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Lute Olson is known for turning Tucson into a basketball town and making University of Arizona athletics an internationally recognized brand, deservedly so. Yet, a standard of excellence was established at Arizona decades before his arrival that seems to me too often overlooked.
The first pitch thrown Saturday between the Arizona Wildcats and the Miami Hurricanes at TD Ameritrade Park will mark the 17th appearance Arizona has made to Omaha, Neb. Arizona looks to hoist its fifth national championship.
Arizona’s College World Series appearances date back to 1954. In just his first year after Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne hired him to replace the retired Andy Lopez, Jay Johnson joins a legendary list of managers that have navigated the Wildcats from Tucson to the Nebraska plains.
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Jay Johnson and his Arizona Wildcats r up next pic.twitter.com/K5vQln2F8n
Johnson looks to be Arizona’s third coach to add hardware to the school’s trophy case. Arizona has appeared in the College World Series 17 times with only two coaches able to come home with it all. Frank Sancet built Arizona into a perennial contender. Jerry Kindall turned Arizona baseball into champions. Andy Lopez made Arizona a place where championship contention was expected.
Sancet coached the Arizona Wildcats baseball team to an 831-275-10 record in 22 seasons, from 1950 through 1972. In his first year in the Old Pueblo, Sancet took Arizona to its very first NCAA tournament appearance and continued that legacy every single year for an additional 15 years until 1966. With another tourney appearance in 1970, Sancet made a total of nine CWS trips. After his death in 1985, Arizona named its baseball facility after him and in 2012, he was finally inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.
In a 23-year career in Tucson that spanned from 1973 to 1996, Jerry Kindall built Arizona into a true college baseball blue blood, reaching the NCAA Tournament 12 times and the College World Series five times. He put his name on three of Arizona’s four NCAA championship trophies.
While patrolling Arizona’s dugout in 1976, Kindall became the very first in college baseball history to win the College World Series as a player (1956 with Minnesota) and coach. Arizona renamed is home facility Kindall Field at Sancet Stadium in his honor in 2004 prior to moving the teams home facility to Hi Corbett Field in 2012.
Kindall is held to such a regard on the Arizona campus that when Byrne began exploring options to either upgrade Sancet Stadium or move to Hi Corbett Field, Byrne consulted with the Arizona legend first. While Kindall advised Byrne to upgrade Sancet Stadium, he gave the Arizona AD all due credit for the fruitful move off campus, which indirectly contributed to the 2012 CWS national championship. In a 2012 article in the Tucson Citizen, Anthony Gimino spoke with Kindall:
“For those of us that wanted to stay, they heard us out,” Kindall said. “But they were determined to move — with good reason, by the way, and I recognize that.
“I began to see that it was going to happen, and I got on board and supported it, with some reservation. But it was the right move. I recognize that now. The fans turned out and it’s been a terrific experience. I don’t say that with any rancor.It has been a huge factor in our success.”
Twenty years into his retirement, Kindall is still interested in what’s best for Arizona Wildcats baseball.
When he announced his retirement in May 2015, Lopez closed the book on a 33-year coaching career, 14 of which were spent at Arizona. The crown jewel of the Lopez era is a team that most Wildcat baseball fans know all too well — a 2012 national title team that made Lopez only the second coach in Arizona’s storied history to conquer Omaha in June.
Having won it all before coming to Arizona with Pepperdine, Lopez is only one of three coaches to have taken three different programs to the CWS (the other being Florida) and only one of four coaches to take two schools to multiple CWS appearances. Under Lopez, Arizona won 48 games in 2012 (most since 1986) on his way to the CWS title.