The University of Houston baseball squad wasn't very good last season.
There was some talent on the roster, but too often the team appeared dispirited and just didn't seem to be putting forth a full effort.
Though Rayner Noble had been a successful coach, and had won more games than any other Cougar baseball coach, the team looked as if it was tuning him out.
Several weeks ago, Noble and the Cougars came to a "mutually agreed resignation."
This past Friday, amidst a non-stop fall of rain, the Cougars took what they hope is the first step toward a return to baseball excellence. And the man they chose to lead them to that return couldn't have been flying higher as he addressed the media.
Todd Whitting had started the week as associate head coach of the TCU Horned Frogs, and they were playing in the College World Series in Omaha. But that was topped by his return to his alma mater, where not only was he a player, he was also an assistant coach before moving to TCU.
For the past seven seasons, Whitting has been an assistant coach for the TCU Horned Frogs, one of the rising powers in college baseball, making it to Omaha and the College World Series this season.
For the past several years he's been the associate head coach, and his coaching duties have been as infield coach and hitting coach.
But Whitting's primary duty has been as a recruiter. And despite the Cougars' record the past several seasons, he's not worried about selling the team or the school to players.
"All prospective students want to see is commitment," he said Friday. "They want to see that you're committed, and that you're going to work hard so they can achieve their goals. And the goals that I have for myself are the same that they have for themselves. And my goal is to run a winning program and be in Omaha. Their goal is to play in a winning program and be in Omaha."
Whitting calls Houston a national hotbed of baseball talent, and it's a hotbed he's going to recruit, though it means he's going to have to go head-to-head with the likes of Rice, Texas, and TCU when it comes to grabbing that talent.
"We're going to swim in deep waters recruiting," he said. "And I wouldn't have it any other way. And that was the approach I took when I went to TCU. TCU was a program at the time, when they did make the change, they were similar to this place. Very committed, and wanted to win national championships and compete at a national level. And we swam in very deep waters for the absolute premier in the country, and that's exactly what our approach is going to be here."
But he's not going to stop at Houston. Whitting claims that if there's premier talent anywhere in Houston, Texas, or the rest of the country, then he and his staff are going to go after them.
"We're just going to attract the best players that we can to the University of Houston. We have a lot to offer. There's commitment here....all kids want to know is that you're going to work hard and you're committed to their success," he says.
Whitting knows that the job will not be easy. He knows that the Cougars have to deal with the challenge of the Rice Owls, not only when it comes to recruiting, but also in having to face one of the country's preeminent college baseball programs multiple times a year.
But his focus isn't beating Rice. He doesn't want his players concentrating on opponents. He wants them to focus on playing baseball: "We're going to play the game. That's what you have to do....The game doesn't change. You play the baseball. You don't play the opponent."
The hiring of Whitting continues a developing trend with the Cougars: Hiring coaches with strong ties to Houston and the community.
Mack Rhoades stressed that the most impressive thing about Whitting, besides his coaching ability, was Whitting's reputation among the baseball community.
"He's very, very well thought of the state in Texas," Rhoades said. "All of the recruiting circles, all of the baseball people, whether you're talking about scouts, high school coaches, select summer teams, all of those things, he's highly regarded."
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Then Rhoades stressed one more thing: "We didn't give him the job. He earned it."
Todd Whitting has been a Cougar player, alum, and assistant coach. Now he's making that next, most logical step.
He's returned home to be the head coach.
He's got one goal in mind, getting the Cougars to Omaha and the College World Series. And Cougar Nation is giving Whitting the best of wishes when it comes to reaching that goal.