BY STEVE KRAH
Wanted: A baseball athlete who projects as a big league candidate who also has the skills to thrive in highly-competitive academic setting.
That’s sums up the wish list of new University of Notre Dame assistant baseball coach Rich Wallace.
Hired by new head coach Link Jarrett on a staff with pitching coach pitching coach Chuck Ristano, volunteer assistant Scott Wingo and director of baseball operations Steven Rosen, Wallace is charged with identifying and landing players that will fit the needs of the Fighting Irish as recruiting coordinator. He will also work with ND hitters and catchers.
“Our goal is to get Notre Dame to the College World Series,” says Wallace, who comes to the Irish from Jacksonville (Fla.) University, where he was Dolphins assistant in 2018 and 2019. “I’ve played against teams who did (go to the CWS). Those teams had (future) big leaguers.
“I’m looking for as many kids who want to be big leaguers as I can — not guys who just want to get drafted.
“It’s my job to find the guys who look like they actually could be big leaguers and mix them with the guys who want to be big leaguers and develop them the best that we can.”
Wallace says it is a necessity playing in a Power 5 league like the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“There’s no way for us to beat Clemson, Florida State, Louisville or Miami with guys that are just OK players,” says Wallace. “Coach (Jarrett) will coach them up. He’ll get them great. But there’s only so much you can do against those guys.”
What is the right kind of player for Notre Dame?
“One with a giant chip on their shoulder who wants to do something that’s really, really hard and they’re excited about that,” says Wallace. “It’s he not, he probably needs to go somewhere else. It’s just not going work.”
Pitchers must be good movers and have fastball command and/or an elite fastball or a premier secondary pitch (both is preferable).
“Give me at least one of the two,” says Wallace. “If you don’t have those in our league, you’ve got no shot.”
Do pitchers have to be big and strong?
“I’d love for the guy to be 6-foot-5 and throw 92 (mph) and have a good breaking ball,” says Wallace, noting that pro ball might snap up that kind of player before Notre Dame ever gets a chance to put them on their roster.
Wallace says that Georgia Tech and North Carolina go after both taller pitchers with heat and shorter hurlers with top-notch breaking balls in case they can’t keep the tall flamethrowers.
“We look for both of those,” says Wallace.
The Irish are after explosive athletes.
Once they are on-campus, it will be up to the staff to make them better.
“You have to trust what you do development-wise,” says Wallace.
As one of the top academic institutions in the country, Notre Dame has admission standards higher than most.
Wallace talked about the basic NCAA Division I requirements.
The floor is a 2.3 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale). All D-I athletes must complete 16 core courses by the end of the their senior year.
Recently, the NCAA has required that 10 of those core courses have to be done before they start their final prep year.
Wallace notes that the top two revenue generators at the NCAA Division I tournament level are men’s basketball and baseball, yet D-I baseball offers 11.7 scholarships (athletic aid) and can carry up to 35 players (no more than 27 athletes on scholarship).
“We’ve got to be really smart about who we are going after,” says Wallace.
Players on athletic aid must receive at least 25 percent.
At Notre Dame, the plan is to carry a maximum of 33 players in the spring (there are 41 on the roster now) on a combination of athletic scholarship and institutional aid.
In addition, NCAA rules no longer allow contact with underclassmen — on or off-campus — until September of their junior year.
There are contact, quiet and dead periods in the recruiting calendar and part of those are at the same time as the season.
Notre Dame tends to play games Friday through Sunday (sometimes traveling on Thursday) with on-campus games Tuesday and/or Wednesday. This means coaches mostly seeing players close to campus on Monday or Thursday (if possible) or missing games or practices to do so.
It’s the high school season — more so than the travel ball season — when Wallace and company want to see players perform.
“We not only want to recruit good players, but winners,” says Wallace. “We want to see them play for their hometown and with their teammates and classmates/
“I’ve got to find guys who really like to compete. That’s hard to do that in a summer setting.”
There’s a one-month recruiting window from mid-September and mid-October and then camps become key to get underclassmen in front of coaches.
Of the nine players who have committed to Notre Dame since Wallace arrived, seven have attend Irish baseball camps. The Irish already have two verbal commitments for the Class of 2023.
“For us, the camps are a huge recruiting tool,” says Wallace. “We’ve got to be smart in the way we use them.”
Wallace notes that campers get a sense of how things are done by ND staff.
“The way we run our program, it’s aggressive. It’s blue collar,” says Wallace. “We present that in camp.
“If the kid is scared off by the way we run things in camp with the intensity and high pace, it might not be the place for him. That’s OK, too.”
Wallace recommends that whatever school a player is considering, it is advisable for them to attend the school’s camp to get a real feel for the program and coaching staff.
“Much of my time is spent on the phone talking to scouts and coaches I trust,” says Wallace. “I build that list so when I do go out I have a plan to go see everybody I need to see.”
Sometimes he likes a player on the other team better than the one he has gone to see.
Such was the case of outfielder Nate Roberts, who went from Northwestern University to Parkland College to High Point (N.C.).
As a High Point recruiter, Wallace got on the phone to head coach Chris Cozart.
