Postseason experience can mean everything in college baseball. Helping guide a team to Omaha takes a special coach and an emotional voice. As soon as he stepped on campus in the summer of 2008, head coach Terry Rooney's mission was to return UCF to the postseason. That goal has become a reality with the Knights making back-to-back trips to the postseason in 2012-13 for the second time in school history, while bringing in nationally ranked recruiting classes each year.
UCF: In Six Years as Head Coach
Rooney was officially announced as UCF's fifth head baseball coach on June 12, 2008, in the baseball complex's Tradition Room. The press conference took place in front of a packed media contingent, showing that the city of Orlando and Knight fans everywhere were eager for the UCF baseball program to reload.
The coaching staff immediately hit the recruiting trail that summer. Rooney put together a class for 2010 that featured 21 players, a group that quickly gave UCF some national exposure.
The class eventually was ranked No. 4 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and No. 10 by Baseball America, both of which were the highest rankings from those publications in UCF history. They also marked Rooney's fourth different program where he landed a top-20 class.
To top it off, Rooney's second recruiting class was once again honored by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper as the 20th-best class in the country in the summer of 2010.
That group joined the Knights for the 2011 season and promptly led UCF to its first NCAA Regional appearance since 2004 and a top-25 national ranking. The Black and Gold posted a 39-23 record for its best season dating back to the 2005 campaign, had a school-record 12 wins in Conference USA play and had eight players sign professional contracts. As the architect of this postseason team, Rooney was named as one of the top-20 coaches in the country for 2011.
The heralded recruiting class of 2010 was once again a prominent reason that UCF returned to the postseason in 2012 and notched 45 wins for the first time since 2004. Slotted at No. 21 in Baseball America's preseason rankings, the Knights catapulted all the way up to No. 7 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll to tie the highest ranking in program history.
UCF enjoyed its best season in C-USA with a program-record 16 wins and fell just one game short of the regular-season title while hosting Rice in a winner-take-all series that saw a record 6,601 fans pack the UCF baseball complex. The Knights swept nine opponents along the way to earning a No. 2 seed in the Coral Gables Regional. UCF topped Missouri State and Stony Brook before falling just three games short of advancing to Omaha.
Rooney's 2012 ball club also made the team's motto, "On the Road to Omaha" very literal when it went 15-3 in road contests during the season. It was the nation's highest winning percentage (83.3) as the visitors and included sweeps at Houston and Tulane as well as a 5-1 mark while traveling in the state of Florida.
The 2013 club saw seniors Chris Taladay and Erik Hempe shine offensively. Taladay became the first player in program history to be named C-USA Player of the Year, and just the fourth in league history to earn that honor along with Freshman of the Year in a career. Hempe earned All-Conference USA First Team honors for the first time after posting a .320 batting average, eight home runs and 38 RBI.
In 2014, Rooney molded a squad that included 24 newcomers into a contender that finished second in The American at 17-7 and was recognized as the league's coach of the year. A school-record seven players were named to the league all-conference teams following the season. First team honoree Tommy Williams blasted a conference-high 12 homers and drove in 56 RBI. The Knights tallied a series win over No. 9 Louisville and also topped No. 4 Florida State, No. 13 Houston and No. 25 Miami on the road.
The pitching staff under Rooney's guidance has improved mightily over the last six seasons. Junior lefty Eric Skoglund tallied a 9-3 mark in 2014 with 94 strikeouts and earned The American Pitcher of the Year, becoming the second Knight to earn that distinction. Zach Rodgers showed his versatility throughout the campaign with five saves and a 7-1 record, including a complete-game victory in the league tournament.
In 2013, junior Ben Lively became the first pitcher since Tim Bascom in 2005 to notch 100-plus strikeouts in a season, and earned All-C-USA Second Team honors once again after going 7-5 in 15 starts with a 2.04 ERA, 28 walks and 101 strikeouts.
In 2012, UCF was successful in keeping opponents at bay with a 3.54 ERA, the lowest since 1995. UCF's weekend rotation was led by front-line starters Lively (9-2, 3.00 ERA), Chris Matulis (7-0, 3.68 ERA) and Ray Hanson (4-1, 3.68 ERA). The Knights also featured one of the nation's best one-two combinations at the back end with Roman Madrid (5-2, 1.00 ERA) and Joe Rogers (5-1, 1.47 ERA, 13 SV) holding opponents to a combined batting average under .215.
C-USA rewarded Rooney's student-athletes as D.J. Hicks was named to the All-C-USA First Team along with Rogers. Travis Shreve, Ronnie Richardson, Alex Friedrich and Lively all earned second-team honors while rookie Eric Skoglund made the All-C-USA Freshman Team.
In 2011, the Knights led by NCBWA All-American Hicks, made themselves known throughout the nation by racking up eight victories over ranked opponents, sweeping the season series with Florida and Stetson and also adding key victories against Rice (two), Florida State and Alabama. Along with posting a 2-1 record in the C-USA Championship, the Knights' resume was so strong that they earned a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tallahassee Regional.
