'Well deserved': Tigers coach Chip Hale accepts head-coaching job at University of Arizona
Arlington, Texas — To lose one assistant coach to the college ranks in one season is rare. To lose two, well, that speaks to the quality of staff manager AJ Hinch has put together in his first season with the Tigers.
Third-base coach Chip Hale has accepted the head coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Arizona, the university confirmed. He will replace Jay Johnson, who had won 30 or more games the last five seasons before taking the head-coaching job at LSU.
"Pretty incredible," Hinch said. "Obviously personally for our coaches but also it's so rare. You know coaches are going to get taken from you from time to time when you hire good people. But these have been a couple of pretty quick ascents to top jobs."
Earlier this season, assistant hitting coach Jose Cruz, Jr., returned to his alma mater, as well, taking the head-coaching job at Rice University.
"Well-deserved and I am very happy for them," Hinch said. "We have some adjustments to make."
Hale was with the Tigers and in his normal third-base coaching box in the series opener against the Rangers here Monday, but that was his last game. Hinch said bench coach George Lombard would take over the third base coaching duties starting Tuesday.
Lombard, who also coaches the outfielders and the running game, will do all three jobs at least through the All-Star break. And maybe beyond.
"We've got a good group, a good staff," Hinch said. "Al (Avila, general manager) and I will talk about what might be needed. But I think George going to third base is a huge advantage for us in terms of being able to seamlessly transition some of the base running and in-game stuff.
"His experience and communication skills will pay dividends there. I want to look at this edition of the coaching staff for a while before we make any firm commitments."
In a statement released through the university, Hale said, “I am very honored and excited to be the new head baseball coach at the University of Arizona. We will work tirelessly to build on the success that has been established here and continue to coach and develop our Wildcats to be champions on the field and in the classroom.
"With the help and support of the University of Arizona and the Wildcat family, we plan on making many trips to Omaha!”
Hale, 56, played at Arizona from 1984-1987 and was on the Wildcats' NCAA championship team in 1986. He maintained strong ties with the program throughout his playing career, which included parts of seven big-league seasons, and into his coaching career. He coached in the Arizona Diamondbacks system in 2007 and 2008 and managed the club in 2015 and 2016.
Hale was also the bench coach on the Washington Nationals World Series-winning team in 2019.
He had a two-hour interview (presumably over Zoom) with Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke on Sunday and informed Hinch Sunday night that he’d accepted the job.
"They've been talking to Chip for a week to 10 days," Hinch said. "I've known for the last four or five days that he was a pretty strong candidate. So it wasn't a total surprise."