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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Lopez extension deserved

    Michael Schwartz
    Michael Schwartz

    Andy Lopez had every reason to leave.

    The Arizona baseball head coach had

    already rebuilt the Wildcats baseball program into an up-and-coming top-10 contender with three straight playoff berths and a College World Series appearance as well as facing a season having lost five of his top hitters and his ace starting pitching duo to the draft.

    Moreover, the Wildcats couldn’t even bid to host a regional due to a lack of fan support and Lopez was being offered more money at other schools, typically the ultimate factor in sports at all levels.

    He had done this before, having also taken Pepperdine and Florida to College World Series before eventually bolting, as he’s one of only three Division I coaches to take three programs to Omaha.

    But just like he said “”thanks, but no thanks”” to alma mater UCLA after the 2004 season, Lopez turned down a chance to coach baseball at deep-pocketed Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

    “”I have every desire to continue the groundwork we’ve laid so far and to recruit and field the type of student-athletes that will make not only the university and athletic department proud, but the city of Tucson as well,”” Lopez said in a statement in June.

    “”Over the 28 years that I have been a coach, I have learned that you can’t measure things by numbers,”” he continued. “”My wife and four children love living here and making Tucson our home, and to me that is more important than any other factor that could be considered.””

    Lopez won’t have to go through this seemingly annaual pomp and circumstance anymore. His contract extension, approved last week by the Arizona Board of Regents at the athletic department’s request, assures Lopez will be around through 2011 and likely much longer.

    Lopez’s new contract calls for a salary of $96,615, which includes a salary increase of $7,678, extending a contract previously set to expire after the 2008 campaign.

    Since it’s up to Arizona athletics director Jim Livengood, who said he shares both a close professional and personal relationship with Lopez, it looks like Lopez will be around for a while.

    “”There’s not a program in the country that wouldn’t be better to have Andy Lopez as its baseball coach,”” Livengood said. “”I have so much respect for him in every possible way. He does things the right way.””

    With his first four Arizona recruiting classes ranked in the top 10, according to Collegiate Baseball, Lopez’s key to success is clearly in getting players to buy into his mission.

    He told the talented draft picks of last year’s squad that he would win in Arizona and that he wanted them to be a part of it, sparking their interest by explaining they could be part of the group that got the Wildcats back to national prominence.

    It also doesn’t hurt to tell recruits that he has never had a four-year class fail to reach the series and has made four trips in all.

    “”The amazing thing that Andy does is not trying to pull wool over anyone’s eyes. There are no promises,”” Livengood said. “”He’s very forward to the parents and more and more accompanying parents are absolutely blown away.””

    “”Recruiting is basically building relationships, and parents become part of that,”” he added. “”With players, he’s very honest with them. If they work hard and have any kind of talent, they’re going to have a chance to play at another level.””

    That relationship exists beyond their time playing for Lopez as the coach still keeps in contact with many of his former players, a long list that includes Texas Rangers center fielder Brad Wilkerson and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf.

    “”When you come here to play baseball for Andy, you’re going to be in his life forever,”” Livengood said.

    Lopez treats everybody the same way, whether it’s a disabled youngster, his boss or even an 18-year-old freshman reporter on his first day on the job.

    “”Andy is about relationships,”” Livengood said. “”I can’t say strongly enough about how much respect for him I have in everything that he handles. He’s just a real class act. We’re lucky to have him, and we’re not going to lose him.””

    Lopez faces his toughest year yet in Arizona: a reloading year.

    This has happened before, when much of Pepperdine’s 1992 national championship team left, and it’s the nature of college baseball that Lopez understands well – if you recruit good players and they produce, they will leave for the professional ranks after three years and leave a hole in the program in the short term.

    However, junior closer Mark Melancon said he doesn’t see why the national media doubts the Wildcats this year despite all the personnel losses because of the man at the helm.

    “”He just rubs off on you,”” Melancon said. “”That’s why I don’t get how people can put us down at 31st in the nation. They’ve seen Coach’s standings before. He’s not going to let this happen to us.””

    While that remains to be seen, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against a man with such a knack for winning (.617 winning percentage entering this year) and who has already worked his magic at Arizona.

    If Lopez keeps bringing in top-10 recruiting classes annually, he would become the third great coach in Arizona baseball history, joining Jerry Kindall and the legendary Frank Sancet.

    “”Time will tell that, but I would be really hard-pressed,”” Livengood said. “”He is exactly in the model of any great coach who ever coached. If we’re lucky enough (to keep him), Arizona will win out. He’s just a special person.””

    At this rate, the Arizona baseball stadium’s name may be changed once again in the future to honor another Wildcats coaching great.

    How does Andy Lopez Plaza at Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium sound?

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