John Denton's Knights Insider: Rooney's Quest to Build UCF

Feb. 8, 2010

By John Denton

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A college baseball head coach for the first time last season, Terry Rooney regularly had peers in the profession give him advice him when he boasted that the only mission at UCF was to compete at the highest level.

Rooney regularly talked of winning league titles, of getting to Omaha to college baseball's World Series and of turning UCF into a national powerhouse. There was no five-year plan of building or easing into the job. Rooney wants it all and he wants it now, but some others in the business thought that he was putting too much pressure on himself by setting such lofty standards right away.

Naturally, he scoffed at them.

``I preach to our guys every single day that we're going to have confidence and we're not going to back down from anybody. We're going to have swagger and show up feeling we can compete with anybody in the country,'' Rooney said. ``That's where I want the expectations and I don't shy away from that. There are a lot of my coaching colleagues who tell me, `Tone it down.' But I don't want to tone it down; this is why I came to UCF. People talk about UCF being the sleeping giant; well, it's time to wake it up. Let's go to work and compete at the highest level.''

Gone to work Rooney has, often logging 12 to 14 hours a day selling and building UCF's baseball program - even though that may be the low end of the estimate, the coach said. In just one year at UCF, he established school records for attendance, Conference USA wins and GPA and his team adapted to his ``million miles an hour'' approach and steadily improved. He then enhanced that surging momentum by attracting a star-studded recruiting class ranked No. 4 nationally by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and No. 10 by Baseball America.

The indefatigable Rooney is willing to tell anybody who will listen that UCF is on a collision course with greatness. And the Knights' ceiling extends well beyond Florida and even Conference USA, he said. The team's motto, ``On the Road to Omaha,'' is more than just a saying; it's a mindset he wants his team embracing on a daily basis.

``I just want people to understand what this baseball program can do,'' Rooney said. ``I'm going a million miles an hour, but that's kind of the nature of my personality. I wouldn't have it any other way. When (Athletics Director) Keith Tribble, (Executive Associate AD) David Chambers and (Senior Associate AD) David Hansen hired me, I told them, `I can build you a team and I can recruit, but I'm not interested in building a team; I want to enhance the program.' We're on our way to doing that.

``When you judge a program, you judge all aspects of it. You see what we're doing academically, see the attendance, the growth in the stadium and the recruiting class we have coming in - then you see why the message of `On the Road to Omaha,' is the truth,'' Rooney continued. ``I would not have come to UCF if I didn't feel like we couldn't compete at the highest level. It's a process, but we can do it.''

UCF, which opens its season on Feb. 19 against Savannah (Ga.) State and plays 19 of the first 21 games at its home stadium, paved the way for this season's promise by going 10-8 down the stretch last season. The Knights then added a recruiting class that was built around instant-impact players.

Dynamic outfielder/leadoff hitter Ronnie Richardson is the jewel of the incoming class, while newcomers Alex Besaw and Owen Dew should anchor the front end of the re-tooled pitching rotation. Hard-throwing left-hander Joe Rogers is projected as the closer even though he's a true freshman.

They join a talented returning group that laid the foundation last season for how Rooney wants to play. Bulked-up catcher Beau Taylor was a freshman All-American last season while hitting .335. Shane Brown and Chris Duffy give the Knights plenty of pop and senior leadership from the corner outfield slots and first baseman D.J. Hicks seems poised for a monstrous season if he can come back healthy.

Remarkably, the Knights could feature MLB-drafted players at seven of the nine positions on Opening Night. Six of the incoming players in the star-studded recruiting class were also drafted, but opted for UCF.

Put it all together and Rooney is convinced that UCF is destined for greatness. Patience, not exactly Rooney's strong suit, will be required early on with so much newness in the program, but ultimately UCF will turn their potential into success. And Rooney isn't about to shy away from that expectation of greatness - even if his peers continue to suggest that he ``tone it down.''

``The momentum nationally, there's a lot of it for the program right now,'' he said. ``Last year was a year of firsts - we had the most wins since joining Conference USA, we set attendance records and we had the highest GPA. So the foundation for the program is laid and we just needed to improve the talent level. We did that with a top-five recruiting class.

``I accepted this job because this program can compete at the highest level,'' Rooney continued, barely pausing to take a breath between sentences. ``UCF is the third-largest school in the country and Conference USA is one of the five best conferences in America. We have the pieces to compete at the highest level. I wouldn't be here if I didn't feel that way.''


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.