New FIU baseball coach has high expectations for program in 2023

FIU Athletics Director Scott Carr (left) poses for photos with newly appointed FIU Baseball Coach Rich on Monday, June 27, 2022 at the FIU Baseball Stadium in Miami, Fla.

FIU Athletics Director Scott Carr (left) poses for photos with newly appointed FIU Baseball Coach Rich on Monday, June 27, 2022 at the FIU Baseball Stadium in Miami, Fla.

swalsh@miamiherald.com

If Rich Witten has his way, “hustle” will become FIU baseball’s new identity.

“I want nine ‘dirt-bags’ on the field at all times,” Witten said. “I want guys who are hungry to win and will work with urgency. We have to compete in a highly intensive way at every practice and every weight-room workout.”

Witten, who was introduced on Monday as the fifth baseball coach in FIU history, is a Kentucky native who turns 34 next month.

He has no head-coaching experience at any level, but he is unfazed.

“It’s not always about paying the biggest name the most money,” Witten said. “It’s about finding someone qualified who will do a great job if given the opportunity.”

Witten believes he is that person. He spent the past five years as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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FIU Athletics Director Scott Carr (left) greets newly appointed FIU Baseball Coach Rich Witten on Monday, June 27, 2022 at the FIU Baseball Stadium in Miami, Fla. Sydney Walsh swalsh@miamiherald.com

Prior to that, he played catcher and corner infielder at Coastal Carolina, leading his team to five regional appearances and two super regionals in five years.

Witten has Florida ties. He served as director of baseball operations at UCF in 2013, and he was a volunteer assistant coach for the Miami Hurricanes in 2014.

He then served as an assistant at Winthrop University, which won 102 games in his three years there, and that led him to VCU.

Athletic director Scott Carr, who arrived at FIU in December from UCF and has already hired two of arguably the top three positions at any collegiate sports department – ​​football and baseball coach – had about 25 candidates before selecting Witten.

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Newly appointed FIU Baseball Coach Rich Witten speaks about his goals for FIU’s baseball team on Monday, June 27, 2022 at the FIU Baseball Stadium in Miami, Fla. Sydney Walsh swalsh@miamiherald.com

As it turned out, that shared UCF connection was the start of putting Witten on Carr’s radar.

“We had mutual relationships,” Witten said.

Witten, who replaces the departed Mervyl Melendez, is “wide open” on hiring assistant coaches and will consider the men currently on staff.

It will be particularly interesting to see if the top two holdovers from Melendez’s 2022 staff – associate head coach Jeff Conine and pitching guru Willie Collazo – will be retained.

One thing for sure: FIU’s baseball program, which has not made an NCAA Tournament since 2015, needs to be rebuilt.

The Panthers are coming off a 16-34 season, their fewest wins since 2008. In six years under Melendez, the Panthers went 126-152, including 61-87 in Conference USA.

Witten, though, predicts a quick turnaround.

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Newly appointed FIU Baseball Coach Rich Witten (left) poses with his wife Natalie Kalibat Witten on Monday, June 27, 2022 at the FIU Baseball Stadium in Miami, Fla. Sydney Walsh swalsh@miamiherald.com

“I plan on being there (an NCAA regional) next year,” Witten said confidently. “I know there’s work to be done. But as soon as I get my staff in place, I’m going to hit the road (recruiting).

“Florida is rich in junior-college talent, and there will be a lot of opportunities for those really good players who need a home.

“We will also recruit the transfer portal. Who wouldn’t want to come to South Florida to finish his college career?”

The lure of Miami was certainly big for Witten, who thoroughly enjoyed his time here during his one season working for the Hurricanes. In fact, he’s already a fan of café Cubano,

“I’m just a small-town guy from Central Kentucky,” Witten said. “But in my six months in Miami (in 2014), I fell in love with the people, the area, the weather, the culture and the baseball.

“People take pride in their baseball here. That’s why every roster I’ve ever helped put together has had Florida guys.”

This story was originally published June 27, 2022 12:55 PM.

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