Ritch Price led the Kansas Jayhawks baseball program for 20 seasons. Price announced his retirement on May 22nd, following the Jayhawks less than spectacular 2022 season in which they went 4-20 in Big 12 Conference play.
It wasn’t all bad during Price’s time in Lawrence, who started with the Jayhawks in 2003. Price is the all-time leader in wins for a Kansas head baseball coach with 581 victories in his two-decades at the helm. He also led the Jayhawks to one Big 12 Conference tournament title and three NCAA Regional appearances.
There are several names that have popped up since Price announced his retirement. Here are a few of those candidates who could help build the Jayhawks back up to respectability in the Big 12 Conference.
Nate Thompson, Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator at Arkansas
Thompson would be quite a hire for the Jayhawks. He’s a native Kansan and his ties through the region could give him an edge compared to others looking at the job. He has been an assistant at Nebraska, Hutchinson Community College, and head coach at Missouri State. Thompson is only 39 years old and has been seen by some as a rising star after taking on a larger role at SEC powerhouse Arkansas the last five seasons.
In 2018, he took over as the hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas. The first four seasons, his Razorback players led the SEC in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, home runs, and RBI. There’s no doubt Thompson had a big part in the success of the Arkansas program since he arrived on the scene and it could be time for his next head coaching gig, and his first at the D1 level. Arkansas’s season is continuing into the Chapel Hill Super Regional after they won the Stillwater Regional last weekend.
Rob Childress, Director of Player Development at Nebraska
Childress should be one of the top candidates for the Kansas job. He started his coaching career as an assistant with the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the early 2000s when they turned their program around to being respectable in the Big 12 again.
In 2006, he was hired as head coach at Texas A&M, another Big 12 school. He led the Aggies for 16 seasons, from 2006-2021. A&M made 13 consecutive NCAA regionals, six Super Regionals, and two College World Series appearances during his time there. He also kept the team near the top of the Big 12 and SEC standings throughout most of his tenure in College Station.
The 53-year-old went back to Nebraska to take on the role of director of player development, but he could have jumped right back into coaching if he wanted to. It seems like he is waiting for the right situation to come along. Could jumping back into the Big 12 as a head coach be on his radar? If so, Kansas could be a nice landing spot for Childress.
Rob Walton, Pitching Coach at Oklahoma State
Walton has been an assistant coach at his alma mater in Stillwater for the past 10 seasons. He won Baseball America’s Assistant Coach of the Year with the Cowboys in 2016. Before joining Oklahoma State, Walton was the head coach at Oral Roberts. In nine seasons at ORU, he won 367 games, leading the team to the NCAA Tournament in each season he was there. He was also head coach for Team USA in 2008 and led the team to a gold medal.
Walton was inducted into Oklahoma State’s baseball hall of fame in 2018 after a successful collegiate career as a Cowboy and stellar coaching resume throughout his career.
Would he be willing to leave his alma mater to jump back into head coaching? If he wanted to stay close to home while becoming head coach at a D1 program, landing at Kansas, in the Big 12, could be a nice option for Walton. We’ve seen it work with another Kansas coach, albeit a different sport, with coach Bill Self. A former Cowboy basketball player and former head coach at Oral Roberts, there are some similarities there in both coaches’ backgrounds. It’s worked out well for Self and the Jayhawks, could Walton have similar success if he makes the move to Lawrence? It might be worth exploring.
Those are my top three candidates for Kansas, but there are some other names floating around that could fit what the Jayhawks are looking for as well.
Kyle Crooks, Central Missouri head coach
Kevin Hooper, Atlanta Braves minor league director of player development Reggie Christiansen, Sacramento State head coach
Jordan Bischel, Central Michigan head coach
Shane Wedd, Sam Houston State assistant
Ryan Schmidt, Hutchinson Community College head coach
Some of these names have ties to the Jayhawks, others just some under-the-radar flier picks that could help rebuild the program. Whichever direction Athletic Director Travis Goff decides to go, the Jayhawks will have a rebuild on their hands. However, with the transfer portal the way it is now in the NCAA, the rebuild could be quicker than some may anticipate.
It’s all about the right fit as well as the resume, and Goff should aim high with his first chance at hiring a baseball coach for the Jayhawks.