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Getting to know Steve Bieser, Missouri's new baseball coach

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Steve Bieser isn't the coach many expected or hoped for, but he could be the coach the Tigers need

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Those are a couple of instant reaction tweets from former Mizzou Baseball players. Those "Wow" comments were not expressions of excitement. So, let's get the negative vibes taken care of right here at the top.

Why are some people not excited about Mack Rhoades' choice to replace Tim Jamieson?

He's not a Big Splash hire

The rumor mill over the past few weeks, which gained no assistance from any actual leaks of hard information from the MU Athletic Department, was circulating the names of top candidates supposedly in the mix. Just hours before the Bieser announcement, the name of former Arizona State coach Pat Murphy was tossed around on Twitter, which would have been a HUGE SPLASH hire, albeit a controversial one.

The thing is, fans tend to start believing the rumors and the wish lists a bit too strongly, considering that Mack Rhoades and Tim Hickman have kept an extremely tight, business-like lid on actual, factual news about short lists or long shots. When it came down to it, we knew nothing about what was really going on with the process. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Also, Rhoades may have discovered some resistance to the idea of coming to Mizzou. One of the national college baseball writers tweeted (since deleted) early on that given everything that's taken place at Mizzou over this past school years, why would any established coach want to go there? As loyal as I am to this university as a staff member and fan, I have to admit there's some truth to that.

He's not Tony Vitello

Many former players who played with and were coached by Tony V were understandably excited about the possibility of the #MizzouMade up-and-coming coach leading the Tigers for the next few decades. Many fans and followers had assumed for quite a while that Vitello was the presumptive heir to the throne.

Since Tim Jamieson's dismissal, I've been sorting through the Twitter tea leaves and reading the national college baseball writers' hot takes. I even splurged on a 1-month paid subscription to D1Baseball.com. As the weeks passed and the possible big splash hires fell by the wayside, I became convinced this past week that the only real possibility left was Vitello, and I probably am to blame for some of my Twitter followers' shock at the actual conclusion of the matter.

And maybe we should have been more skeptical from the get-go.

In a PowerMizzou.com podcast (5/26/16), Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com talked about what Mizzou should be looking for if Tim Jamieson is to be replaced:

If you're going to do something like that, is Tony Vitello your hire? And as much as I like Tony, I just don't feel like at this point that you send Tim Jamieson packing to hire an assistant at Arkansas. I'm just not sure that's your end-game. So I'm of the belief that if I'm Missouri, if I truly feel like I need to make a change, you need to go out and make a splash hire.

Mack Rhoades didn't do either of those.

Why didn't he choose Vitello?

First of all, Rhoades doesn't know Vitello like his predecessor, Mike Alden does. If Alden were still the AD, Tony V's chances would likely have been much higher.

Perhaps Rhoades was set on hiring someone who has actually been a head coach in college. Vitello has not. Maybe this will motivate Tony to seek a head coaching position somewhere in order to further develop his resume. I hear SEMO is looking for a new coach.

Who is this Bieser guy?

Part of the reaction is simply due to Bieser being an unknown quantity to many people. Many don't even know how to pronounce his name (it's BEE-zuhr, according to the SEMO website).

Partly that's my fault. In all my profiles of possible candidates, I relegated Bieser to the list of Dark Horse candidates, with only a brief profile. So let's fix that. Here's the whole 9 innings for Steven Ray Bieser, Mizzou Baseball's new head coach.

Career

  • Southeast Missouri State, Head Coach (2013-2016)
  • Southeast Missouri State, Assistant Coach (2010-2012)
  • Danville Dans (independent Prospect League), Manager (2009)
  • St. John Vianney High School, Kirkwood, MO, Head Coach (2003-2010)
  • Minor leagues (1999-2002)
  • Piitsburgh Pirates, C/OF (1998)
  • New York Mets, C/OF (1997)
  • Drafted in 1989 by the Phillies
  • Played for SEMO
  • Played for St. Genevieve HS; Hometown: Perryville

Mighty Deeds

During his short major league career, Bieser was a jack of all trades, playing all three outfield positions and catcher. In the minor leagues he even was used as a spot-pitcher.

At Vianney HS, Bieser won two state championships in 2004 and 2006 and compiled a record of 137-51, impressive in the highly competitive atmosphere of StL prep baseball. That accomplishment earned him a job as pitching coach at his alma mater, SEMO, which turned into the head coaching job after two years.

In his four years as head coach at SEMO, he compiled a .587 winning percentage (138-97). His Redhawks won three consecutive OVC championships, but only made it to an NCAA Regional in 2016.

Bieser grabbed the attention of of many in college baseball when his Redhawks beat two SEC opponents (Arkansas and Missouri) during the 2015 season. They also split a two-game series with Mizzou in 2016.

His chief accomplishment at SEMO was turning around a moribund program. He won 35 or more games in each of his last three seasons at SEMO, a feat that had only been accomplished once by SEMO prior to Bieser's tenure. That turnaround is what led many to believe he would be a great choice to turn around the Mizzou program. Mack Rhoades apparently was one of those people.

Mizzou/Midwest Connections

Bieser has deep Missouri roots. Bieser is originally from Perryville and is a graduate of Ste. Genevieve HS, both in southeast Missouri. He played at SEMO, coached in the St. Louis area, and has since been coaching at SEMO.

Does He See Mizzou as a Destination Job?

