New Pitt baseball coach Mike Bell swinging for fences
First, there was the packet of information Mike Bell presented to Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke, titled “The Road to Omaha for Pitt.”
Then, there was the email that hit Lyke’s inbox early one morning after she had interviewed Bell for the vacant job of Pitt baseball coach.
“I was persistent,” Bell said Friday when he was introduced as the fifth baseball coach in Pitt history after 14 years as a Division I assistant.
Without warning her new coach, Lyke gleefully read portions of Bell’s email to a room full of people, including several prominent university donors, at his introductory news conference.
“I am ready,” Bell wrote. “Pitt baseball needs a head coach who will be a dynamic recruiter. It needs a CEO, someone who will lead in both good and difficult times and have the program’s and the student-athletes’ best interests at heart.
“It needs a winner, someone who has achieved at the highest level and been part of three different programs to earn trips to Omaha. It needs me.”
Not long after Lyke read the email, she was sure she had found the replacement for former coach Joe Jordano, who officially resigned after 21 years but had been looking forward to another season.
Bell, who spent the past seven seasons at Pitt’s ACC counterpart Florida State, knows the way to Omaha, site of the College World Series. He has been there four times as an assistant with Tennessee (2005), Oklahoma (2010) and Florida State (2012 and ’17). Lyke made a point of that at the news conference.
“In an ideal world, you would find a person who had played and coached at the highest levels,” she said. (Bell, a left-handed pitcher, played at Florida State and was a 20th-round selection of the Montreal Expos in 1995.)
“In the ideal world, you would find a person who had been mentored by one of the best in the business. (Florida State coach Mike Martin is the NCAA leader in victories with 1,987).
“In an ideal world, you would find a coach who’s in it for all the right reasons and is filled with integrity and confidence and a belief that we can build a national-caliber baseball program here at Pitt. We found that leader in Mike Bell.”
It won’t be easy. Pitt, which never qualified for the NCAA Tournament under Jordano, competes in the ACC with several traditionally successful warm-weather schools. But don’t use weather as an excuse when talking to Lyke.
“I played softball in Michigan, and we won a lot,” she said. “And they still win a lot.”
Bell said battling the weather is a mindset, although he noted when Florida State lost to Pitt on a cold, snowy day in 2016, the Seminoles pitcher never had seen snow.
“It’s always 75 and sunny. It’s all what you make out of it,” he said, noting Oregon State won the national championship this season.
“I look at it as a blessing. We can be the gateway to the ACC. We’re going to recruit right here. We’re going to hammer Pennsylvania. We’re also going to use the footprint of the league and not be afraid to go down south.
“We can go wherever we want.”
Bell was asked why he chose to leave Florida State now, with Martin planning to retire after the 2019 season.
With three ACC titles in four years, he said, “Florida State is in a great place.”
But he added, “This was the right time for Mike Bell and, more importantly, this was the right situation and the right place.”
“There is a lot of potential here. It’s a piece of clay that is looking to be shaped.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.