What do you do when you've been called on to follow two people whose names are the very essence of the baseball program at UT Arlington, one a coaching legend and the other a local hero?
If you are Jeff Curtis, you do two things. First, you be yourself. Second, you win.
Curtis had the unenviable task of following former coaches Butch McBroom and Clay Gould as the leader of a UTA team that had appeared in three NCAA Regional tournaments in the past 10 years. No easy task, considering McBroom won 756 games in his 26 years as UTA's head coach and Arlington native Gould helped lead a Maverick baseball resurgence on the field and in the community.
But since being tabbed to become the fifth head baseball coach in UTA history on July 12, 2001, Curtis has never flinched, giving his own flair to a team that he helped Gould rebuild every step of the way during the 2000 and 2001 seasons as Gould's assistant.
All Curtis has done in his five seasons is lead the team to a 153-148 record, five straight trips to the Southland Conference Tournament, including capturing the tournament championship in 2006, and leading the team to its fourth NCAA appearance in school history. Along the way, Curtis has helped produce three major leaguers, three All-Americans, six all-region performers, 23 all-conference performers, including eight first teamers, two SLC Players and Hitters of the Year, two SLC Newcomers of the Year and 11 of his former players were selected in the Major League Baseball Draft with four more signing free agent contracts with professional teams.
Taking over for a team that went to the NCAA tournament the previous season, Curtis led the Mavericks to a 29-29 record and a trip to the Southland Conference tournament in 2002. He earned his first Division I coaching victory when he guided UTA to an 8-4 victory over Centenary on Feb. 2, 2002. His 29 victories during his first season established a new mark for UTA coaches for victories in their first season.
Several players achieved individual success following the season as starting pitcher Aaron Pullin captured the SLC ERA Crown by going 8-1 with a 2.48 ERA and Ryan Roberts was named the SLC Newcomer of the Year. Outfielder Daniel Ortmeier and infielder K.J. Hendricks were both chosen as first team all-SLC selections before being drafted in the MLB Draft. Ortmeier became the second highest player ever drafted out of UTA when the San Francisco Giants selected him the 97th overall pick in the third round. Hendricks was selected in the 26th round by the Colorado Rockies.
Not content with a .500 record his first year, Curtis and his staff went out and brought in the 35th best recruiting class according to Collegiate Baseball magazine. Despite playing one of the toughest schedules in Division I, the team finished the 2003 season with a 37-25 record. The 37 wins ties for the fourth-most wins in a single season in school history.
He also led the team to an 18-9 mark in Southland Conference play, establishing a new mark for conference wins in a season. The team advanced to the championship game of the conference tournament.
Roberts continued his success from a season earlier as he hit .422 with 16 home runs and 69 RBIs to become the SLC Player and Hitter of the Year. He fell two RBIs shy of winning the triple crown and set numerous offensive records on his way to becoming the second All-American in UTA history.
Roberts was selected second-team All-American by Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball and CollegeBaseballInsider. com and to the third team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA). He was also selected to All-South Central Region Team and SLC first team.
Roberts was joined on the all-region team by Chris Taylor and on the all-SLC first team by Hunter Pence.
Roberts would go on to be the first of three players drafted following the season as he was taken in the 18th round by the Toronto Blue Jays. A pair of teammates, pitcher Ricky Stover and outfielder Robby Deevers, would remain teammates in pro ball as the Milwaukee Brewers selected the pair in the 29th and 30th rounds, respectively. Pullin and catcher Dustin Bozarth would also sign contracts with the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants.
Just narrowly missing out on the NCAA Tournament in 2003 motivated the team for 2004, but injuries throughout the season left the team with just nine healthy position players for several games. The team battled through the hardships to post a 32-26 record and their third straight appearance in the SLC Tournament under Curtis.
The team went 21-11 at home and 2-0 against ranked teams in front of the home fans. In the Mavs' 5-4 victory over then-No. 17 Texas A&M on April 20, 1,388 fans packed the ballpark to establish a new attendance record.
Despite missing time with an injury, Pence became the second straight Mavericks player to be named the SLC Player and Hitter of the Year. The back-to-back selections of Player and Hitter of the Year by two different players from the same team marked the first time that this has been accomplished in the SLC.
The pitching staff led the postseason honors as two members were selected as All-Americans. Senior reliever Mike Snapp was selected a third team All-American by the NCBWA and Snapp and starter Michael Gardner were honorable mention selections by CollegeBaseballInsider.com. Snapp, Gardner and Pence were named to the all-South Central Region first team.
