UVA’s Kuhn To Take Head Baseball Job At Radford

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: insidepitchonline.com

Brian O’Connor’s pitching coach for the entirety of his reign over Virginia baseball is saying goodbye.

Karl Kuhn, who has worked with the Cavaliers’ pitchers since O’Connor came to town 16 years ago, is expected to be named head baseball coach at Radford University on Thursday afternoon. Radford will stream the event live at 2:15 p.m. on its Facebook page.

Kuhn will succeed Joe Raccuia, the Highlanders’ coach since 2008, and an alum of the Radford program. Raccuia resigned last week after having been placed on administrative leave by AD Robert Lineburg.

Certainly Kuhn has been a big part of Virginia’s baseball success over more than a decade and a half. He was the recipient of the Tom House Teaching Professional of the Year Award in 2010 and Collegiate Baseball’s National Pitching Coach of the Year in 2014.

It was an odd connection that brought O’Connor and Kuhn together years ago. Mutual friend Peter Moser, then the head coach at Little Rock, had played basketball at Creighton at the same time O’Connor played baseball there.

O’Connor went on to become pitching coach at Notre Dame and Kuhn, who was head coach at Little Rock, flew to South Bend for a recruiting event. Moser told Kuhn to give his regards to “Oaks,” O’Connor’s nickname.

During a break in games at Notre Dame, which were attended by several assistant coaches and scouts getting a look at recruits, Kuhn shouted out, “Which one of you is Oaks?”

O’Connor identified himself and Kuhn promptly told him that ‘P-Mo’ said hello, and walked away. O’Connor chased him down and started a conversation, the beginning of a long relationship. A couple of years later when Notre Dame was playing in a tournament in San Antonio, and one of the teams cancelled, O’Connor quickly talked Kuhn into bringing his Little Rock team eight hours to the event.

While Little Rock went winless over the four tournament games, including a loss to Notre Dame on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th, O’Connor was impressed with Kuhn’s pitchers, who had the lowest collective ERA for the tournament.

Shortly afterward, O’Connor was in the mix for the Michigan head coaching job and asked Kuhn to come with him if he was hired. O’Connor didn’t get the job, but a couple of years later took the Virginia job and brought Kuhn with him.

O’Connor calls his longtime assistant the best pitching coach in America. Numerous UVA pitchers have gone onto the Majors over the years, including Washington Nationals’ ace reliever Sean Doolittle. More than 40 of Kuhn’s pitchers have been chosen in the Major League Baseball Draft, four of them in the first round. He has coached 15 All-Americans and 28 All-ACC pitchers.

“Karl is involved in every facet of their development,” O’Connor said of his pitching coach. “The work and time he spends with them makes the difference and allows us to be who we are from the pitching standpoint.”

Oaks said that the best decision he ever made when he hired Kuhn was to allow him to do his job and not interfere, which wasn’t easy because O’Connor’s background was also in pitching (10 years as the Irish pitching coach).

“Sometimes you can feel as an assistant that somebody is looking over your shoulder all the time,” the skipper said.

Kuhn has always appreciated that O’Connor gave him autonomy. 

“Brian gives me so much trust in what I do and I thrive on trust,” Kuhn said. “I like to be trusted. I don’t know, if I’m him, that I could have put that much faith and trust in me. I’m grateful for it, but I think he has done that with his coaches and I think he has a pretty damned good staff.”

Asked years ago if he ever wanted to be a head coach again, Kuhn was somewhat amused.

“I want to be an old head coach,” Kuhn, now age 50, laughed. “I’m not interested in being a head coach just to be a head coach. I think you get in trouble that way. I’m not a climber, I’m a lifer. I give somebody my word and I stay with the task until the task is done or it’s time to move on.”

After 16 years of helping build Virginia into one of the most recognizable names in college baseball, it is now time to move on.

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