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Coach of the Year: Rick Heller

BY IAN MURPHY | MAY 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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The resurgence of the Iowa baseball program has been well-documented over the past two seasons.
Thirty wins a year ago saw the Hawkeye baseball team win the DI’s Story of the Year, and head coach Rick Heller took home the Coach of the Year award. The team could very well win 40 games, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility for this team to break the school record of 44.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the head coach of one of the most successful athletics programs of the year, Heller, is The Daily Iowan’s Coach of the Year for the second year in a row.

The Hawkeyes have locked up at least the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament next week with one series to go.

The year before last, the Hawkeyes had seen better days.

There was no talk of hosting a regional, no talk of playing in the Big Ten Tournament, and the last home game of the year meant playing all the seniors, not playing to keep pace with the top team in the Big Ten.

Give credit to men’s basketball head coach Fran McCaffery and women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder, both of whom guided their respective programs to NCAA Tournament bids and victories.

On the men’s side, the last time the Hawkeyes won a tournament game, most UI students were 6 years old.

But take a look at Heller’s body of work this season. Expectations were modest entering the season. There were questions about who would replace Jake Yacinich at shortstop and what the weekend rotation would look like.

Sure, the Hawkeyes had the best recruiting class in the Big Ten, but that doesn’t always — in fact it almost never — immediately translate into measurable success or improvement.

And yet, with one week left in the regular season, the Hawkeyes have positioned themselves to have a run at the Big Ten championship and are drawing comparisons to the 1990 team, which took home the hardware, and even the 1972 team, which holds the distinction of the program’s only College World Series bid.

Heller put a winning product on the field, and the reception has been nothing short of outstanding.

The Saturday games routinely draw more than 2,000 fans. The Athletics Department rented more bleachers to accommodate the overflow.

Even the facility has seen improvement under Heller, with a new video board, all-turf field, and fencing making an attractive setting for a baseball game.

Heller has restored the faith in Hawkeye baseball in his two seasons at the helm, and he has done so with a core of players who chose to stick around for the turnaround.

The head coach preached this season that the team would improve every day they worked together, and they seem to have done that, looking especially good over the last home series against Minnesota.

Heller deserves the credit for the turnaround last season and the success this year. The Eldon native has his roots firmly planted in the turf at Banks Field.

It might not be heaven, but it is Iowa, and Iowa baseball is not only relevant again but a title contender at that.

Follow @IanFromIowa on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa baseball team.


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