Summer 2023 will be a time of transition for the UCF Knights Baseball team.
Not only will the Knights transition from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12 on July 1, but with Greg Lovelady’s dismissal Saturday, they will have to hire a new head coach for just the third time in the last 40 years as well.
Here’s a look at some possible candidates that Athletic Director Terry Mohajir could call upon to take over the program, based largely on our own informed speculation:
Rich Wallace - Florida State Recruiting Coordinator
Currently just finished his first season as FSU’s assistant coach, Wallace began his coaching career at UCF (2004-08) under Jay Bergman, coaching the catchers and outfielders while coordinating the camps. UCF won the ASUN regular season title in 2004 and reached the NCAA Tournament.
As a player, Wallace played four years at UCF from 2000-03 and led UCF with a .380 batting average and .529 on-base percentage as a freshman.
Post UCF, Wallace was the recruiting coordinator at Creighton (2015-17), High Point (2009-14), and Jacksonville (2018-2019) before going to Notre Dame (2020-2022) where Wallace help the Fighting Irish reach the College World Series in 2022.
Jeff Johnson — Chipola College head coach
Back in the mid-80s, Jeff Johnson was a transfer pitcher from Gulf Coast Community College that played for two seasons for the Knights in 1987 and 1988. Johnson picked up five saves for the Knights in that ‘88 season.
Since he became the head coach at Chipola College in Marianna, Florida in 2002 though, he has seen over 100 MLB Draft selections come through the program.
The highlights of this club include Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Pat Corbin, Tyler Flowers, and Adam Duvall.
He has also been serving in Chipola’s front office as its Athletic Director since 2015.
Chad Mottola — Tampa Bay Rays Hitting Coach
Mottola is a UCF Athletics Hall of Famer who is currently the hitting coach for the Tampa Bay Rays (2016-present),
In three seasons at UCF (1990-1992), Mottola batted .331 in 177 games, scored 145 runs, and collected 222 hits, 39 doubles, and 20 triples (which is tied for tops all-time in program history), 23 home runs, 148 RBI (10th all-time), 370 total bases (9th all-time), and a career .552 slugging percentage. He was an All-American in his final season in 1992, hitting .345 with 14 home runs.
Mottola was UCF’s first Major League Baseball first-round draft pick in program history when he was selected fifth overall in 1992 by the Cincinnati Reds, one pick ahead of the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter. Mottola is the second-highest UCF draft pick in any sport behind only Blake Bortles in the 2013 NFL Draft. He played professional baseball for 16 seasons from 1992-2007, spending parts of five seasons in the Majors with the Reds (1996), Blue Jays (2000, 2006), Marlins (2001) and Orioles (2004).
Cliff Godwin — East Carolina Head Coach
Of all the coaches with UCF connections, one has a better resume of success than Cliff Godwin.
Godwin has taken ECU to six NCAA Tournaments, including four Super Regionals. He’s a four-time American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, including three times in a four-year stretch from 2019-22.
Godwin was an assistant coach at UCF under Terry Rooney for three seasons (2009-2011) helping lead the Knights to NCAA Regional in 2011. A move for Godwin to UCF would mean a jump to a Power 5 job.
However, Godwin is under contract at ECU through 2029 and making around $500,000 per year. This is likely too expensive for UCF at this time.
Jeff Palumbo — East Carolina Associate Head Coach
If Godwin is not realistic, why not one of his assistants?
Even over a decade later, no UCF team has recorded fewer errors than in 2011, back when Jeff Palumbo was in the dugout.
From 2009-2011, Palumbo was working on Terry Rooney’s coaching staff at UCF, alongside Cliff Godwin, who is currently Palumbo’s boss at East Carolina.
Since Palumbo arrived in Greenville with Godwin in July 2014, the Pirates have been to seven NCAA Tournaments, including three super regionals.
Palumbo was promoted to an associate head coaching role back in 2019, so UCF could serve as his head coaching debut.
