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Simmons Field Hot List: Tony Vitello, Arkansas

Is former Missouri assistant Tony Vitello the right man to replace Tim Jamieson?

Tony Vitello
Tony Vitello
Len Laskowski

Getting to Know Tony Vitello

We're taking a look at some of the likely candidates for the Missouri Baseball Head Coach job, recently vacated by Tim Jamieson. First, the man considered by many to be the "obvious choice."


Mighty Deeds

Vitello's chief claim to fame is the Mizzou pitchers he shepherded who are now in the major leagues. Numerous profiles of Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow, and Kyle Gibson include quotes from them about the ways Vitello helped them become the pitchers they are now, including Former Mizzou pitcher Gibson stays grounded in Twins' organization (KBIA):

"Every time after a relief or starting outing, coach Vitello would give us a sheet of paper and it had four or five numbers on it, but the three biggest numbers were first pitch strikes, ground balls, and A3P [attack in three pitches–get two strikes out of the first three pitches]," said Gibson. "Those were the three biggest numbers. He wanted you to see those after every outing and made sure you were either getting better at them." Get ahead, get ground balls and be efficient. That’s Vitello’s mantra, and it’s worked perfectly for Gibson. For comparison, only three major-league pitchers had a higher ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio than Gibson’s minor league total in 2010.

Mizzou's most successful seasons during Tim Jamieson's time as head coach were the 7 straight years from 2003 to 2009 when the Tigers went to seven NCAA Regionals and one Super Regional. Those just happen to line up with Vitello's tenure on the coaching staff, from 2003 to 2010.

Mizzou/Midwest Connections

Vitello is a former Mizzou player and assistant coach. He is originally from St. Louis, with lots of contacts in that area, not the least of which is his father, Greg Vitello, longtime coach at Desmet High School, now retired from coaching.

Does he see Mizzou as a destination job?

Probably. He reportedly had a shot at the SLU job a few years ago and turned it down. He appears to be waiting until his resume and reputation earn him an offer as head coach at a 1st-tier conference school. Mizzou, as his alma mater, could be his place to shine and build a long career. Then again, it could be a place to develop his reputation as a Head Coach and eventually go to a higher-tier school that is willing to pay more than Mizzou.

Can He Coach?

He was the pitching coach at Missouri, which was always a bit odd, considering he wasn't a pitcher. There are some who said he ruined some marginal pitchers during his time at MU, tinkering with their mechanics too much. But there are others, including people named Scherzer and Crow and Gibson, who have publicly spoken highly of how much Vitello helped them and motivated them to excel.

At TCU and Arkansas he switched to being a hitting and fielding coach. Vitello was never a fantastic hitter at the collegiate level. One of the writers at Frogs O' War reported in 2013 that not everyone was greatly impressed with Vitello's abilities as a pitching coach.

Vitello's strength as a coach has always been his ability to motivate players.  When Scherzer and his other blue chip proteges talk about him, it's rarely about the technical aspects of his coaching.  They praise him highly, though, as a motivator.

Can He Recruit?

Recruiting is what Vitello is known for. He was the Recruitment Coordinator at Mizzou and has done the same at TCU and Arkansas.  Recruiting is the one thing he has been most known for.

The man behind the draft picks (Columbia Missourian, 6/9/09)

Missouri’s national profile has expanded under Tony Vitello’s watch. Among Gibson, Crow, and Scherzer, only Scherzer hails from the state of Missouri. Missouri’s 35-man roster features 17 players from outside the state. Tony Vitello cites the recent success of the entire athletic program and "goofy connections" for helping expand Missouri’s reach. He said recruits are getting tougher to read, although his background with pitching prospects can make the job a little bit easier. "More and more, I feel like I have a little less power than I really think I do. Most guys find a match for what they’re looking for, whether it be a nice stadium or whatever," Tony Vitello said. "If it happens to be they want to improve as a pitcher, kids on their own now are bringing up Max or Aaron, as opposed to us having to force feed it to them."

Has he been to Omaha?

Vitello and the Razorbacks were in the College World Series in 2015, where they went 0-2.

Is he the coach to take Mizzou to a higher level in the SEC?

He has the personality and coaching chops to be an SEC caliber coach.  He is, however, unproven as a head coach.  He has also not demonstrated any great ability to sell the program, to be the head cheerleader who pushes the Athletic Department and coaxes the fans to get excited about Mizzou Baseball.

As I said in June of 2013, here on RockMNation,

Tony V may do better as a head coach somewhere than as an assistant. His best skill is as a motivator, a trait he shares with his dad, Greg Vitello, longtime coach at DeSmet HS in St. Louis. Give him a chance to hire a great pitching coach and a great hitting coach and he could do well. Whether that should be at Mizzou or not is open for debate.

Plenty of folks think Tony V is the obvious choice for the job. Others aren't so sure. He doesn't deserve the job just because he's the most likely Mizzou alum on the short list. But his Mizzou roots combined with his breadth of experience and proven skills as a recruiter and motivator would make him a good choice.

Notes & Links

Hogs’ new hitting coach a steady fixture at Baum, Arkansas Online, 2/12/14 $

"I try and give them something that resonates with them as an individually. Each one of those guys in the locker room is unique."

"I think there's a lot of flexibility in the game of baseball. If you turn on the Red Sox - Yankees game you're going to see 18 different stances and wings, and you're going to see 4 or 5 pitchers go out there and do things a little bit differently. We do try to give them some guidelines of what all good hitters do. But, we wouldn't recruit these guys unless we already liked what they do, so a little bit of it is, 'be who you are, stay true to your roots.' And then if there's something that's relatively significant that we can kind of make a change or adjustment on, then we'll approach it and show them video and things like that. But for the most part, they're a group that works so hard in the cage that they're constantly evolving as hitters on their own."

"I tell recruits, the SEC, you've either gotta run from it or run to it."

Mizzou Nothing New for Vitello, Arkansas Online, 5/14/14 $

"Coach Jamison introduced me into Division I baseball and was very generous to do so with a walk-on opportunity, and then to hire me at a young age and introduce me into college coaching," Vitello said. "Those two things will never go away for me."
Arkansas outfielder Tyler Spoon said Vitello brings a lot of intensity as a coach. "He's just a ball of energy," Spoon said. "He's always focused and ready to go and gets us ready to play as well."

Here's an example of Vitello's media presence,Tony Vitello and Chris Bucknam - New Facility