to the Big 12 Conference title.
That’s a lot of experience, a lot of success. And at a pretty high level of competition.
A lot like Pikiell's staff. The one that everyone feels is the best ever at Rutgers. High level of success, high level of expectation.
Jay Nelson has done a good job at Rutgers. Especially considering what he has to work with in terms of facilities and finances. The facility - such as it is - is shown below.
As for finances, the NCAA allows 18 scholarships in softball; in 2014-15, the most recent data available, Rutgers gave out 10.84 scholarships spread among 30 players. By comparison, Michigan, the premier Big Ten softball program, used 12.37 scholarships, Wisconsin 14.67, and Indiana 11.98. And no one gave any part of a scholarship to more than 20 players. And among those schools, Rutgers had the smallest softball budget.
But back to Jay Nelson: his 246-286 ten-year record isn’t outstanding, but his teams are competitive and, even in the Big Ten, have been in the mix the last two years. A lot of bang for relatively few bucks.
But here’s the point to consider: softball, along with any number of other Olympic sports, probably have a better chance of achieving success - significant success - in the Big Ten sooner than the two “news-coverage” leaders, football and basketball. Look at wrestling’s surge in wins, ranking, and attendance. Women’s soccer? Men’s lacrosse? Who wins a Big Ten title first? One of them or football?
Miller is a significant coaching hire. His background at the highest level of college softball, as well as his role on the staff of the USA Softball National Team for the last 20 years, seems to be saying that Rutgers has a serious interest in upgrading the program.
Yeah, another out-of-season story about a sport that isn’t football. But maybe, ju-u-u-st maybe, it’s significance is more than just a passing glance at another Olympic sport.