Andy Barkett — Chicago White Sox Hitting Coordinator
Barkett was on UCF’s staff in 2020 as a volunteer coach with Lovelady before leaving for a job with the Chicago White Sox organization the following season. Barkett was the assistant hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox for the 2018 and 2019 seasons and won a World Series.
With Barkett on staff, the Red Sox offense led the majors in runs, hits, batting average, and OPS in 2018, and finished in the top five in all of those categories in 2019.
Outside Head Coaches
Rob Vaughn — Maryland Head Coach
Vaughn is leading Maryland to their third consecutive NCAA Regional with back-to-back Big Ten regular season championships, and was a national seed and regional host last year. Vaughn is familiar with UCF’s campus as Maryland played at UCF earlier this year. He has ties to the Big 12, having played at Kansas State. Vaughn is currently the youngest head coach in the P5.
Justin Haire — Campbell Head Coach
Haire is arguably the hottest name in College Baseball this off-season after the job he has done at Campbell, leading them to the NCAA Regionals for a fifth straight season. Some college baseball insiders think he could be the front-runner for the Georgia opening, but UCF has to also be in the mix now.
Mike Bell — Pittsburgh Head Coach
Bell has been the head coach at Pitt since 2019. He has led three different teams to four total College World Series appearances as an assistant at Tennessee (2005), Oklahoma (2010), and Florida State (2012 & 2017). Bell has ties to Big 12, with four seasons at Oklahoma and ties in Florida, having served seven seasons at Florida State.
Jason Jackson — Alabama Interim Head Coach
Jackson is from Florida, played at FSU, and then was the pitching coach at Florida Atlantic from 2009-2016.
Jackson’s time with the Owls overlaps with Mohajir’s tenure at FAU as a Senior Associate AD for External Relations from 2004-2011.
But Jackson may end up as the Crimson Tide’s head coach full-time, as he has had a ton of success since being thrust into the job on an interim basis following the midseason departure of Brad Bohannon due to a gambling scandal. Alabama will host a regional as a top 16 national seed.
Outside Assistant Coaches
Steve Rodriguez — Texas Hitting Coach
Should the Knights want to go the Big 12 experience route, one option they could take is giving Steve Rodriguez another chance as a head coach.
2023 was Rodriguez’s first season as Texas’ hitting coach after seven seasons as the head coach at Baylor. He went 197-134 with the Bears and led them to three NCAA Tournaments and a Big 12 Tournament title in 2018.
Nolan Cain — Texas A&M Assistant Coach
When Jim Schlossnagle moved on to Texas A&M in 2021, he hired Nolan Cain for his new staff.
Cain, a Cantonment, Florida (outside of Pensacola) native, had been at LSU from 2014-2021 as the Coordinator of Baseball Operations and then as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. With Cain on the staff, LSU had a Top 10 recruiting class four times.
Chuck Jeroloman — Florida Assistant Coach
Jeroloman has served as the hitting coach throughout his four seasons with the Gators. His best work may be happening right now, as sophomore star Jac Caglianone is the likely front-runner for college baseball national player of the year. Jeroloman has also been an assistant at South Florida and Jacksonville.
John DiLaura — TCU Assistant Coach
If the Knights wanted a younger coach with Big 12 experience, there is John DiLaura of TCU.
He initially joined the Horned Frogs as a volunteer assistant in 2018 under head coach Jim Schlossnagle, promoted to assistant coach and recruiting coordinator in 2021 and remained at TCU when Kirk Saarloos was promoted to head coach after the 2021 season.
The Horned Frogs won the Big 12 Tournament title on Sunday over Oklahoma State
DiLaura also served as an assistant under Jeff Johnson at Chipola during the 2016-2017 seasons. DiLaura and Johnson could be a package option if UCF wants to go with a combo of UCF alum with a Big 12 experience as well.
Who would you pick? Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments.