After coaching 37 seasons 2,286 games, winning 1,565 of them, three national championships, dozens of conference championships; all-conference, All-America and professional players developed, Cumberland coach Woody Hunt faced a first earlier this week.
He let go his two fulltime assistant coaches. And they weren’t just anybodies.
Kevin Hite, Cumberland’s pitching coach for the last 13 seasons, is the most decorated pitcher in CU history and was the ace of the 1995 NAIA national runner-up. He still holds three NAIA World Series records as the result of two shutouts he pitched in the ’95 series.
Chris Schrock, the starting shortstop on that ’95 team as a true freshman, had been on staff for eight seasons, the last three fulltime.
Both were called into Hunt’s office Wednesday morning and were told the program was going in a different direction.
“It’s been hard,” Hunt said late Friday. “Both are good people. They’ve put in good seasons for our program as players and coaches.
“Both have different personalities. They took it differently. They were stunned to some extent. It was a shock to them, of course.”
Cumberland just finished a bounce-back season from three years of mediocrity which followed the 2014 national championship as the Phoenix returned to the NAIA Opening Round with a 36-21 record. But Hunt said the changes are for the future, not because of the past.
“We’ve laid some groundwork for the next step,” said Hunt, who plans to retire within the next few years but hasn’t decided when. “I can’t say anything more than that. There has been a lot of thought process into this. It’s not because we’ve had a bad year. It’s for the future of this program.”
Hunt said one of the replacement coaches is all but ready to come aboard.
“The guy we’re hiring has a lot of experience in recruiting,” said Hunt, who wouldn’t name the assistant, who will be the main assistant who’s in the prime of his career. “It’ll come out next week.”
After years of recruiting by phone and, in more recent years, by email, social media and YouTube, Hunt wants to put more emphasis on on-road recruiting, which he said, with his 68th birthday coming in August, he can’t keep pace with any longer. For years, Hunt used his network of coaches and scouts around the country to recommend players from the high school and junior-college ranks. Many of his best players Hunt never saw play until they were on his team.
But Hunt said other NAIA teams have beefed up their off-campus recruiting, an area he said the Phoenix have fallen behind in.
“I’ve never given (Hite and Schrock) that responsibility,” Hunt said. “I probably should have, but they both have families.
“Recruiting is something I’ve done myself and it’s become more than I can do so I need someone with experience in that and can do more than I can do. I want to get on the road more and see people more. It’s going to be where we can see the players in action more.
“I can’t keep up with that now. Sometimes you have to step back and evaluate things and realize we need to step up in that area.”
NAIA teams don’t have the travel budgets for recruiting NCAA teams have. But Cumberland’s rivals have been on the road more in recent years.
“All those guys (NAIA) have guys on the road a lot,” Hunt said. “In some respects, we’re getting out-recruited, and that’s my fault, and we got to step up in that.
“We’re going to use the travel budget better. We’re going to Texas, we’re going to Florida again, we’re going to California. This guy is going to do that. We’re going to the hotbeds of baseball.”
Hite came to Cumberland from McGavock High School where he played for the legendary Mel Brown, who recently retired as Mt. Juliet High principal. Schrock is a Florida native. Both played minor-league baseball, with Hite rising as high as Class AA in the San Diego Padres organization. He served as an assistant in 2001, while he was still playing professionally (giving him a total of 14 seasons on Hunt’s staff) and returned to CU in 2006 after four years on the Trevecca staff.
Schrock played in the Tampa Bay Rays system before coaching in the high school ranks, including two seasons as head coach at Mt. Juliet Christian, before replacing Ryan Hunt as a fulltime assistant in ’16. He had previously been on staff as a part-timer.
In fact, until Hite and Ryan Hunt in the mid-2000s, Woody Hunt had never had full-time assistants, using graduate assistants and volunteers. Schrock became a fulltime assistant when Ryan Hunt (Woody’s younger son) became head coach at Vol State. But with Woody Hunt approaching retirement, their long-term futures were also up in the air.
“It’s not about what they did or didn’t do,” Woody Hunt said. “I didn’t expect them to recruit a lot. I took that on myself.
“It’ll give them a chance to explore other opportunities now instead of being replaced by whoever replaces me… Those guys will have an opportunity to do something else and be better for it.”