“I want the Roberts kid?,” says Wallace of that conversation. “‘He’s playing right field for Parkland. Coach, he’s going to change our program.’
Cozart’s reply: “We need a center fielder. If he’s so good why is he playing right?”
“Wallace: “Because the center fielder is going to play in the big leagues.”
We end up getting the right fielder. He’s a fourth rounder. He led the country in on-base percentage and runs scored. He ended up as a first-team All-American. He pretty much changed the program at High Point.
“The center fielder we couldn’t get was (future big leaguer) Kevin Kiermaier. He turned out to be a pretty good baseball player.”
Notre Dame does not get many junior college transfers since those players must have met requirements to get into ND coming out of high school and have 50 percent of their credits toward Notre Dame degree (the NCAA requires 40 percent) transfer.
The Irish do get graduate transfers.
Wallace says some programs “over-recruit” to prepare for players who sign with pro teams out of high school or might go to another school late in the recruiting process.
“At Notre Dame, we’re not doing that,” says Wallace. “It’s tough to tell a kid to invest in Notre Dame, believe he’s going to get his degree here and before opening day, we chop their legs out (by cutting them from the team).”
When a scout or the player themselves says they are going pro, it’s ways to prepare for that.
“It’s the guy who nobody thinks is going to sign and somebody tries to sneak him in the 29th round for $10,000 and you’re caught,” says Wallace. “I can’t go out in June and find somebody that can get into Notre Dame. It’s not going to happen.”
Being realistic throughout the whole recruiting process is another piece of advice from Wallace.
Can that player really play there?
Does it fit what they want or are able to do academically?
Wallace appreciates the dialogue that he can have with a high school coach who knows the score.
“Some coaches will call and say that guy can play for you,” says Wallace. “I’ll say, ‘have you ever seen us play?’ The answer is no. ‘Have you ever seen us practice?’ The answer is no.”
“Once we get to know you guys as coaches and you’ve seen us play and practice, it’s real easy.”
Another thing that drives Wallace crazy as a recruiter is the campus visit from athletes and parents who are not prepared.
“I’m asking (the athlete) questions and he has no idea what he wants to do,” says Wallace. “Mom is walking around the campus on Facebook. They don’t know any better.”
That’s where coaches can educate them — ask them to do their homework on the school and program, sign up for the NCAA Eligibility Center as soon as they enter high school if they have plans of playing college sports.
“The sooner we can put this in front of kids and their parents the better it is,” says Wallace. “(The Eligibility Center) will give them a free profile.
“If you make your guidance counselor aware, they’ll start sending the stuff in for you.”
It’s also a good idea to send short videos to the top five schools on your wish list.
Wallace says the contacting of coaches should be done by the player and not the parents.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘My son Johnny wants to play for you,’” says Wallace. “Then Johnny probably needs to pick up the computer. I’m sure he’s probably never put his cell phone down. He can send an email.”
Wallace does also not want to see the name of another coach in the league on the subject line.
“They forgot to change the email,” says Wallace. “That one goes right to the trash.”
While taking with coaches on the phone, recruits should let them know what they expect at the end of the rainbow. What are their goals? What degree do they want to pursue?
“At Notre Dame, they have to have some sort of academic goal or it’s just not going to work,” says Wallace.
As a player, Wallace grew up in St. Louis and moved to Orlando for high school. His best college baseball fit was the hometown University of Central Florida, coached by Jay Bergman.
“Pure toughness,” is how Wallace describes Bergman, who won 1,183 games as head coach at Seminole Community College, the University of Florida and UCF. “He still has a giant chip on his shoulder.
“If you didn’t show up everyday ready to work, somebody else will take you job.”
When Wallace arrived at the school and its pro-style atmosphere, there were 62 players on the fall roster. He had to work to find his place with the Knights.
He also saw how much baseball Bergman knew.
“He was magical,” says Wallace. “He would see things a whole other level.”
One time at Clemson, where the Tigers had not lost a non-conference weekend series in about 15 years.
At the end of the game, with UCF down by a run and runners on the corners, Bergman predicts that his first batter will double into the gap to score one run and that the next two batters will safety squeeze to plate two more runs and give his team a two-run lead and that’s just what happens.
Another time against LSU, he asks his No. 2 hitter to bunt a batter to second with one out in the ninth to get scoring position. They did just that and the Knights won.
“He knew how that game was going to play out,” says Wallace of Bergman, who began his coaching career at UCF then served with Cozart at High Point (where he first coached against Link Jarrett), Ed Servais at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and Chris Hayes at Jacksonville.
Wallace graduated from UCF in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies. He and his wife, Alex, have two girls — Easton and Maxx.
Rich Wallace was an assistant coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University for the 2018 and 2019 baseball seasons before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. (Jacksonville University Photo)
Rich Wallace (center) was an assistant baseball coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. He is a Central Florida University graduate. He coached at UCF, High Point University and Creighton University before landing at JU. (Jacksonville University Photo)
Rich Wallace is an assistant baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame on the staff of new head coach Link Jarrett. Wallace is the recruiting coordinator for the Irish and will also help with hitters and catchers. (University of Notre Dame Photo)