Four years after leaving his home state, Rick Heller is coming back to Iowa.
The Eldon native and former Northern Iowa baseball coach was named the University of Iowa’s 20th baseball coach Friday.
“This is a great day for me and my family,” Heller said in a statement. “The opportunity to come back to the state and the challenge of turning the Iowa baseball program into a championship-caliber team is something I’ve dreamed about.”
Heller, who has also coached at Upper Iowa, spent the last four seasons at Indiana State and replaces former Iowa coach Jack Dahm, whose contract was not renewed after 10 seasons.
“Rick has built three programs as a head coach and has led each one to a championship,” Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta said in a statement. “He has a plan that transfers well to Iowa. Rick knows the state of Iowa, and Iowa knows Rick.”
Neither Barta nor Heller were made available to the media Friday. An introductory news conference is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday.
Heller, 49, has been the head coach at three schools, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, and Upper Iowa, and led all three to NCAA postseason play. He holds a career mark of 692-563-4 in 26 seasons.
“He’s proven that he’s a good coach,” Iowa infielder Jake Yacinich said. “I think it’ll be good. I’m excited to get going and see what all is in store and what new things are going to happen.”
Heller led the Panthers to the 2001 Missouri Valley Conference title and into the NCAA tournament, the first regional appearance for the team since becoming a Division I program in 1981.
After the program was dropped, Heller landed at Indiana State where he continued to have success, leading the team to its first outright MVC title in 2012 while taking home conference coach of the year honors.
During a 12-year stint at Upper Iowa, he was named Iowa Conference coach of the year four times.
The announcement ended a long search that began in late May. Throughout the process, rumors swirled on the Internet about who the next coach would be with talk that other candidates had turned down Barta.
“I think they’re glad that we finally have a coach,” Yacinich said. “It was a long process. There were a lot of candidates I think and a lot of people interested.”
Nick Belzer, a right-handed pitcher for Ankeny who signed a letter of intent to play at Indiana State, said Heller called him Friday morning to let him know he’d be accepting the Iowa job.
Belzer said he’s reconsidering his decision and is thinking about asking for his release.
“I’d love to go to Iowa with him, but we’ll just see how it goes,” Belzer said.
News of Heller’s hiring brought excitement to Iowa recruits who had committed to the program under the previous regime.
“I think that he’ll be able to put Iowa back on the map baseball wise,” Iowa recruit and West Des Moines Valley outfielder Tanner Hinkle said.
Heller is give the task of revitalizing a program that has been marred in mediocrity lately. The Hawkeyes, who have suffered three straight losing seasons, haven’t been to the Big Ten tournament since 2010.
Hinkle said he thinks Heller is the right man for the job.
“It’s pretty exciting knowing that he’s coming to Iowa,” Hinkle said.