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Rutgers Baseball names Steve Owens new Head Coach

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Pat Hobbs hires another program builder in an effort to do the same on a bigger stage.

The boys in Scarlet have a new head man.
Rutgers Athletics

On Wednesday morning, Rutgers announced the hiring of Steve Owens as the next head coach of the baseball program. A national search was conducted after Joe Litterio did not have his contract renewed and athletic director Pat Hobbs moved swiftly once again, making a decision in a tad under a month’s time. Owens has produced 28 consecutive winning seasons at three stops including Cortland, Le Moyne, and most recently Bryant. In his nine years at the school, Bryant has earned 40+ wins four times (reaching the NCAA tournament in three), during which Owens achieved a .631 winning percentage. Keith Sargeant and James Kratch of nj.com broke the news prior to the official announcement from Rutgers Athletics.

Hobbs added this about his new head coach:

“His level of sustained success is among the nation’s best. He now brings that formula to Rutgers and the Big Ten. Steve’s great at developing student-athletes and putting them on a path to success, both on and off the field. We have a rich history and Steve will write the next great chapter for Rutgers baseball. I’m delighted to welcome him, his wife Catharine and his family to our family.”

Owens starred in both baseball and football at St. Lawrence, being named Team MVP in both sports. Drafted by the Chicago Cubs, he spent two seasons with the organization, in Geneva and Charleston (W.Va.). Following just two seasons as an assistant at Ithaca, Owens was named Head Coach at Cortland where his squads reached the NCAA regionals in his final seven seasons, four of which resulted in Division III World Series berths. After eight seasons at Cortland he moved on to Le Moyne for 11 campaigns, reaching the Division I NCAA tournament three times. Then in 2011 he moved on to Bryant, where the Bulldogs have won the Northeast Conference in each of the last eight seasons.

Owens has amassed a ridiculous career record of 914-483-3 (.654), including a top 30 active mark in career victories. Overall, he has produced 28-straight winning seasons (yes I repeated that fact because it’s incredible) as a skipper, with a 71-48 (.600) career record in the postseason as well. You won’t find a candidate with a better resume, especially considering he is just 54 years old.

Admittedly when I first heard Hobbs was hiring the coach of Bryant, I was a little disappointed because there were several other legitimate candidates with much deeper ties to the program. Beyond the loyalty factor though, it’s pretty clear Owens boasts a superior resume to Litterio. Then although they didn’t play head to head in 2019, it’s pretty obvious that top to bottom Bryant had a better ballclub than Rutgers. So to get a coach with a better reputation from another program that is currently better than yours has to be considered a win, right?

Probably, but this led into my top four priorities had I been on the committee that conducted this search, ultimately settling on Owens:

  • Can he develop next level talent? The Bulldogs produced 18 MLB Draft picks over the last seven seasons. That’s a lot more than Rutgers (seven).
  • Can he coach hitting? Bryant set school and conference records for home runs (81), hits (679), RBI (455) and runs scored (487). This seems obvious.
  • Can he recruit? Owens had three members of his Class of 2020 get drafted in the first 22 rounds of the MLB Draft this year, so they are coming in ready to go. One of them, Ryan Ward became a first Collegiate Baseball Freshman Player of the Year. Recruiting players to the Big Ten should be easier, right?
  • Will this hire ensure Phil Cundari stays on as pitching coach? As reported by Sargeant and Kratch, Cundari (currently the interim head coach) was one of four finalists for the position and we may find out the plans for 2020 later this week. Hopefully Cundari sticks around, although if he really wants to be a head man, it would be hard to fault him for leaving. If he leaves, perhaps Owens’s right hand man at Bryant Brendan Monaghan would come along to fill the void.

As Hobbs has done in other sports like Kristen Butler in softball and with gymnastics in Umme Salim-Beasley, he follows his traditional formula of bringing in a program builder. Owens brings an impressive resume as an athlete and a coach, appearing ready to take over a program like Rutgers in a top conference like the Big Ten. His history producing Academic All-Americans also fits the profile that Hobbs has been looking for and is documented in the Strategic Vision for Rutgers Athletics.

Rutgers baseball has never reached the .500 mark in Big Ten play, failing to qualify for the eight team Big Ten Tournament in each of their five years in the conference. Owens has plenty of work to do in turning around the program, but he has done it thrice before. If you don’t look at loyalty and ties to the Rutgers Baseball program, it’s easy to see why Owens was the choice.

Here’s what Owens had to say:

“I would first like to thank Director of Athletics Pat Hobbs, Ryan Pisarri and the other members of the search committee for selecting me as the newest leader of the baseball program.” “I am honored to have the opportunity to work in a program with such rich history and tradition. I believe my vision for the program is consistent with the department’s strategic priorities of student-athlete excellence, cultural excellence and sustaining long-term excellence. I am looking forward to meeting the players and recruits, and starting to build the relationship and trust necessary to succeed. We will have talented athletes who will work hard, compete to win and play with Jersey toughness and grit. Our immediate goal is to establish ourselves as a consistent contender in the Big Ten. In addition, we aspire to be a top team in our region of the country, consistently develop professional players and work toward postseason opportunities.”

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