A-J ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
About halfway through the 2010 season, with the pitching staff struggling and statistically in last place in the Big 12 Conference, Texas Tech head coach Dan Spencer took control of his hurlers.
Though the numbers didn’t improve drastically the rest of the season, their competitiveness did, and helped Tech make a late push that led to a fifth-place finish in the conference race. But it also left pitching coach Ed Gustafson on an island.
On Tuesday, Texas Tech announced Gustafson had stepped down and that Jim Horner had been hired to fill out the staff for the 2011 season. Spencer will keep control of the pitchers while Horner, who has managed the past four years in the Seattle Mariners’ organization, will work with hitters and catchers. The hiring completes the staff, which also saw former Coronado coach Jimmy Webster come on board as director of operations.
“He brings a lot of experience as both a player and a manger in pro baseball,” said Spencer, who was recruiting in Arlington on Tuesday. “He’ll work with our hitters with coach (Andy) Jarvis and they’ll do a great job together, and he’ll take the catchers from me and that will let me focus on the pitchers. He’ll have a finger in a lot of things. I’m excited to have him and coach Webster, two guys who were catchers and can see the game, who were involved in it and passionate about baseball.”
A four-year letterwinner and all-Pacific-10 Conference selection at Washington State, Horner has been in the Mariners’ organization since 2005. He was the 2009 California League Manager of the Year in 2009 after leading the High Desert Mavericks, Seattle’s Class A Advanced affiliate, to a 194-182 record in two seasons and leading the organization to first- and second-half South Division titles. He also coached for the Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and the Everett AquaSox in short season.
Tech, however, will be his first foray into coaching at the college level.
“Whether it’s college or pro, baseball is baseball,” said Horner, who was with Spencer on the recruiting trail. “The fact that I’ve seen a lot of games and managed a lot of games, been around baseball enough, I don’t think it will be that much different.”
Spencer and Horner were acquaintances before the hiring. Spencer said Horner played for him one summer in the northwest and talked the Mariners into signing Horner. That led to a nine-year pro career with the Mariners from 1996 to 2004 that included stops at Triple-A Tacoma and Double-A San Antonio, where he was a Texas League all-star in 2003. For his pro career he hit .259 with 116 doubles, six triples, 59 home runs and 298 RBIs.
“I like (Spencer’s) style,” Horner said. “He gets after it and that’s what I like to do. He’s really good with the players and communicating with the players. That came off well with me when I played for him and he cares as much for you as a person as a coach. It will be fun.”
Spencer said Horner’s lack of coaching experience at the college level was not a concern.
“I thought about whether we needed to hire a college guy who is used to college and used to recruiting,” Spencer said. “But we’re in a situation with coach Horner where he’d written reports on all the guys he saw, so he knows how to evaluate players. He just hasn’t done it in a college setting. The difference is at Texas Tech I’m still out recruiting so it’s not like he came in with coach (Trent) Petrie and got thrown right out the door with a map and a GPS and had to go figure it out. We’re attacking that as we speak.”
Texas Tech has ranked in the top five in the Big 12 in hitting in each of Spencer’s first two seasons as head coach, but the Red Raiders have also ranked last in the league in pitching. Spencer said he and Gustafson talked after the season and that both expressed the desire to coach pitchers, but ultimately Spencer decided it was in the program’s best interest for him to keep control of the staff.
“It was a miserable situation for Eddie and me, the whole deal,” said Spencer, who added Gustafson was paid throughout the summer while he sought another job. “I guess I’m not a guy who can have a pitching coach with me because I have my own agenda with them, right or wrong. That’s the way it played out. Eddie and I are close as far as doing things in a lot of ways, but when push came to shove, it was a move we needed to make.”
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