Pitching coach Mike Birkbeck has options at Kent State, Georgia

By Allen Moff | Staff Writer Published:

When the Kent State baseball program last found itself in need of a new head coach, the job belonged to Mike Birkbeck if he wanted it. But Kent State's nationally renowned pitching coach decided to remain in that post, paving the way for the hiring of Scott Stricklin for the 2005 season.

Fast-forward nine years, and Birkbeck almost assuredly finds himself in the same situation.

Stricklin officially accepted the position as head coach at the University of Georgia on Monday, and although neither side will confirm it, the Golden Flashes' top job likely once again is Birkbeck's for the taking.

Birkbeck is also mulling over an offer to join Stricklin at Georgia, putting the 17th-year assistant coach in a situation that's extremely favorable yet difficult at the same time.

"Is it difficult? Oh yes, absolutely, because I've got so many moving parts," said Birkbeck, who was recruiting a showcase tournament in Cincinnati on Tuesday along with fellow KSU assistant Scott Daeley. "That's why we're all just gathering information and moving along. I'm considering everything at this point. You know how much I love Kent State University and our baseball program. So we'll see."

Birkbeck met with KSU Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen on Monday.

"Joel and I covered ground on several topics," said Birkbeck. "He's been awesome."

Nielsen confirmed the school's interest in Birkbeck on Tuesday.

"Mike's ability to coach college baseball is first and foremost as a pitching coach, but what most people feel obviously is that he is unmatched on an assistant's level around the country," said Nielsen.

"I know we see that, I know others see that also. That being said, Mike and I have had conversations. There's a lot of different scenerios in play right now, so it's very early on in the process, but obviously we have a strong interest in Mike. He knows that. We're just gonna have to let the next few days play themselves out."

Birkbeck is a native of Orrville who was an All-American pitcher at the University of Akron before graduating in 1985. Following a 14-year professional career that included several seasons at the Major League level with Milwaukee Brewers and the New York Mets, he was hired by former Kent State coach Rick Rembielak to take over as the team's pitching coach when the late Dick Schoonover stepped down following the 1996 season.

After Rembielak left Kent State to take over the Wake Forest program following the 2004 season Birkbeck was given the first shot at the Flashes' top post, but turned it down. He remained the team's pitching coach under Stricklin, and was also promoted to associate head coach at that time.

Birkbeck's resume as a collegiate pitching coach is unmatched by anyone in the country.

He was named the 2012 Baseball America/American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year after helping the Golden Flashes advance to the College World Series for the first time in school history last spring.

Birkbeck has worked with 37 student-athletes who have been drafted or signed into professional baseball, including 2011 First Round draftee Andrew Chafin. Five of his former hurlers, Matt Guerrier (1999, Minnesota), John VanBenschoten (2001, Pittsburgh), Dirk Hayhurst (2003, San Diego), Andy Sonnanstine (2004, Tampa Bay), and Chris Carpenter (2008, Chicago Cubs), have appeared in the major leagues.

Kent State's top two starters this season, juniors Taylor Williams and Tyler Skulina, are expected to be early-round draft choices in the upcoming MLB Draft.

Daeley, the other current full-time member of Kent State's staff who serves as the team's hitting coach/recruiting coordinator, could also be in line for either a promotion at Kent State or a position under Stricklin at Georgia. He was an original member of Stricklin's KSU staff in 2005.

Birkbeck believes decisions on his future and others will be made in the near future.

"As far as a timeline, I'd say probably in the next five or six days," said Birkbeck. "I'd say probably by the weekend something will be decided."

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