Manuel: Michigan to work quickly to replace Bakich; Mel Pearson still hockey coach

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said he will work quickly to find a replacement for baseball coach Erik Bakich, who was officially introduced Thursday as Clemson’s new coach.

Bakich spent 10 seasons coaching the Wolverines and led them to the World Series final where they finished national runner-up to Vanderbilt in 2019.

Erik Bakich

"I'm sorry to see Coach Bakich go, but he left us much better than when he found us,” Manuel said Thursday before presenting the athletic department budget to the university Regents.

Manuel, speaking to two reporters outside of the Regents meeting, said he has a short list of candidates.

“I surely do,” Manuel said. “Working through it.”

He has not yet interviewed any candidates, but said he has spoken to “key people” to get their thoughts on who could be the next coach and is formulating a plan. Manuel said he wants to start the interview process soon because of the current athletes on the baseball roster and recruiting.

"I’d like to get it done as soon as I can,” Manuel said. “It could be a week or two weeks. I don’t anticipate two months, or a month, actually.”

Manuel gave no specifics who he might have on his list. Speculation is that potential candidates are Chris Fetter, the current Detroit Tigers pitching coach, who previously worked for Bakich as pitching coach, and Central Michigan coach Jordan Bischel, who is coming off his fourth season and led the Chippewas to the Mid-American Conference title this season. He has interviewed with Ohio State and Kansas recently, but those jobs have been filled.

The next Michigan baseball coach will inherit a solid program that Bakich built into a contender on the Big Ten and national levels. The Wolverines had their run to the World Series finals in 2019 before falling to Bakich’s mentor, Tim Corbin and Vanderbilt. They reached the regionals in 2015 and 2017 and were considered to be among the nation’s elite in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the season and eliminated the postseason tournament.

Michigan, which struggled with its pitching this season, fell to Louisville in the Regional final this month.

During his 10-year career at Michigan, Bakich led the program to a 328-216 record, won the Big Ten Tournament title in 2015 and 2022, which gave the Wolverines an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. The program under his direction made the NCAA Tournament four times.

What the new coach shouldn’t expect are any changes to the baseball team’s facilities.

“I think our facilities are quite nice, actually,” Manuel said. “We were successful with the facilities we have.”

Pearson remains hockey coach

Mel Pearson’s contract as Michigan hockey coach expired April 30, but he is still working as hockey coach and is being paid.

It is unusual for a head coach to work without a contract and that has led to speculation about Pearson’s future at Michigan. There’s also the fact the University of Michigan, which hired an outside law firm, has been investigating multiple allegations of misconduct within the hockey program.

“We’re working through everything," Manuel said. "He’s working and continuing to be our hockey coach. We’re working through a process and looking at the things we need to address, and we’ll move forward.”

Manuel said there’s no timetable regarding finalizing Pearson's contract.

“I get where people are, but Mel is our head coach,” Manuel said. “Mel is paid to be our head coach. His contract has come to an end, but it doesn’t mean him being our head coach has come to an end.

“He knows where we are, he knows he’s our hockey coach. Sometimes it takes a little longer to finalize everything and put a contract in place and move forward.”

Pearson was a longtime Michigan assistant under Red Berenson before becoming head coach at Michigan Tech for six seasons. He was Manuel’s first hire as athletic director, replacing Berenson in April 2017.

In five seasons as head coach with the Wolverines, Pearson has guided the team to two Frozen Fours and three NCAA Tournament appearances in total, including the COVID-related forfeit in 2021. The 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled because of COVID. The Wolverines, loaded with NHL talent, fell as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed to Denver in the 2022 NCAA Frozen Four’s first national semifinal game in April.

Pearson confirmed the investigation to the Michigan Daily student newspaper and said the “truth” will be revealed and he felt “confident that the allegations will be proved wrong.”

The investigation's scope includes multiple allegations of workplace misconduct, including Title IX violations, a toxic workplace culture and discrimination against female staffers, and lying about COVID-19 protocols. Last year, the Wolverines were forced to withdraw from the NCAA Tournament because of positive COVID-19 results.

During the recent season, COVID-19 cases, injuries and several players competing in the eventually canceled World Juniors depleted Michigan's roster. Despite playing a game before to Michigan Tech, Michigan canceled a game the next day against top-10 ranked Western Michigan. Critics accused Michigan of ducking the Broncos.

Manuel was asked Thursday if Pearson will be coaching Michigan next season.

“He’s our hockey coach, and I anticipate him being our hockey coach,” he said.

Clearing things up

There have been questions about Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins’ contract, which is actually a five-year rolling contract. Hutchins just finished her 38th season coaching the Wolverines.

“Hutch got a five-year contract. It continues,” Manuel said. “Every year, she can say and I can say, ‘Hutch has got five years.’  When people achieve like Hutch achieves, they deserve a five-year rolling contract.”

Twitter: @chengelis