Arizona Baseball

Chip Hale on being Arizona’s coach, staying permanently in Tucson: “This is my home”


Chip Hale and Dave Heeke holding Hale’s No. 8 jersey in honor of legendary coach JIm Wing (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Former Arizona baseball standout Chip Hale, a member of the 1986 College World Series championship team, is now a part of the Wildcats’ present and future operations of the program as the head coach.

Hale was officially introduced on Wednesday at Hi Corbett Field to the local media as Arizona’s coach, a spot he now shares in Wildcat lore with his former coach Jerry Kindall.

“People always ask me what is your dream job? I got to do it, I got to be a big-league manager (with the Diamondbacks),” Hale said. “But like I told the coaches back at Detroit (his most recent big-league coaching job with the Tigers), my dream job was to be the coach at the University of Arizona. I’ve dreamt about this for years and years and years.

“My wife (Judy) knows. We live here in Tucson. This is our community. We’ve lived here for more than 30 years now. I grew up in California, but this is my home. I finally get to come home.”

Hale smiled at his wife and family and said, “Now, I can come home every night.”

Also in attendance were former coach Jerry Stitt and teammates Steve Strong and Jim Estes of Arizona’s 1986 national championship team.

Hale is wearing No. 8 in honor of legendary assistant coach Jim Wing, who couldn’t attend the press conference because of a recent surgery. Daniel Susac is wearing his No. 6 during his Arizona playing career.

“It’s emotional,” Hale said. “There’s two people who can’t be with us today and that’s very hard on me, and that’s Coach Kindall and (former local broadcaster) Dave Sitton (both of whom have passed). … I’m blessed to put this University of Arizona uniform back on. It makes my heart feel good.”

Chip Hale arrives for his introductory press conference at Hi Corbett Field (Arizona Athletics photo)

Hale is Arizona’s career leader in games played (255), hits (337), and total bases (507) during his time with the Wildcats from 1984-87. He returns to Tucson permanently after nearly two decades of professional coaching experience at the minor- and major-league levels.

He is the sixth head coach in Arizona’s modern history and the 17th overall.

“I come back here to lead these guys,” Hale said. “This is really important to me. Omaha (Neb., site of the College World Series) is always our goal. We plan on being frequent visitors.”

He is replacing Jay Johnson, who moved on to LSU to become its head coach last week after leading the Wildcats to two College World Series appearances in 2016 and this season.

He commented that his predecessors Andy Lopez (who coached the Wildcats to the 2012 CWS title) and Johnson “have raised the bar very high here and we plan on staying above that bar and going higher.”

“What distinguishes Chip is his ability to develop players through genuine meaningful relationships,” Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke indicated as a reason for hiring Hale, directing his comment to critics who questioned the hire because of Hale’s lack of college coaching and recruiting experience.

“Players love to play for Chip Hale. Players at the University of Arizona will love to play for Chip Hale, and they’ll have fun doing it. They’ll learn. They’ll grow. They’ll develop as players and as people. Yes, we’ll compete for championships. We’ll focus on getting back to Omaha and the College World Series because that’s part of the fabric of this program. This is one of the greatest baseball programs in the country.”

That comment could be taken as a statement to Johnson leaving to LSU, seeing that job as having greener pastures (financially and for championships, although LSU has not won the College World Series title since 2009).

Heeke, who said he views Hale as a “competitor, grinder and winner,” added that Hale has the values to lead Arizona’s program, which boasts four national titles.

“His passion for anyone who wears the colors is a testament to the impact this university had on him,” Heeke said. “All of those great qualities and traits are on display when you meet Chip Hale. In my conversations with him about becoming the next head coach, I saw the shared values of this university and athletics department.

“That’s about integrity, compassion, adaption, inclusion and determination. I saw a leader who is a mentor and a person who cares deeply about his players.”

Some of Hale’s former teammates and big-league players have given him their support for the hire.

“Chip Hale exemplifies what an Arizona Wildcat is all about,” said his 1986 Arizona teammate Kevin Long, now the hitting coach with the Washington Nationals, via the school’s Web site. “The commitment to excellence on and off the field will be a top priority. Chip has always been a grinder and understands there are no shortcuts to success. I couldn’t be more excited for Chip and the Arizona Baseball program. Bear Down!”

Paul Goldschmidt, who played for Hale when Hale was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ manager in 2015 and 2016, told the university, “I’m very happy for Chip and the University of Arizona! Chip is a great coach and leader and I know he will do his best to continue and grow the great legacy at Arizona. I learned a lot from him while I was with the Diamondbacks and I know his decades of experience in baseball will be great for all the student-athletes who get to play for him.”

Hale has plenty of endorsements but how will that translate into recruiting success?

He has hired Dave Lawn to return as pitching coach after Nate Yeskie held that position for the last two seasons. Lawn was the pitching coach from 2016-18. He is a holdover from Johnson’s staff, a vital bridge between the past and future. The primary recruiting focus presently is trying to sway players from not leaving the program (more than 15 have entered the transfer portal in the wake of Johnson leaving).

Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke and new baseball coach Chip Hale (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know,” Hale said. “The recruiting part of this thing, I’m assembling a staff. … We’re in the process of hiring a couple of more coaches that have done this and know the landscape of recruiting.”

He mentioned he has already phoned recruits as well as existing players.

“I’ve been on a lot of phone calls with a lot of good young men who are going to come here and help us win championships,” he said.

One recruit who committed to Arizona when Johnson was coach — Ironwood Ridge Class of 2022 catcher/outfielder Nicholas Warren — is keeping his allegiance with the Wildcats.

“Coach Hale is a great hire for the future of the program,” he mentioned to our Andy Morales via text message. “He has a very successful history with Arizona as a player and a long experience of coaching at the highest level. I look forward to meeting Coach Hale and playing for him at Arizona.

“This was a hire I think all players can be excited about. I was also pleased to hear that Coach Lawn is staying on with the program. He has been someone I am excited to play for and brings so much experience to the table. He will help this year’s players, as well as current commits have a smooth transition. We have a lot to be excited about as a community! Bear Down!”


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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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