With a head coach in his first season at the helm, it wouldn’t be surprising for Penn baseball to not know John Yurkow too well.
But Yurkow isn’t like most first-year head coaches. He’s been here for years.
When coach John Cole was let go during the offseason, a nationwide search began for his replacement. In the end, Athletic Director Steve Bilsky decided to promote Yurkow, who was the top assistant coach for the Quakers at the time.
“Sometimes when there’s a coaching change, there’s some lag time and nothing gets done for six months,” Yurkow said. “We were fortunate, we were able to keep going. Just being in the league, traveling, playing those teams, there’s an experience factor there.”
Yurkow is no rookie to college baseball. He started for four years at second base for Rowan under Cole, who was the team’s coach at the time. While there, he earned NCAA Division III All-America honors and helped lead his team to the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship.
From there he went through assistant jobs at Rowan and Duke before Cole hired him as one of his assistants at Penn in 2007.
With the Red and Blue, Yurkow found success in the midst of the Quakers’ struggles, particularly after taking over as recruiting coordinator in 2008.
After having just two players earn first-team All-Ivy from 2004-2009, Yurkow helped to recruit 11 All-Ivy players since 2010, including an Ivy League Player of the Year in Tom Grandieri and an Ivy League Pitcher of the Year in Paul Cusick .
“It’s definitely an advantage, spending seven years here,” Yurkow said. “This is a complex place when you look at admissions, financial aid and recruiting on a national level. Having experience in all those areas made it a lot easier to hit the ground running.”
One of the main complaints against Cole, Yurkow’s predecessor, was that his authoritative approach to the sport led to disgruntled players. For Yurkow and his coaching staff, one of the main goals has been to build a positive team culture for both players and coaches.
“We took a lot of time and sat down and thought, ‘Alright, how are we going to do things and how are we going to shape this program moving forward?’” Yurkow said. “We always talk about how practice, that’s for the coaches. Games, that’s really for the players, to go show how hard they’ve been working.”
And so far, the results have been mixed. The Red and Blue have only played three games, and hung tough with a strong Dallas Baptist team for two of them, though all three resulted in losses.
Moving forward, Yurkow has high hopes for this team and rightly so.
After all, the team is returning first team All-Ivy utility man Rick Brebner and honorable mention All-Ivy catcher Austin Bossart . Another strength of the team should be the pitching staff, which returns four of its five starting pitchers, most notably juniors Dan Gautieri - who posted a 2.17 ERA through nine starts last season - and Connor Cuff , who led the Quakers with 43 strikeouts last season.
“This group is an experienced group, they enjoy each others’ company and they’re just a good group to be around,” Yurkow said.
“What’s going to happen eventually is that our talent is going to take over and I could really see us taking those steps and being one of the better teams in the league moving forward.”