Rick Heller has taken over programs before and succeeded.
Prior to being named baseball coach at Iowa in July, Heller had stints at Upper Iowa, Northern Iowa and Indiana State. He won the first conference championship in more than 30 years at Upper Iowa. He broke more than 50 records — and won the Missouri Valley Conference title and made an NCAA tournament appearance — at Northern Iowa. And he accumulated five consecutive winning seasons at Indiana State, including a 41-win campaign in 2012, the most victories in over 20 years.
Now, it’s on to Iowa, a program that made the postseason just three times in former coach Jack Dahm’s 10 years.
At baseball media day Friday, the Eldon, Iowa, native said he’s hopeful he can take a fourth program to new heights.
“There’s some pride involved with me being an Iowa guy, but I want to see us have a great baseball program,” Heller said. “I want all the baseball players around the state to have something to be proud of. We’re going to work as hard as we possibly can to be successful.”
A turnaround in Iowa City may not take long, either.
The Hawkeyes return eight position players and eight pitchers this spring, including Eric Toole, a second team all-Big Ten selection in the outfield. Iowa’s offense returns 98 percent of the runs and 84 percent of the hits the team had in 2013.
“It’s nice to come in to a program with a lot of experience,” Heller said. “I think it will give us a great chance to be very competitive in this first year.”
That deep roster will begin the season Feb. 17 against Austin Peay, which will be the first of Iowa’s 17 games on the road or a neutral field. Iowa opens its home schedule March 19.
“Our depth is good. We have some positions where two people can probably start,” Toole said. “If something happens, we’ll have someone who can step up and fill in right away. The chemistry that we have, (Heller) knows what we want to do and we know what the coaches want to do.”