Dave Serrano isn’t comfortable watching NCAA postseason baseball on TV. His preferred vantage point is a dugout.
Tennessee fans, however, have grown accustomed to watching on TV. And if they watch at all, they’re watching some other team.
Teams like Vanderbilt, for heaven’s sake.
Serrano was introduced Thursday as Tennessee’s new coach. The buzz that I picked up at the Lindsey Nelson Stadium ceremony was that UT hit a home run.
“Maybe,’’ proposed one longtime fan, “a grand-slam home run.’’
Vanderbilt hit a grand-slam when it hired Tim Corbin in 2003. The Commodores have emerged from obscurity to achieve national prominence.
Virginia hit a grand-slam when it hired Brian O’Connor in 2004. The Cavaliers, like Vandy, were a baseball afterthought before he arrived.
This week they’re at the College World Series, marking their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
Kentucky hit at least a three-run homer when it hired John Cohen in 2004. He took the mediocre program to an SEC title and two NCAA tournaments in five seasons before leaving for greener diamonds.
All of the above are considered cold-weather schools. So is Oregon State, which won back-to-back College World Series titles in 2006-07.
But the right coach can heat up success. Big-time success.
There lies Serrano’s challenge.
The past four years, UT baseball languished on Todd Raleigh’s watch. The Vols couldn’t make the SEC tournament, much less the NCAA bracket.
Across the border to the northeast, Virginia was winning big on the field and at the turnstile, averaging 3,148 at home in 2010.
More annoying to UT diehards has been rival Vanderbilt’s 21st Century stature.
What’s Vandy got that Tennessee doesn’t? Corbin is the most obvious answer.
“I have a lot of respect for Coach Corbin and that program,’’ Serrano said. “But I think a lot of people have a lot of respect for the University of Tennessee, too.
“I think people are dying for this program to start being more consistent year in and year out. That’s why I was brought here and that’s why I came.’’
Serrano obviously believed he can overcome any obstacles. He left a great job at Cal State Fullerton for one that is depleted at a juncture when three SEC East rivals muscled their way into the College World Series.
“I don’t see any reason right now (UT can’t win big),’’ Serrano said, “and I don’t see myself making any excuse down the line.’’
“That’s where the indoor facilities come into play,’’ he said. “We can still develop good baseball players because we have the resources and the facilities to do that.’’
UT, in fact, has the resources to do about anything.
“I heard it loud and clear,’’ said Serrano, “in talking with the search committee: We want to help you be successful here.’’
If success comes, it will not be overnight. The Vols are down. Serrano admitted he’s not averse to “copycat a little” to catch his rivals.
There’s a sign in the Vols’ clubhouse advising that it’s 921 miles to Omaha, annual host of the College World Series. Serrano said he might take it down, the better to focus on more realistic goals in the short term.
I’d suggest Hoover, Ala., annual host of the SEC tournament. It’s 269 miles from Lindsey Nelson.
Or, for starters, how about the 181 miles to Vanderbilt? There’s a program worth copycatting.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.