Having to replace the conference player of the year for the second straight year took its toll in 2005 as the Mavs were up and down all season.
The success outside of conference play continued as the Mavs earned two victories over College World Series participant Baylor and a victory over then-No. 9 Texas A&M on the road.
The Mavs finished the season 26-32 and reached the conference tournament for the fouth time under Curtis and eliminated regular season champion and tournament host Northwestern State.
Individual success continued as senior pitchers Jake Baxter and Grant Varnell combined for 15 victories before going in the 25th round of the MLB Draft. Center fielder Nathan Warrick was also selected in the June draft.
The 2006 season was one for every emotion for the Mavericks as the team went through some rough times, but managed to pull things together at the right times in earning a victory over then-No. 6 Texas and winning four straight games in the SLC Tournament to capture the school's second tournament title.
The long lineage of individual success continued as catcher Adam Moore tied the school record with 22 doubles on his way to being named the SLC Newcomer of the Year. In June, Moore became the fourth former player under Curtis to be drafted in the top 10 round when the Seattle Mariners selected him in the sixth round.
Helping to build a successful team is not the only thing that Curtis has helped build for UTA. In 2003, Curtis and the rest of the UTA community were able to see the dream that was created by the late Clay Gould with the renovations to the newly renamed Clay Gould Ballpark. The Mavericks' home field underwent renovations that included a grand entranceway, expanded capacity and a state-of-the-art lighting system that allowed UTA to once again play night baseball.
Playing for Curtis also means success. He's had plenty of it, and so have his players.
Curtis joined the coaching staff in 2000 as an assistant under Gould. He served as the team's pitching coach for three seasons, including his first as head coach.
In his first year in the dugout, Curtis helped the piching staff lower its ERA by .83 to 5.05. Freshman Jared Ferrans tied for the team lead with 23 appearances on his way to becoming the only UTA player named SLC Freshman of the Year.
The success of the pitching staff continued in 2001 as the staff put together its lowest ERA in nine years when it finished the season with a 4.15 ERA, down .90 from the previous season. Left-hander Pierce Loveless led the team with 71 strikeouts on his way to earning first team all-SLC laurels.
Curtis was able to help his hurlers accomplish this while also working tirelessly on the recruiting trail. Thanks in large part to Curtis' efforts, UTA put together the nation's 26th best recruiting class in 2000, according to Collegiate Baseball newspaper. UTA's 2001, 2002 and 2003 recruiting classes were once again rated among those who received recognition as one of America's best by the publication.
While Curtis' accomplishments at UTA are eye-popping, they are not altogether surprising. In fact, success has followed Curtis wherever he has gone during his coaching career, having led a pair of junior college programs to incredible heights.
He joined the Mavericks fresh from leading Garden City (Kan.) Community College to the Western Sub-Regional championship and the Junior College World Series. In two years at GCCC, Curtis claimed two sub-regional crowns, produced a pair of All-Americans, two All-Region performers, four All-Conference selections and turned out five players who moved on to the major college ranks. He also played a key role in three players being selected in the Major League Baseball draft.
Prior to his tenure at GCCC, Curtis spent five record-breaking years as the head coach at Fort Scott Community College, where his 1997 squad finished 46-14, the best record in the school's 23-year history.
While at Fort Scott, Curtis' teams were among the leaders in post-season honors. For four consecutive years, the Greyhounds posted one of the top 10 batting averages in the country, including 1997, when they led the nation with a .395 average. Nine of Curtis' former players at FSCC were selected in the Major League draft, 30 players went on to continue their playing careers at NCAA institutions, five were recognized as Academic-All Americans and 10 were named to the All-Conference first team, six to the All-Region squad and three gained All-American honors.
As a junior college head coach, Curtis posted an impressive 231-156 overall record.
He began his coaching career in 1986, serving as a mentor in the Ogallala (Neb.) Baseball Association to Junior Legion players. In 1992, Curtis became assistant coach at Fort Scott Community College. During the summer of 1996, he worked with the Nevada (Mo.) Griffons Baseball Club as its pitching coach, before moving on to the Roberto Clemente All-Stars out of New York as a team manager and camp instructor later that same year.
Curtis has also been active with the Kansas Jayhawk Baseball Coaches Association, serving as president in 1995, vice president in 1994 and secretary in 1993.
A 1990 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Kearney with a bachelor's degree in education, business and physical education, Curtis completed work on a master's degree in 1998 from Pittsburg (Kan.) State University.
Curtis is single and resides in Arlington.
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