TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State baseball coach Rick Heller is going home.
The Eldon, Iowa, native has taken the head-coaching job at the University of Iowa. The Iowa City school announced Friday via a press release that Heller accepted the position.
Iowa intends to formally name Heller at a press conference Monday. Heller could not be reached for comment, but he did comment via the Iowa press release.
“I am extremely proud and honored to be named the head baseball coach at the University of Iowa. This is a great day for me and my family. The opportunity to come back to the state and the challenge of turning the Iowa baseball program into a championship-caliber team is something I’ve dreamed about,” Heller said.
Heller has been ISU’s coach since 2009 and the Sycamores have been winners in each of his four seasons.
Heller compiled a 131-91 mark at ISU and is 692-563-4 in 26 years of coaching overall.
For ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman, Heller’s departure is bittersweet. Prettyman loses one of his most successful coaching hires, but Prettyman also knows that Iowa was Heller’s dream job and he’s happy he was able to achieve his dream.
“I wish him well and it’s kind of his dream job. I don’t think he’d have gone anywhere else but Iowa. It’ll be a substantial financial boost for him and his family and he’s going for all of the right reasons. I think the world of Rick and I’m happy for his opportunity,” said Prettyman, who had particular praise for Heller’s ability to raise ISU’s baseball academic track record.
Prettyman said he was informed by Heller on Thursday night that he’d resign his ISU post for the one at Iowa. Heller accepted the job from Iowa late Thursday. Heller had interviewed at Iowa in June, so his announcement as Iowa’s coach was not a complete surprise, though Iowa’s process took nearly two months to complete.
Heller’s signature season was 2012 when the Sycamores won the Missouri Valley Conference championship outright for the first time in school history. ISU received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and competed in the Eugene Regional at the University of Oregon.
Heller played and coached for 12 years at Upper Iowa and gained Division I success at Northern Iowa, where he coached the Panthers from 1999 until UNI eliminated its program in 2009. Heller took Northern Iowa to the 2001 NCAA Tournament and won a MVC title at a school considered to be a baseball backwater.
Heller’s departure marks the second time in Prettyman’s tenure that he will have to replace a baseball coach late in the hiring cycle. Heller himself was hired late in the summer of 2009 when Lindsay Meggs took the job at the University of Washington.
“ISU will be a real attractive job. We’ve dedicated a lot of support to our facilities and to the program in general. I anticipate having high-level candidates. This is something a lot of people are interested in. I anticipate getting some really qualified people,” Prettyman said.
Prettyman noted that in the four hours after Heller’s departure to Iowa was made public, he had already received 35 résumés.
Per usual, Prettyman did not place a time frame on the hiring process. Unlike 2009, when public forums were conducted for the open position, Prettyman anticipates that this process will be kept in-house.
“I do not have a time frame. It’s too important to rush and at the same time I have to be diligent. I pour heart-and-soul into it when I search for a coach. We’re not going to rush it,” said Prettyman, who will interrupt his vacation for the search process.
“We’ll move it along as quick as we can. I don’t think we have the luxury of doing it with a wide-open process with public forums and that kind of thing. The young men on our team are waiting to see what’s going to go on. We have recruits we have to work with that I have to assure we get a quality head coach. I’m very confident we’ll come out smelling like a rose,” Prettyman added.
The new ISU coach will not only have the challenge of keeping current ISU players and maintaining and building upon what Heller did, but he also will have to spearhead ISU’s efforts to host the Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament in May 2014.
Iowa’s process was long and drawn out. At least three coaches — Saint Louis coach Darin Hendrickson, Texas A&M assistant Andy Sawyers and Austin Peay coach Gary McClure — took part and then pulled out of consideration. Creighton coach Ed Servais also was reportedly interviewed.
“Rick is the right individual to lead our program. The Big Ten has become increasingly more competitive in the sport of baseball in recent years. I am committed, and the athletics department is committed, to provide the tools and resources necessary to create a championship program,” Iowa Director of Athletics Gary Barta said.
It is the second time Heller was considered for the Hawkeyes’ job. He was a candidate in 2003 only to lose out to Jack Dahm, who was let go by the Hawkeyes in May.
Rick Heller at ISU
Year Record MVC place
2010 35-19 3rd
2011 29-28 6th
2012 41-19 1st
2013 26-25 6th