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Did West Virginia’s Van Zant deserve a chance to coach in the Big 12 Conference?

May 21, 2012
MICKEY FURFARI FAN-FARE - Sports Columnist , The Inter-Mountain

MORGANTOWN - West Virginia University has had just five head coaches in baseball in 91 years, or since 1921.

But Athletic Director Oliver Luck announced on Sunday that Van Zant's contract won't be renewed and that the Mountaineers have started a national search for a new head coach.

The Williamson native, a 26-year member of the baseball program's family, was fired after 18 years as the head coach.

Apparently, Luck lacked confidence in his ability to win as the Mountaineers move into the Big 12.

That's sad to me because I feel he deserved an opportunity - a chance - to prove whether he could win in that conference.

Van Zant, who's only 51 years old, was a third baseman for West Virginia University in the early 1980s.

He was later an assistant coach and then promoted to head coach in 1995.

His teams posted a 525-451-1 record for his career, won a Big East championship for regular season and the tournament, and also won the conference's Northern Division title once.

Van Zant, like the four head coaches who preceded him, had to endure lack of locker rooms and other facilities which now are planned for his successor.

Players put their uniforms on in their automobiles if not before they left home.

Van Zant also had seven to 7 1/2 scholarships to divide among his players some years. But those reportedly will be increased to 11 1/2.

"You're only as good as your support and facilities," Van Zant has said. "I've talked about adding facilities for almost 15 years."

This year's team had just one senior on the squad. Injuries also slowed the young team's development.

But the Mountaineers won five of their last eight games to finish the season with a 23-32 record, only the fifth losing season under Van Zant.

In his first 14 years as head coach he averaged nearly 30 victories a season. And his Mountaineer teams had wins over Big 10 clubs as well as some from other respectable conferences.

Van Zant was named by his peers as Big East Coach of the Year twice. He also was honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association as East Regional Coach of the Year.

"I am really proud of this team," the veteran coach said after taking a 2-1 series from South Florida, the league's third-place team. "It's awesome how this team has improved."

He believes his team will be able to compete in the Big 12. "They're going to continue to get better," he said.

He has coached six All-Americans, a national shortstop of the year, 50 pro draftees or free-agent signees and 52 all-conference selections.

Luck had informed Van Zant earlier in May that his contract wasn't going to be renewed. He wants the program to move in a different direction.



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