From his statement when he was hired:

"When I started my coaching career, I had always dreamed of the opportunity to lead this program. There is a strong tradition and rich history of Missouri Tiger baseball. I understand the responsibility and I am fully committed and ready to continue building the tradition. As life-long Missourians, my family and I feel truly blessed to be part of the University of Missouri and the Columbia community.

Can He Coach?

Steve Bieser is the 2016 OVC Coach of the Year. He is one of 15 coaches in OVC history to win it multiple times.

SEMissourian.com: Pitch recognition training proves beneficial for Southeast Missouri State baseball team

Fadde credits Bieser and his staff's open-mindedness since "their livelihood depends on how well these guys hit baseballs," but the choice to implement and develop pitch recognition training methods, which includes working with video and adding components to everyday practice drills, wasn't a difficult one for Bieser.

"I think at our level we're always looking for some type of advantage," Bieser said. "How do we close that gap between the big schools and our players? And this was just another avenue to provide our players a chance to get better, and whether or not the entire team adopted it and used it or whether it helped one or two players on our team, I thought that it would be beneficial."

The numbers show that it has been advantageous for Southeast. The Redhawks ranked in the 70s and 80s in all of Division I baseball in offensive categories during Bieser's interim season in 2013.

In the last two seasons since starting the pitch recognition program, Southeast has ranked in the top 20 nationally in multiple offensive categories. The Redhawks were ninth in batting average and runs scored in 2014 and 12th and tied for fifth in those same categories, respectively, last season. They were sixth in slugging percentage and on-base percentage in 2015.

No other team in Division I baseball has scored as many runs as the Redhawks during the 2014 and 2015 seasons combined.

From Mack Rhoades' statement at the hiring announcement:

He will be a tremendous role model for our student-athletes and has demonstrated a unique ability to develop his players athletically, academically and socially beyond what they believed they could achieve. "He boasts remarkable intellectual horsepower and has a very cerebral approach to the game of baseball. He is a relationship-builder and will be a great fit for Mizzou."

Can he Recruit?

Bieser has lots of connections among Missouri and Midwest prep coaches, going back to his years as a prep coach himself at Vianney. His professional baseball experience will appeal to many recruits, most of whom dream of being a professional ballplayer. In his time at SEMO he has drawn in some great players who helped him turnaround the Redhawk program.

Has he been to Omaha?

This is the biggest negative about Bieser. Not only hasn't he been to Omaha, he's only made it to an NCAA Regional once, where his team went 0-2.

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

Who knows? He has certainly turned around the SEMO program from a perennial OVC bottom dweller to perennial champion. He certainly seems to be a good person and a knowledgeable and experienced baseball man.

What we don't know is whether he has what it takes to turn Mizzou into a perennial competitor in the SEC, which is a whole different ballgame than the lowly OVC.

To me, Bieser seem like a Frank Haith type of hire (only without the baggage). Like Haith, he's unproven in ways that shout out SEC-caliber coach. Like Haith, he has qualities that grabbed the attention of the Mizzou AD, who is staking his own reputation on what many will consider a long shot.

Hopefully, Bieser justifies Rhoades' faith in him, more than Haith did for Alden. And hopefully he does replicate his program building success on the big stage of the SEC.

If he does succeed, he's the type of guy who is quite likely to stick with Missouri for decades, which has always been an important quality from my perspective. You hire a Big Splash kind of guy and he's likely to make his splash at MU and then move on to a bigger pond. Bieser is a Missouri guy, through and through, even though he doesn't have Mizzou roots.

We should all be rooting for him to surprise his critics and overcome the built-in disadvantages Mizzou has.

Which, really, is what it all comes down to. Even the most high profile of coach would still have to overcome Mizou's geographical, weather, financial, and infrastructure disadvantages. The ball is really in Mack Rhoades' court on that. Does this hire show Rhoades' lack of intention to spend big to win big in SEC Baseball? Or will he provide Bieser with what he needs to succeed? Time will tell.

Notes & Links

SEMissourian.com: Methodical Steve Bieser leads Southeast Missouri State baseball team to historic success

There are four distinct priorities that Steve Bieser tries to live his life by that have nothing to do with baseball and yet everything to do with baseball.

The 47-year-old leader of the Southeast baseball team immerses himself in family, faith, education and service -- and in that order.

The belief that these are the keys to living a fulfilled life spill over into his team.

This way of life has garnered him the respect of his assistant coaches, his players and his family and it's what moves the routine-driven coach each day to be the best man he can be in all areas of his life, and a big part of his life is baseball.
...

There's consistency in his in-game presence -- both assistant coach Lance Rhodes and Cole Bieser said in separate interviews that "whether we're up 10, down 10 or it's a one-run game" his "quiet confidence" and steady demeanor can be expected -- as well as the team's daily routine. Bieser said the players could run practice on their own because they know what their workout always is each day of the week.

SEMissourian.com: Southeast coach Bieser has history with Matheny

The two former backstops and current managers have kept in touch in the time since that spring training, but they don't talk about that spring much. Each is too concerned about his own teams to spend time discussing the short time they shared one.

Now, they talk about the present -- philosophies, coaching ideas and how to help their teams and players better.

When the time is right, Bieser tells Matheny about how his Redhawks would be a great fit for the next Matheny generation. And each time they shake hands, they add to their shared history.

Also check out SEMissourian.com: Former Redhawks not surprised Southeast Missouri State baseball coach Bieser moved up a step to Missouri.

In this interview prior to SEMO's appearance in the 2016 Starkville Regional, Biesr talks about competing against the SEC, offensive preparation, and more.