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Heller, team get off on the right foot

BY RYAN RODRIGUEZ | FEBRUARY 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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Though he’s only been in charge for a few months, men’s head baseball coach Rick Heller feels like he’s long been a part of the team.

The Eldon, Iowa, native is entering first season at the helm of the Iowa baseball team, and though he’s new, Heller is enjoying being back in an area he is comfortable and familiar with.

“It’s been great being back,” Heller said. “A lot of friends here, plus knowing all the high-school coaches and the junior-college coaches has been good. All your network is here, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

First impressions can be huge, especially with new coaches, something Heller knew going in. Still, he and his entire staff, all in their first year as coaches at Iowa, got off on the right foot with his new players.

“Everything has gone really well,” Heller said. “I’ve felt like from day one we’ve been welcomed with open arms. Guys have been open minded, played hard, and our chemistry is good. I feel like things have really gelled well.”

Since taking over the program in July, the change of pace has inspired a newfound sense of optimism for a team that struggled for a decade under former manager Jack Dahm. The team finished just 235-302 in Dahm’s tenure as skipper, but it is beginning to re-establish its identity under the new regime.

Relaxed in an atmosphere that is familiar to him, Heller’s laid-back style is reflected in his coaching, something many of the Black and Gold have picked up on.

His “observe first, then teach” style of coaching has helped his Hawks warm up to their new bench boss.

“I feel like Heller is a guy whose a little bit more laid back, but he want’s to get his point across,” said junior outfielder Eric Toole. “He’ll let us go and then if he sees something we’re doing, he’ll come and talk to us about it, which is something we liked.”

Right off the bat, players began to notice a difference in Heller’s attitude and approach to baseball compared with Dahm’s.

“How we go about our business every day has changed,” said junior infielder Jake Yacinich. “There’s a little more of a sense of urgency, just everything. There have been a lot more good things [with him here].”

Heller has a reputation as a guy who can rebuild programs, something the Hawkeyes were in desperate need of. And while his time at Iowa has only lasted a few months so far, his mere presence pays off.

Sophomore pitcher Tyler Peyton, who transferred to Iowa this past summer after spending a year at junior college, said Heller was a major factor in his decision to come to Iowa.

“Coaches, mainly, was what did it,” Peyton said. “I’m really a guy that likes to go to a program that has good coaches that know what they’re doing, so I felt this move made a lot of sense.”

The team will start the 2014 season this week when they travel to Clarksville, Tenn., to take on Austin Peay. It will give many of the Hawkeyes a chance to see how their new coach handles himself during a real game, a prospect that has many on the team excited.

“I feel like this group really has a chance,” Toole said. “Most of us have been together for two or three years. We work really well together.”


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