UA head baseball coach Andy Lopez speaks to his players during a practice at Sancet Field yesterday. The new coach plans to emphasize recruiting on the West Coast and classiness among his players.
Friday September 14, 2001
New UA baseball coach making a quick impression on players
Andy Lopez has accomplished a lot in his 19 years of coaching - one National Championship, three College World Series appearances, nine NCAA berths and eight conference titles.
But he's not satisfied. Yet.
Lopez is the new head coach of the Arizona baseball team, the program that the Los Angeles native said he has always dreamed about coaching.
"I've eyed this program and university for a long time," Lopez said. "It's a great environment, college town and a great place to raise a family."
The dream job becomes available
UA athletic director Jim Livengood said it was an easy decision to hire Lopez - a two-time National Coach of the Year - after former UA head coach Jerry Stitt resigned in July.
"He had feel and knowledge of baseball," Livengood said. "He has an understanding of values and he is well known from a recruiting standpoint. He has had great success. As a head coach, he's been (to the CWS) and (won it). The players know he's been there and won."
Lopez's seven-year tenure at Florida abruptly ended when he was fired in early June.
In that span, he led the Gators to two CWS appearances, six NCAA regional appearances and two South Eastern Conference titles.
Because of his track record at Florida, Lopez said he was stunned when he was fired in June.
"I guess (the athletic department) thought we weren't getting to (CWS host city) Omaha enough," he said.
Even though Lopez's services were sought after by programs with more success in recent years - including UCLA, his alma mater - he decided UA was the best fit for him.
Among the reasons Lopez gave for his decision was what he called an admiration for Tucson and the UA that started during his playing days with the Bruins.
As the starting shortstop with the Bruins in 1974 and 1975, he made frequent trips to Tucson to play the Wildcats. He said he was impressed with the Tucson community and the fans who went to the games.
A quick learner
Lopez didn't have to wait long to experience success as a head coach. After graduating from UCLA in 1975, he quickly found a job with Division II Cal State Dominguez Hills.
At Dominguez Hills, he won two conference championships with the Toros before moving on to be the head coach at Pepperdine in 1989.
The Waves won four conference titles under Lopez and went on to win a National Championship in 1992, posting an 8-1 record in the tournament.
Lopez was the runaway winner of his first National Coach of the Year award after taking the national title for the first, and so far only, time in his career.
Lopez said he still feels the need to prove himself every year.
"It's the challenge to be excellent and the pursuit that keeps you alive," Lopez said. "Rings and awards - they mean nothing - only the pursuit of excellence (counts)."
The California connection
After he received the job at UA, Lopez said he did some research on his new team.
He found the rosters of the three Arizona National Championship teams ('76, '80, '86) plus the roster of the '89 team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation. On the four teams, 52 players were from California and 41 were from Arizona. Only 12 players were from other states.
Out of 32 players on this year's fall roster, six are from California while 17 are from Arizona. Lopez said he wants to improve recruiting from both states during his tenure.
"We'll have to work hard and get back the California kids and keep the Arizona kids," he said.
The best lesson
Lopez, however, realizes there is more to life than baseball. His biggest victory might have come when his wife, Linda, defeated cancer in 1993.
The new coach said the lessons he learned due to his wife's sickness taught him more than any baseball game did, and he wants to pass that knowledge on to his players.
Lopez said that his goal is to have all of his players finish their collegiate careers as "classy individuals" with a college degree.
"I'm really concerned when my guys don't (follow orders)," he said. "I want them to become something more than baseball players."
Lopez has only two rules on the team - be on time and do things right. That means the locker room must be clean at all times and devoid of equipment or trash on the floor. Lopez has also outlawed sideburns below the ear and facial hair.
"He has a huge thing with the locker room, but everyone's on the same page," said sophomore pitcher Sean Rierson. "He wants to get rid of individualism and bring us together as a team, we need that."
Many of the players said the new back-to-basics attitude helps everyone.
"All you need is your can of chew in your left pocket, batting gloves in your right, a glove and your spikes," said senior pitcher Brian Pemble.