Laird Veatch is a big believer in the power of the X factor.
Approaching the third anniversary of his own hire, Memphis’ athletics director says it’s the single-most difficult thing about coaching searches. Finding someone that embodies his specific definition of the concept, while challenging, is also the one thing about the process he’s unwilling to compromise. It can lead to many long, frustrating days and nights. And it often takes time to reveal itself.
Fortunately for Veatch, he recognized it almost immediately in Kerrick Jackson, who was recently named Memphis’ new baseball coach.
“I knew the first time we met with him in person, I knew it sure felt really good,” said Veatch. “It was kind of one of those, ‘Oooh, that’s (going to be) really hard to beat.’ You’re looking back and trying to find excuses for why it wouldn’t work, and you just can’t find ‘em.”
Jackson, who will be formally introduced Wednesday, was officially announced as Daron Schoenrock’s successor on May 29. Schoenrock retired last month after 17 seasons as the Tigers’ skipper. Memphis has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2007.
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For Veatch – who has made three head coaching hires at Memphis: Ryan Silverfield (football), Katrina Merriweather (women’s basketball) and, now, Jackson – his X factor boils down to balance. The ability to foster meaningful relationships and develop a healthy culture, while also running a disciplined, accountable program.
Jackson’s varied, decades-long career around baseball spans the gamut. He has experience at every level of the collegiate game with assistant coaching stints in junior college, Division II and Division I. He has been a head coach at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he inherited a program riddled with NCAA sanctions and resuscitated it in short order. The Jaguars won nine games in his first season, then rattled off 34 victories en route to an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019.
By now, Jackson has his own crystal-clear vision for what makes a program successful. Notably, when asked to describe it, he begins off the field.
“I want our team to be recognized and identified by how we go about our business,” he recently told The Commercial Appeal. “When people see us out in the community, on campus or wherever, they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s a University of Memphis baseball player,’ because of how he carries himself. He’s respectful. Helpful. Not self-centered. Enjoying life. He’s got energy.”
Only then does Jackson delve into what he wants the Tigers’ brand of baseball to be.
“When you come and play us, it’s gonna be a dogfight,” he said. “You may walk out with the win, but you had to do everything in your power to get that win. Because we’re not going to give you anything.”
Jackson’s resume might be considered somewhat of an oddity. Mixed in among the many years of coaching are a variety of turns outside the dugout. He spent time as the Midwest area scouting supervisor for the Washington Nationals. He worked as an agent for the Boras Corporation. Most recently, he served as the director of the MLB Draft League, a venture designed to put underserved and underrepresented prospects in front of professional scouts and front office personnel.
But Jackson’s passion is coaching.
“A coach is who I am, not what I do,” he said. “Circumstances forced me to make some changes at times in my life to leave coaching. But I kept coming back to it, because that’s who I am.”
Jackson, whose favorite player growing up in St. Louis was Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, becomes the first Black head coach in Tigers baseball history. He is one of only three Black baseball coaches at non-HBCU institutions in the country. His place in the trajectory of the game on a macro level is something he takes very seriously.
Jackson intends to fill out a roster that is diverse. He also has plans to increase the game’s visibility among minority groups both inside and outside of Memphis.
“Not everybody’s going to be a baseball player,” Jackson said. “But let’s get you into this fold. Do you like analytics? Do you like marketing? Do you like journalism? There’s all types of other avenues that we can help these kids go down by bringing them into the fold with baseball first.”
Blair DeBord, Memphis’ associate athletic director for development and the school’s sport administrator for baseball, was also instrumental in pegging Jackson for the Tigers’ job. DeBord, a former Kansas State baseball player, has a proven track record of making strong coaching hires. He was directly involved in Tennessee landing baseball coach Tony Vitello, who has the Vols ranked No. 1 in the country and charging hard at a College World Series title.
“I think (Jackson) has a chance here to be a pillar in our community,” DeBord said. “I think (he) can be a total game-changer for us.”
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.