Two significant events in the college sports community have taken place off the playing field. UCSB hired its first new head baseball coach in 19 years, and Santa Barbara City College is getting a new director of athletics.
Andrew Checketts, the rookie Gaucho baseball boss, cannot wait to get out on the field. “I’m much more comfortable with the hat on doing this,” he said, flashing a few signs (Bunt? Steal?) during a press conference last week.
Checketts, 35, was a commanding presence on the mound during his own college career (an 11-1 record as an All-American pitcher at Oregon State), and he exuded confidence that he can succeed in his first head-coaching job. He previously worked in winning programs—UC Riverside (the Big West champion in 2007) and Oregon, where he spent three years as the top assistant and recruiting coordinator.
UCSB does not have the resources of Oregon, endowed by Nike’s Phil Knight with first-rate athletic facilities, but Checketts believes that by displaying UCSB’s “culture of excellence” on the baseball diamond, community support will follow. To contend for the championship of the Big West is a serious endeavor. It is one of the nation’s strongest baseball conferences, led by four-time NCAA champion Cal State Fullerton.
“We’ve been dreaming about this,” Checketts said of himself and his wife, Michelle, who’s expecting their second child. They were hoping Mark Massari, UCSB’s director of athletics, would interview him for the job. “I didn’t tell Mark this, but he kinda had me at hello,” Checketts said. Checketts duly stressed the importance of academics at UCSB, which has never been accused of making a mockery of the term “student athlete.”
Ryan Byrne, who takes over as SBCC’s director of athletics next week, also puts the student first in his conception of college sports. “I firmly believe that our job in athletics is to fulfill the greater mission of the institution,” Byrne said during a visit to the campus. He comes to Santa Barbara from Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, where he was a football coach and, most tellingly, the founding director of the school’s Student Academic Success Program.
Byrne started his own collegiate career at Santa Rosa Community College. “I was a qualifier [academically for a four-year NCAA school] out of high school, but I was a ‘tweener’ in terms of talent,” the former quarterback said. “Community college athletics offered me the opportunity to develop personally, to grow and mature and learn a lot of life lessons while earning my associate’s degree.”
After concluding his football playing career at Florida A&M, Byrne returned to California to earn two more degrees, a BA in sociology from UC Davis and a Master of Arts in education from UC Berkeley. He was offensive coordinator of Diablo Valley’s high-scoring football team, and his approach to the game shed light on his core beliefs.
“We ran a spread offense and made a lot of adjustments on the fly,” Byrne said. “I’m a big believer in developing the whole student athlete. Part of that is creating a thinking man’s game, so to speak.”
Byrne said he will leave the coaching of Vaqueros football to Craig Moropoulos and his staff. The incoming athletics director will be too busy overseeing all the college’s sports programs.
BLUE-AND-GOLD KNIGHTS: Carlene Mitchell, hired last month to coach UCSB’s women’s basketball team after 10 seasons as top assistant at Rutgers, has put former Scarlet Knights players Courtney Locke and Heather Zurich on her staff. Her director of basketball operations, Robin (Anderson) Thormodsgaard, played for Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa.
SPORTING FOURTH: One of the state’s oldest road races, the 56th annual Semana Nautica 15K, will be happening the morning of July 4. Most of the runners will finish between 9-10 a.m. at San Marcos High, crossing Hollister Avenue with the protection of the CHP. … The Santa Barbara Foresters have scheduled their traditional holiday baseball game against the Conejo Oaks at 3 p.m. on Monday at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Come out and listen to the crack of wooden bats before the fireworks shows.
CATCHING UP: UCSB’s Ryan Martin ran the fourth fastest time in the 800-meter semifinals to qualify as an All-American at the NCAA track-and-field championships at Des Moines, Iowa. He couldn’t hold that pace in the finals and finished eighth. In the USATF Nationals, Martin went out in the opening heats at Eugene, Oregon, along with former Gaucho Tetlo Emmen. … After the Southern California Cardinals 16U team reached the 32-team winners’ bracket at the U.S.A. Baseball Western Championships in Arizona last weekend, they were eliminated by the Colton Nighthawks, who rolled to the title. The Cardinals got a good pitching performance from Dos Pueblos High’s Gabe Speier, whose mother, Jenny, was misidentified in last week’s column.