Speculation ends: Hartleb to return

Speculation ends: Hartleb to return

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CHAMPAIGN – Dan Hartleb's two-decade association with University of Illinois baseball will continue.

The fifth-year Illini head coach said Wednesday he was told by athletic director Ron Guenther that his contract, which expires in August, will be renewed.

An announcement on a new multiyear deal for Hartleb – who spent the first 15 years of his UI tenure as an assistant coach and later associate head coach – will be made by the school once all details have been finalized and approved.

"The particulars have yet to be worked out," Hartleb said. "We're in discussions on that. I will say it's a good situation. Ron has been very fair and very good to me as a coach."

Hartleb and Guenther held their annual end-of-season meeting Tuesday. It was then, Hartleb said, that the AD offered a new contract. Hartleb signed a five-year deal in the summer of 2005 after being named to succeed Itch Jones as head coach.

Hartleb indicated Wednesday his coaching staff would remain unchanged, with associate head coach Eric Snider and pitching coach Ken Westray returning. Snider just completed his 12th season on the UI staff and Westray his fifth.

Speculation about Hartleb's status beyond 2010 arose when Guenther indicated in February that no discussions on a new contract would take place until after the season. Questions about whether the AD might be contemplating a change continued into the season as Illinois stutter-stepped toward a final record of 26-26, finished ninth in the Big Ten at 10-14, and failed to qualify for the conference tournament for the first time since 2004.

However, Hartleb said he always was confident Guenther would make a decision based on the coach's overall record as well as the team's academic performance and his stance on disciplinary issues.

Under Hartleb, Illinois has a 151-127 record – including 73-68 in the Big Ten – and had made four consecutive Big Ten tournament appearances before this season.

"Honestly, I never lost sleep over it," Hartleb said. "Did we have the type of year we wanted? No. But if I were concerned only about a contract – and winning was the only thing that was important – I wouldn't have done certain things.

"But we do things with integrity, we do things the right way, our guys are going to have discipline, and I won't back down from that."

One of Hartleb's disciplinary moves left Illinois without its top returning pitcher in 2010. When Phil Haig was arrested for theft of electronics equipment in September 2009, the left-hander was dismissed from the program.

The on-field impact of Haig's absence was significant. The Illini never did locate a reliable successor in the No. 1 starter's role, ultimately using three different pitchers to open Big Ten series.

Hartleb took a similar disciplinary step in January 2008 when he removed All-Big Ten pitcher Tanner Roark from the team for academic reasons.

"Some of the decisions I've made were for the long-term success of the program," Hartleb said. "They were the right thing to do, and I wouldn't change anything we did."

The Illini's 2010 prospects also took an early blow when first baseman Matt Dittman suffered a wrist injury that required season-ending surgery. Dittman, a second-year starter who hit .360 in the Big Ten in 2009, was off to a torrid start this season (22 for 44, 15 RBI) when he was sidelined after 14 games.

Starting center fielder Willie Argo, who set a single-season steals record with 41, played through a similar wrist injury that required postseason surgery. Although Argo remained in the lineup to the end, his batting average plummeted 20 points over the final 10 games, to .318.

Hartleb is optimistic that his team will bounce back in 2011, particularly because of the large number of young players who played prominent roles this season. Among position players, three freshmen and sophomores started at least 50 games, while two others logged between 24 and 30 starts.

Although the pitching staff had a particularly rough season – its 7.50 Big Ten ERA ranked last in the conference – freshman starter Kevin Johnson (5-2) and sophomore closer Bryan Roberts (nine saves) form a strong core around which to build.

"We were .500 this year, and I just look at the young guys we did play and I look at the experience we have back," Hartleb said. "I look at getting some guys healthy. ... I like the athletes we have in our program."

For the record

Illini baseball coach Dan Hartleb’s year-by-year record:

2006    29-29    15-17 (T5th)
2007    31-27    16-14 (5th)
2008    31-25    16-15 (4th)
2009    34-20    16-8 (4th)
2010    26-26    10-14 (9th)
Totals    151-127    73-68

Categories (3):Baseball, Illini Sports, Sports