The newcomers also did not disappoint in 2010, as UCF served as the only school in the country to have five freshmen make at least 35 starts, including three on the infield. The Knights would finish with a 33-22 record and a 10-14 mark in C-USA. Those 33 wins were highlighted by a 14-game non-conference winning streak to end the campaign, including triumphs over Miami, Florida Atlantic and MEAC champion Bethune-Cookman.
Along the way, the Black and Gold set school and C-USA records with a .343 team batting average and a .435 on-base percentage. Seniors Chris Duffy and Shane Brown were both named Louisville Slugger All-Americans and voted onto the All-C-USA First Team, as the duo both hit over .420 and ranked in the NCAA top-10 in the regular season for highest OBP. Duffy also set the UCF record with 21 homers and 81 RBI during the year.
Meanwhile, Taladay was selected as the C-USA Freshman of the Year, as Taladay, Darnell Sweeney and Ryan Breen had the top three batting averages of all freshmen in the entire conference. On the mound, Rogers earned a spot on the All-Freshman Team thanks to eight saves and 43 strikeouts in 48.0 innings. And Taladay, Breen and Rogers all were selected as Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans.
In his first year at the helm of the Knights, Rooney helped the program to numerous firsts during 2009. The team set program marks in single-game attendance average, largest single-game crowd and highest-attended weekend series. UCF recorded its highest combined team GPA and its best cumulative spring GPA as well.
Four student-athletes went on to earn postseason recognition by the league, as Brandon Romans and Shane Brown were selected to the All-C-USA Second Team, and Beau Taylor (a Freshman All-American) and Hicks were placed on the C-USA All-Freshman Team. On the mound, Caleb Graham grabbed the C-USA Pitcher of the Week award by blanking No. 2 Rice in a 5-0 victory, as the staff combined for a 3.92 ERA in its final nine games of the year.
In the Central Florida Community
Rooney's call for the Knights to become Orlando's baseball team was one that came to fruition as the 2013 campaign wore on. The Knights drew 49,562 fans for an average of 1,458 per game, including the new UCF single-game attendance record as 3,678 fans packed the park on Feb. 13 vs. Florida. In addition to the record breaker, three other home contests found their way into the top 20 record book.
The Knights continued to build support amongst the community in 2014 as No. 2 Florida State came to Orlando and set records for a series at 7,058 in just two games, including a record 3,953 that packed the park on March 11 against the Seminoles. UCF averaged 48,127 fans came out to see the squad over 34 home dates.
After setting attendance records in 2011, UCF rewrote the record books once again in 2012 by averaging 1,476 fans per game. On the season, UCF ranked 36th in the nation with 54,634 supporters watching the Knights in the newly expanded UCF baseball complex.
Single-game attendance records nearly fell every weekend as 10 of the 20 all-time crowds to see the Knights play occurred in 2012. Seven of the most-watched series also occurred in 2012, including 6,601 fans piling into the UCF baseball complex to see the Knights battle No. 4 Rice for the C-USA regular-season title. In just two midweek contests against nationally ranked Florida State, 5,851 fans watched the two in-state opponents battle.
In the community, Rooney has also established free clinics for local Orlando Little League organizations to help the youth learn the game of baseball.
Rooney, LSU and the College World Series
Before the 2009 campaign, Rooney had 12 years of experience as an assistant coach at the Division I level, highlighted by two campaigns at LSU from 2007-08. Serving as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator under head coach Paul Mainieri, Rooney and the Tigers made a remarkable run to the College World Series in 2008. LSU went on to win 23-straight games, including cruising through the conference tournament with a 4-0 record. The team lost just one game in the NCAA Tournament en route to Omaha.
LSU completed the 2008 season with a 49-19-1 record and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the country. Rooney's pitching staff was among the best in the country as well. The Tigers walked just 201 batters while striking out 554, and they combined to post a team ERA of 4.11. They finished in the top 25 in the country in ERA and least amount of walks per nine innings (2.89).
The MLB Draft
Since arriving on campus, Rooney has had 19 UCF players have their named called in the First-Year MLB Draft. The past four seasons have been especially busy for the Knights with eight former student-athletes getting phone calls from MLB teams on draft day. Taylor in 2011, Rogers in 2012, Lively in 2013 and Skogland this past year made it three-consecutive drafts that the Knights have had a selection in the top five rounds.
A total of 46 of Rooney's pitchers have been selected in the MLB Draft, with 13 taken in the first 10 rounds. The 2013 draft saw Skogland taken in the third round (92nd overall) to Kansas City. In the 2013 draft, Lively (fourth round - 135th overall) was chosen by Cincinnati. 2012 saw both Rogers (fifth round), UCF's all-time leader in saves with 30, and Madrid (seventh round) added to that mix. Four LSU pitchers were tabbed in the 2008 draft, and five pitchers that he mentored at Notre Dame from 2003-06 also were selected. Three former pitchers made their debut and six saw action in the Major Leagues in 2011, including Charlie Furbush, Louis Coleman and Kyle Weiland.
