TUSCALOOSA, Ala. ― Mitch Gaspard certainly didn’t see this one coming.
The Alabama assistant baseball coaches’ mind started racing Monday afternoon when long-time coach Jim Wells told him he was retiring immediately.
By Tuesday afternoon, the university announced Gaspard as Wells’ successor in a whirlwind that the new coach called “somewhat of a surprise.”
“Obviously there were some nervous times just wondering what direction everything was going to go,” Gaspard said.
His three-year contract just needs final approval from the compensation committee of the board of trustees.The abrupt coaching change came as a surprise to several of the Alabama players. Shortstop Josh Rutledge of Cullman said there wasn’t much time for the surprise of Wells’ retirement to set in. Just 10 minutes after getting that news, the team learned its assistant was taking over.
Pitcher Adam Morgan called the transition “bittersweet.”
“At first, you had to have tough skin around (Wells), but when you got to know him, he’s a great guy,” Morgan said. “
“At first, coach Wells is intimidating,” the sophomore said. “Coach Gaspard is more of a get to know you guy real fast.”
As the recruiting coordinator under Wells, Gaspard said he was able to develop a relationship with the new recruits well enough to keep them on board through the change of coaches.
The new leadership will also mean a shifting philosophy. Gaspard, although an assistant for Wells for nine years, said his teams can expect more small ball than Alabama teams of the past. There will be more stolen bases attempted and a few more hit-and-runs thrown into the game plan next spring, he promised.
Gapsard, who spoke about the friendship he developed over the years with Wells, said his opinion on Alabama’s facilities differed from his predecessor who had asked for upgrades. When recruiting last year, Gaspard said the Tide got commitments from 10 of the 11 players offered scholarships and nobody said a negative word about the facilities.
“Right now, we’re fortunate to have the things we have,” Gaspard said. “Our biggest concern right now is playing great baseball and putting good people out there.”
While Gaspard acknowledged the 2010 team will play without the depth of the 2009 team that had the nation’s leading home run hitter in Kent Matthes. The slugging right fielder is now playing in the minors along with a handful of his old college teammates.
Gaspard is quick to point out that he returns the each of the starting infielders and some quality young pitchers from last season’s team that finished 37-21.