Early in the spring, it looked like this season might be different for Penn baseball.
After finishing in last in the Gehrig Division in 2012, the Quakers played well out of the gate, going 5-3 in their first eight Ivy League games of 2013.
The team was disproving doubters who said the squad was too young and the Red and Blue lacked the necessary experience to win the division.
But in division play, losses descended down like a steady cold rain, spoiling the Quakers’ strong start as Penn lost 10 of 13 games to postpone its hopes indefinitely for a first division title since 2007.
And that’s why Director of Athletics Steve Bilsky pulled the plug on John Cole’s tenure with the Red and Blue, choosing to not renew Cole’s contract after eight years at the helm.
Cole’s near-decade as manager leaves behind a mixed legacy.
When Cole joined the Quakers in 2005, there was high optimism around the program that he would be able to build Penn’s program like he did at Division III Rowan.
“His experience was perfect,” Bilsky said right after Cole’s hiring. “That’s as close to an ideal background as we can get.”
And at the start, Cole was highly successful, leading the Quakers to a division title in just his second season.
But while that 2007 team started five freshmen at different times, the team was unable to carry over its experience, as Cole’s Penn squads never replicated his early achievements and finished in last place during three of his last five campaigns.
Cole’s goal after joining Penn to “instill loyalty and leadership in quick but stabilizing fashion” ultimately did not happen to the extent the now-former manager had hoped, as his 143-178-1 record shows.
After looking at Cole’s performance with the Red and Blue, now comes the question of where Penn baseball goes from here.
It isn’t as if this program is in shambles, as the team graduates just three seniors while returning its entire starting rotation and all but two everyday position players.
While it will be tough to replace the production of seniors Ryan Deitrich and Spencer Branigan, the team has the talent to move up the Ancient Eight standings next spring.
As Cole’s final recruiting class develops, it is likely that the program will improve, especially as freshman Mike Vilardo hones his skills at second base.
So despite the troubles that the next Quakers manager will have keeping Cole’s recruits and bringing in a new class of freshman of his own on short notice, the program certainly isn’t without talent.
With the end of the John Cole era, it is easy to be pessimistic when considering the future for the Red and Blue.
But if Bilsky can bring in a manager who can energize the pieces already in place for the Quakers — especially someone considered a “players’ coach” to contrast with Cole’s hard-nosed style — there is no reason Penn can’t make strides in the right direction as early as next year.
Yet those same strides just weren’t coming with Cole, so it’s up to the next person in charge to reverse the fortunes of the Penn baseball program.
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