Rooney's student-athletes have excelled in the classroom as well. A total of 91 UCF players were named to the C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll from 2009-13, and Gil Gomez (`09), Nick Cicio (`10 and `11) and Jeff Dally (`11) earned the Academic Medal with a GPA above 3.75. Another 11 student-athletes were recognized to The American All-Academic Team.
Meanwhile, UCF has had at least a 3.0 team GPA every semester under Rooney, including the highest fall and spring semesters in school history. The Knights also hold a top 20 ranking in the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of 95 percent.
Eight LSU players garnered all-academic honors from the Southeastern Conference in 2008. While at Notre Dame, Rooney helped two players earn ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America recognition.
A native of Fairfax, Va., Rooney is considered one of the nation's premier recruiters. Before coming to UCF, he was involved with nine recruiting classes that were ranked among the national leaders, including the No. 1 class at LSU in 2008 as well as the Tigers' 2009 newcomers which were ranked at No. 20. Meanwhile, Notre Dame's 2006 group was rated as the country's seventh-best class.
Rooney, 41, was promoted to associate head coach at LSU in July 2007. His 2007 recruiting class was selected as the top class in the nation by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. The group included nine players who were picked in the Major League Baseball Draft.
Since taking over at UCF, Rooney has continued his recruiting prowess, hauling in the nation's No. 17 class for 2012. It is the third-straight year that Rooney and his staff have inked a top-20 class nationally.
Notre Dame's Pitching Coach
Prior to joining the staff at LSU, Rooney was the pitching coach at Notre Dame for three years beginning in the fall of 2003. The Fighting Irish participated in the NCAA Regionals every season with Rooney in the dugout, and the 2004 pitching staff posted a 3.43 ERA, good for ninth in the nation. The 2006 Irish staff, meanwhile, allowed just 18 home runs and set or tied four school pitching records. In two of his three years at ND, Rooney's staffs were ranked in the top 20 in the nation in ERA.
Twelve of Rooney's pitchers at Notre Dame were drafted by MLB clubs. In 2006, three Irish hurlers were selected, including Jeff Samardzija in the fifth round by the Chicago Cubs. In 2004, a pair of hurlers were taken in the top-10 rounds, marking the first time in program history two Fighting Irish pitchers saw their name pop up in the top 10 in the same year.
Days in DeLand
Rooney is no stranger to the Sunshine State, as he served as the pitching coach at Stetson from 2002-03. During his time in DeLand, the Hatters made a pair of appearances in the NCAA Tournament Regionals and posted two 40-victory seasons. Under Rooney's tutelage, four Stetson pitchers garnered All-Atlantic Sun Conference honors and two were taken in the MLB Draft. Rooney's 2006 Stetson recruiting class was ranked 12th nationally by Baseball America, the highest in the history of the program, and produced two Major League infielders: Chris Johnson and Brian Bocock.
Prior to 2002
In all, Rooney's previous seven seasons as an assistant before Stetson, Notre Dame and LSU included time serving as pitching coach with three programs - George Washington, James Madison and Old Dominion.
At Old Dominion, Rooney worked with the Monarchs from 2000-01, and the team earned an NCAA Regional berth as a No. 2 seed in 2000. Four of the pitchers he coached at Old Dominion went on to professional baseball, while he recruited and signed Justin Verlander, who is now one of the American League's top hurlers with the Detroit Tigers and won the 2011 AL Cy Young Award and AL MVP.
Rooney's two years at James Madison (1998-99) included a pair of nationally-ranked recruiting classes, as he first assumed the role of pitching coach/recruiting coordinator in 1999. Two of his pitchers were later drafted in the first 10 rounds, and six from the `99 class went on to sign pro contracts with three players drafted in the top five rounds. Rooney began his coaching career in 1997 at George Washington.
Rooney has experience coaching in top wood-bat summer leagues as well. He served as the head coach for Waynesboro (Va.) in 1998 when the Generals claimed the Valley League title. Rooney also spent time as an assistant with Valley League champion Staunton (Va.) in 1996 and Cotuit in the Cape Cod League in 1997.
Playing Days and the Personal File
A 1996 Radford graduate with a degree in social science, Rooney pitched for three seasons. He ranks second all-time at the school with 79 appearances and posted an 8-2 career record. Rooney played one season at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia, compiling a 4-2 mark on the mound.
Rooney has spoken at several coaching clinics throughout the nation, and has authored a video entitled "30 Minutes to Better Pitching - A Championship Workout."
In January 2010, Rooney wrote a 13-page chapter for the book Practice Perfect Baseball by the American Baseball Coaches Association. Entitled Assessing Team Strengths, he helped coaches learn how to analyze their teams by position and develop a practice plan based on their strengths and weaknesses.
Rooney and his wife, Shaun, were married in December of 2007. The couple has daughter, Milly Margaret, who was born in April of 2014.