Arizona Baseball trophies

Arizona experienced a 33% increase in baseball trophies under Coach Lopez.
Photo by Wildcat Universe

Andy Lopez has begun a well-deserved retirement. He won a lot of games in a lot of places but he will be most remembered for what he did in Omaha, Nebraska.

There is a National College Baseball Hall of Fame and the newly-former Arizona coach absolutely deserves to be there alongside Wildcat greats Jerry Kindall and Frank Sancet. You can rattle off Lopez’s accomplishments like the 1,177 wins and the slew of coach of the year awards but reading that far down his bio isn’t necessary.

• One of three coaches to take three programs to the College World Series
• One of two coaches to win it all at two different schools

That’s all you need to know. Andy Lopez built his hall-of-fame resume by getting his teams to play their best on the sport’s biggest stage.

His detractors will say he should have won even more. That was certainly the opinion in Gainesville when Lopez was fired by the University of Florida in 2001 after seven seasons. Yes, the Gators won two SEC regular season championships and went to Omaha twice under Lopez’s watch but it wasn’t enough to overcome a lack of titles in the SEC or NCAA tournaments.

You could also argue he could have done better during the regular season at Arizona. Shouldn’t a program of the UA’s caliber do better than one conference co-championship and hosting one regional in 14 seasons?

As we’ve discussed in the past, Lopez’s pattern at the UA was to work in three-year cycles. Heavy up on freshmen every three seasons then peak when they became juniors.

The three peak years under Lopez were 2005, 2008 and 2012 (after a misdeal in 2009) and two of them fell short of expectations.

The 2005 team had almost everybody back from the ’04 CWS squad but finished second in the Pac-12 by two full games and couldn’t make it out of the regional round of the tournament.

The 2008 team had even loftier goals, starting the season ranked No. 1 in the nation in some polls. Yet the team somehow finished in fourth place with a 12-12 Pac-12 record. To be fair, those Cats got it together in the postseason and made it to the final game of the Super Regional in Miami but maybe you’re not playing on the road if you take care of business during the regular season.

Where no one can touch Lopez is the two national championships in just five College World Series appearances (including one in two trips at the UA). That’s an exceptional ratio when you factor in the CWS being an eight-team field and it’s even more remarkable considering not all teams in Omaha are created equal. There are heavyweights and Cinderellas just like any other tournament and neither Pepperdine in 1992 nor Arizona in 2012 was among the favorites when the postseason began.

A lot of really good coaches never win a national title, let alone two. As a point of comparison, over the past 14 years Arizona State went to the College World Series twice as often as Arizona and the Sun Devils won four times as many conference championships, but ASU never left Omaha with the hardware.

Would I trade trophy cases with the Devils? Not a chance. I’ve always said I’d rather be early Jim Calhoun (only two Final Fours from 1987-2008 but two championships) than Kansas Roy Williams (four Final Fours but no titles from ’89-’03).

I’d rather have one extreme peak than a handful of plateaus.

That single championship in 2012 completely changed the image the Arizona program and the nature of this new coaching search. Without it you have three stale trophies won long before any current players were born. Arizona Baseball would belong in the same category as USC. Yes, the Trojans have more CWS titles than anyone but the last one was 17 years ago and the one before that was in 1978.

As it stands now, every coaching candidate knows you can win at the UA right away, in the modern area with today’s recruits. The facilities and administrative support are there for the next coach to chase his own championship.

That is Lopez’s on-field legacy. Because of him, Arizona once again has a true championship standard.

Other coaches may have been better in the regular season or made more trips to the College World Series, but very few can say they coached better in Omaha than Andy Lopez.

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Most College Baseball National Championships by Coach, 1988-Present*

1Skip Bertman5Louisiana St.
2Augie Garrido3Cal St. Fullerton, Texas
3tAndy Lopez2Pepperdine, Arizona
3tJim Morris2Miami
3tPat Casey2Oregon St.
3tRay Tanner2South Carolina

*Since 1988 when tournament field expanded to include equal number of teams in each region

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