Five years after leading K-State to its lone Big 12 Conference title in baseball, head coach Brad Hill has announced today that he is stepping down from his post at the end of the season. A search for his replacement, who will be the 21st coach in K-State history, is set to begin immediately.
When Hill arrived at K-State in 2004, he inherited a team that had just one winning season in the previous six seasons. He was coming off a DII College World Series championship at Central Missouri State* (and had never failed to win the MIAA in his 9 seasons in Warrensburg), and had to replace Mike Clark, then the winningest coach in K-State history with 435 wins in his 12 seasons in Manhattan.
*Since 2006 the University of Central Missouri
Hill’s first three seasons in Manhattan were tough, not finishing high enough to make the Big 12 Tournament (then, as now, needing to reach 8th place to get in). But the Cats started winning games, and starting with his second season the BatCats finished .500 or better for seven straight seasons (breaking Clark’s record of 6-straight from his first 6 seasons).
Those seven seasons saw incredible new highs for K-State baseball. Long a bottom-feeder program in the conference, Hill guided the Wildcats to their first Big 12 Tournament appearance in his fourth season. Then he topped that as the Cats notched top-6 finishes in four straight years. In 2009, Hill led K-State to its first NCAA Regional appearance and a then-school record 43 wins, following up with two more appearances in 2010 and 2011.
2012 was an off year for the Wildcats, as K-State suffered its first losing season since Hill’s first. But the Wildcats still made the Big 12 tournament, and a young team in 2012 translated into a very veteran team in 2013.
In 2013, Hill brought the Wildcats to the pinnacle. A walk-off win over Oklahoma in late May clinched the Wildcats first conference title in 80 years. The Cats rolled into the post season, winning their first-ever NCAA Regional, before falling to the mighty Oregon State Beavers in three games in the NCAA Super Regional.
A drop-off was expected in 2014, but no one expected quite what actually happened. Returning several key players, who chose to forgo draft selections to return for another hurrah, the Wildcats faced early adversity and could never overcome it as the Cats limped to a last-place finish and missed out on their first Big 12 Tournament in a decade. 2015 and 2016 showed a little progress, and while the Cats couldn’t get back over .500, they finished 6th in 2015 and 8th in 2016 to earn spots in the conference tournament. 2017 saw a return above .500 overall, but the Wildcats struggled in start to conference play and finished in 9th place and missed the tournament once again. The 2018 season has seen the wheels completely fall off, as a solid start to the season ran hard into the wall of conference play, and headed into their final Big 12 series of the season, the Cats sit solidly in last place at 3-18, and need to sweep the rival Jayhawks, and then hope OU can do the same, to even have a chance to make the Big 12 Tournament in what is now Hill’s last season.
What Brad Hill has done for K-State baseball is more than can be measured in wins and losses. Yes, he is now K-State’s all-time winningest head coach with, to-date, 462 wins in his 15 seasons. But he led K-State to incredible heights, many firsts, and proved that you can have winning baseball at K-State — long thought a crazy dream by those in the collegiate baseball circles.
Hill tutored 46 players for the MLB draft while at K-State (58 overall), having at least one player selected in every season in Manhattan. He’s had 18 All-Americans, 55 All-Big 12 selections, 84 Academic All-Big 12 honorees, eight freshman All-Americans, three academic All-Americans, two Big 12 Player of the Year honorees, and K-State’s lone Big 12 Pitcher of the Year (the lone pitcher regardless of conference affiliation). He also earned Big 12 and ABCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year honors in 2009 and 2013. Several of his former assistants and players are now coaches at D1 programs across the country, like former catcher Rob Vaughn who is the current head coach at Maryland. He beat KU, he beat Wichita State (once thought a pipe-dream), and turned K-State from a forgotten program, almost relegated to the same fate as Iowa State, into a contender and a place where winning baseball is indeed possible.
Friday, May 11th will begin Hill’s final home series, as the Kansas Jayhawks visit Tointon Family Stadium for a three-game series. Friday’s and Saturday’s games will begin at 6:30 pm, with the Sunday finale set for 12 pm (CDT).
While his tenure in Manhattan will end with a slide, there is no doubt that Hill will be enshrined in K-State’s Hall of Fame, and will be remembered for the great heights he brought the K-State baseball program too.
Thank you, Coach Hill.