Pair of coaches Van Horn recruited land in Fayetteville Regional
HawgBeat's coverage of the Diamond Hogs' Road to Omaha is brought to you by CJ's Butcher Boy Burgers, which has locations in Fayetteville and Russellville.
Two of the opposing coaches in the Fayetteville Regional were recruited by Dave Van Horn, with one accepting an offer to play for him at Nebraska and the other turning him down.
Most of the attention since Monday’s bracket reveal has been on the former, as Nebraska head coach Will Bolt was a team captain on the back-to-back College World Series teams in Van Horn’s final two seasons with the Cornhuskers.
Before worrying about Nebraska, though, Arkansas has to get through 4 seed NJIT, which is led by third-year head coach Robbie McClellan. He’s the coach who, two decades ago, was heavily recruited by Van Horn as a pitcher and could have been teammates with Bolt, but decided to say no thanks.
Although Nebraska was among his top schools, along with the likes of LSU, Texas and Wichita State, McClellan ended up signing with Arizona State after a two-year stint at Seward County C.C.
“I was kind of a late developer, so I went from kind of being lightly recruited to recruited by everybody and their brother,” McClellan said. “If you would have told me six months before that I would have to tell the University of Nebraska no, I would have told you you were crazy.”
A native of Liberal, Kansas, McClellan seriously considered the Cornhuskers and even had a couple of teammates on his travel ball team who signed with Van Horn and tried convincing him to join them.
Wichita State was also a factor because it was just a few hours to the east of his hometown, plus it was a baseball power in the midst of a three-decade run in which if missed the postseason just three times and made it to Omaha seven times.
Ultimately, McClellan ended up at another college baseball power: Arizona State. He credited his relationship with head coach Pat Murphy as the driving force behind that decision, as well as with assistant coach Mike Rooney - who now works for ESPN.
“It’s kind of funny just seeing Roons doing his thing on ESPN now,” McClellan said. “That’s kind of different because I know Coach Rooney as a very hard-nosed baseball coach and I think a lot of you guys know him as a personality in the media, so it’s kind of unique, the baseball experience I’ve had.”
The connections in the Fayetteville Regional for McClellan extend beyond Van Horn. Nebraska director of operations Curtis Ledbetter was one of his catchers in professional baseball, as they were teammates with the Traverse City Beach Bums, an independent club in the Frontier League.
After injuries forced him to retire from the game, McClellan quickly got into college coaching. His first job was as the pitching coach at Chandler Gilbert C.C. in Arizona and he stayed there for four seasons before becoming an assistant coach at NJIT.
Following a seven-year stint as an assistant for the Highlanders, he was tabbed the interim coach for the 2019 season and promoted to the full-time position ahead of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
It’s impossible to know how his path might have been altered had he signed with Nebraska instead of Arizona State back in the early-2000s, but McClellan obviously still has a lot of respect for what Van Horn has done in the game since then - which includes eight trips to the College World Series (2 at Nebraska, 6 at Arkansas).
“He’s done great things,” McClellan said. “He’s one of the best, if not the best in college baseball, so any person who goes and plays for him is lucky. He’s had a great track record of success.”