Heller snags Coach of the Year

BY RYAN RODRIGUEZ | MAY 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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There have been some truly remarkable coaching performances at Iowa this year.

Women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder became the basketball coach with the most victories in school history as she guided her team to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Head football coach Kirk Ferentz doubled his win total of four games in 2013 to eight in 2014, and Ron Rainey guided the women’s soccer team to the Big Ten championship game and its first NCAA tournament appearance in program history.

And while all of these performances are remarkable, newcomer Rick Heller deserves the title of Iowa Coach of the Year.

In his first season at the helm of the Iowa baseball team, Heller has taken the bottom-dwelling Hawkeyes and catapulted them into the top half of the Big Ten standings, and with just two games left in the regular season, the Black and Gold have clinched their first Big Ten Tournament bid since 2010.

“We have some great guys here who have been around and have really done a great job of buying into the new way of doing things,” Heller said. “We’ve made some huge strides, and there’s still a lot of room for us to grow.”

A program that had been lying stagnant for several years under previous head coach Jack Dahm was given a breath of fresh air when Heller was brought in in mid-July 2013.

And from the very onset, it was clear that Heller’s Hawks were not to be taken lightly.

Offensively, Iowa went from a middle of the pack club in 2013 (7th in team batting) to an offensive powerhouse in 2014.  The team batting average of .297 is second in the Big Ten, behind only college World Series runner-up Nebraska.

It doesn’t end there, though.

In 2013, Iowa was dead last in slugging percentage, home runs, and total bases. Just one season later, the Hawks are second in slugging (.396), second in home runs (23), and fourth in total bases.

Not to mention that they also rank in the top three in on-base percentage, total runs, total hits, RBIs, and total bases.

Heller trusts his players. He knows the talent that sits in his dug out, and by letting them work themselves out of jams, he has boosted his team’s confidence in themselves as well as those around him.

Think of the team like a computer. Instead of coming in and wiping the hard drive clean, Heller and his staff ran a virus scan and eliminated a few of the problems that were slowing the team down.

It sounds simple, but sometimes, that’s all it takes. 

“We just have the belief in us this year,” junior Jake Yacinich said. “You can tell by the park on game days, too. People have really started coming out, and supporting us, and believed in us all year, so it feels good to be able to play for some of the best fans in the country.”

Heller is a player-first coach who trusts his guys to get the job done, and Iowa has risen to the occasion. 

And while the team still has tons of room for improvement, the foundation for future success has been laid. 

Banks Field finally houses a team that believes in itself.

“The confidence is there,” junior Eric Toole said. “We don’t get freaked out by any opponent anymore.  We know we can beat anybody, no matter what’s across their chest.”

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