New coach aims to continue KSU baseball success


Photo courtesy of Bob Christy.

Tim Dorst

When Scott Stricklin left Kent State to accept the vacant head coaching job at the University of Georgia, it appeared an era of Flashes baseball that saw five Mid-American Conference titles and a College World Series run had officially come to an end. Stricklin left the Flashes with five years remaining on his contract to take what he cited as his “dream job” with the Bulldogs, leaving the baseball team to search for a new head coach for the first time in nine years.

The search was a short one though, as the Flashes found the coach whom they believe will lead them into a new era.

As Jeff Duncan, former assistant coach at Purdue University, was introduced as Kent State’s new baseball coach during a press conference June 26, he couldn’t help but smile as he expressed his feelings about receiving and accepting his first head coaching job.

“Becoming the head baseball coach is a dream come true,” Duncan said. “This is the greatest day of my coaching career. It’s an opportunity to lead young men at a program that has great tradition, great players, great alumni and great people involved.”

Duncan’s coaching journey began at Auburn University in 2008, where he served as a third base coach and worked with the team’s offense.

Duncan later spent four seasons coaching at Purdue, being named the associate head coach of the Boilermakers in September 2012.

With Duncan assisting Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber, the Boilermakers set a school record with 45 wins while claiming the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships and hosting an NCAA Regional. Now, he brings his coaching experience to a Flashes team that won nearly 400 games over the course of Stricklin’s tenure with the club.

Joel Nielsen, director of athletics, looked for a specific set of qualities while searching for Kent State’s next head coach. Nielsen wanted someone who could be a great role model for the players, a dynamic recruiter to bring new talent into the program and be committed to academic success, among other qualities. Nielsen said he feels the Flashes are in good hands with Duncan at the helm.

“We also looked for someone who was successful on multiple levels, not just as a player, but also as a coach,” Nielsen said. “I’m looking forward to building on our success.”

Along with his coaching resume, Duncan, 34, played in the Major Leagues as an outfielder for the New York Mets from 2003 to 2004.

Overall, Duncan played professionally for nine seasons with the Mets, Padres, Dodgers and Blue Jays organizations. He was also a three-time all-star selection in the Minor Leagues.

Duncan praised associate head coach Mike Birkbeck and assistant coach Alex Marconi for their work with bringing credibility and a level of leadership and commitment to the Kent State program. Both Birkbeck and Marconi turned down offers to join Stricklin’s staff in Georgia to remain with the Flashes for the 2014 season.

Duncan also thanked Kent State President Lester Lefton for the opportunity to coach a program that has become one of the most respected in the country. It is for that reason that Lefton said the university has invested more into the baseball team and its facilities since its trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series in 2012.

“We have great support for our athletics,” Lefton said. “To continue with that tradition, our baseball program is something that we are really, really committed to. That’s going to be a continuous process because we think that baseball is a sport that we can continue to excel at.”

Duncan’s vision for the team is a simple one, but it aims to match and exceed what the Flashes have built over the past nine seasons under coach Stricklin.

“It’s not only to maintain the success, but it’s to continue to take a little step further in this program,” Duncan said. “Academically we’re going to continue to graduate players, and athletically we’re going to continue to win championships.”

Duncan promised another trip to Omaha in the future for Kent State and said the Flashes will make a huge impression when they make the journey back there. Duncan said what really appealed to him while considering the job were the high expectations that come with the Flashes every year.

“That’s what intrigues me about this job so much,” Duncan said. “It takes me back to my Arizona State days where the expectations were so high. I love that about Kent State baseball.”

Duncan played his college career at Arizona State from 1997 to 2000. He was a team captain for the Sun Devils during his senior season, when he batted .390 and help lead the team to a Pacific-10 (now Pacific-12) Championship.

In order to reach his vision with the Flashes, Duncan said he will ask just two things from the players, two principles he wants the team to follow as they push toward more MAC titles and future success.

“That’s attitude and effort,” Duncan said. “Those are two controllables on and off the field. If you have attitude and effort and a little bit of talent, unbelievable things can happen. I’m definitely ready for this, and I know our coaching staff is ready of this effort.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].