KNOXVILLE—Dave Serrano’s whirlwind Wednesday spilled over into Thursday’s early-morning hours.
After accepting an offer to become Tennessee’s new baseball coach, the 46-year-old Serrano had to wait for his wife and three sons to arrive in Knoxville after thunderstorms delayed their flight from Atlanta.
“They didn’t land till 1:30 [a.m.] — their flight was delayed — and we actually got in the car from the airport,” Serrano said in Lindsey Nelson Stadium’s first-base dugout following his introductory news conference Thursday afternoon. “I brought them down here and we were walking the grounds at 2 in the morning.
“That’s the little kid in me, but that’s how proud I am to show my family where we’re going to spend our lives.”
After 15 years as an assistant and head coach on the West Coast at Cal State Fullerton and California-Irvine, Serrano returned to Knoxville to take the reins of a Volunteers program that hasn’t reached the eight-team Southeastern Conference tournament in the past four seasons.
“It is an exciting day for Tennessee baseball. It gives me goosebumps,” interim athletic director Joan Cronan said. “[Serrano] is a perfect fit for the University of Tennessee. He is a proven winner. We just didn’t hire an average coach — we hired a great coach.”
A two-year assistant at UT (1995-96) when the Vols won 97 games and reached the 1995 College World Series, Serrano helped win a national title as a Fullerton assistant in 2004 and reached the CWS at both of his head-coaching stops — with Irvine in 2007 and with Fullerton in 2009.
“I never left this place, and that’s the honest truth,” he said about UT. “It was for the best for me to get back to California, but I never left this place. Physically I left it. Mentally I didn’t. I’ve always been here emotionally.
“[Taking this job] was the same feeling I had when we won the national championship. I couldn’t believe this was happening, and I hope everyone understands winning the national championship was one of the greatest moments ever in my professional career, and I’m comparing that to last night when Joan and I shook hands.”
Serrano’s five-year contract with UT has a base salary of $275,000, though the total worth is $450,000 annually with apparel and media compensation. Serrano, who received “300-something” text messages Wednesday, said Fullerton assistant Greg Bergeron, his “righthand man for seven years,” plans to join his staff at UT, and his goal for the third member of the staff is to find a coach with ties to either the Southeast or the Vols.
The challenge is steep. The Vols finished last in the SEC this season, and they share a division with Vanderbilt, Florida and defending national champion South Carolina, three of the eight teams at this year’s CWS.
But Serrano, who’s won more than 67 percent of his games in seven seasons as a head coach, has a solid in-state recruiting base and an impressive set of facilities that were renovated in 2009. He thanked former athletic director Mike Hamilton, who resigned last week, for the facility upgrades done across campus during his tenure.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t [win],” he said. “I think people are dying for this program to start being more consistent year in and year out. That’s why I hope I was brought here, and that’s why I came here — to show the people that this proud university can have a very competitive, year in and year out, good baseball program. Everything’s in place here.”
Serrano needed two seasons to get Irvine to the NCAA tournament after a 31-25 record his first season. (The Anteaters were 33-24 the year before his arrival.) Fullerton improved by three games in Serrano’s first season, though the Titans lost in a super regional a season after making the CWS.
“It’s probably going to be very similar to what I’m stepping into now,” Serrano said. “The sooner [the players] buy into the system and the belief and the trust is there, the sooner that we’ll get it turned around. I want things now, and the timetable for success is I want to start winning yesterday.
“I know there’s a little work to do. I can promise you will see progress. Will will beat skill every day of the week. This team will have that.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...