New Irish baseball coach Link Jarrett talks philosophy, Kmet in introductory press conference

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In his third day officially on the job, new Notre Dame baseball coach Link Jarrett spoke with the Irish football team’s starting tight end, Cole Kmet.

Jarrett left Sunday’s conversation certain that the 6-foot-6, 255-pounder will continue his two-sport ways. Also a left-handed pitcher, Kmet’s final appearance for ND’s baseball team came in an 8-7 victory over Wake Forest on March 10. He registered a 2.89 ERA and 27-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 2/3 innings pitched across eight games as a sophomore.

The university previously confirmed that ND’s medical staff shut down Kmet after he experienced soreness in his left elbow. His hiatus lasted through the 2019 baseball season. Kmet remained as an unrestricted participant in the Irish spring football practices, though. His impressive spring had some wondering if baseball would be in the past for him.

That’s not the case, Jarrett said.

“He’s in. He’s all in on football, and then when the season is over, he said, ‘Coach, I’m all in on baseball,’ ” said Jarrett during his Monday introductory press conference held inside the Rolfs Athletics Hall Auditorium.

Kmet could play a key cog in turning around an Irish baseball team that missed the NCAA Tournament 12 times in the last 13 years. So could Jarrett, who changed the course of UNC Greensboro in his seven seasons with the program. He replaces Mik Aoki, who finished 248-253-1 (.495) in nine seasons with the Irish.

The Spartans lost a two-time Southern Conference Coach of the Year in Jarrett. He ended UNCG’s 20-year NCAA Tournament drought in 2017. UNCG tallied at least 34 victories in each of its last four seasons — a streak that now stands as a school record.

Competing in the daunting ACC will provide Jarrett bigger challenges. Aoki finished better than sixth place only once in the seven-team Atlantic division. He elevated the Irish to runner-up status in 2015 before a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame should offer Jarrett more resources with its national brand. As a result, recruiting will likely look different for Jarrett compared to his previous stops — all of which were in the South. He started his 20-year coaching career at Division II Flagler College before serving as an assistant for Florida State (2003), Mercer (2004-05), East Carolina (2006-09) and Auburn (2010-12).

“So recruiting the north is important, but it can’t be our only focus,” Jarrett said. “I think our brand and the desire that so many people have to come to Notre Dame allows you to reach into Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, California.”

The Irish need better hitting than last year’s 24-30 squad. They finished outside the top 200 nationally in batting average (241), hits (227), doubles (tied for 224), triples (tied for 276), slugging percentage (240) and on-base percentage (220). The Spartans led the nation in all six categories under Jarrett in 2016 and led their conference in hitting in five of his seasons.

Working under former Florida State head coach Mike Martin helped shape Jarrett’s philosophy. Martin, the all-time winningest coach in Division I baseball history, also coached Jarrett in his four seasons starting at shortstop for the Seminoles (1991-94). Martin retired last month following FSU’s exit from the College World Series.

Jarrett said he’s hands-on with his hitters and operates as the main voice offensively.

“I try to identify the needs of each hitter physically,” Jarrett said. “Then we have approaches that we use and learn to implement in-game, trying to attack how they are being pitched and what their opponents are doing.”

Martin contacted Jarrett from Germany to congratulate him on landing at Notre Dame. It took the Irish 34 days to officially supplant Aoki. Notre Dame stood as one of only four head coach openings in Division I baseball. UNCG will now look to fill its vacancy, as will Bryant, Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne and Louisiana Lafayette.

Whether Jarrett opens spots on his coaching staff remains unknown. He interviewed each assistant on the previous coaching staff over the weekend and spoke to the players, which includes Kmet. Jarrett said he will also worry later about updating ND’s baseball facilities.

“I want our program to be a representation of how I feel about Notre Dame,” Jarrett said. “I want these guys to compete, I want them to have a chance to win championships and hopefully get this program to a point where we are in the regionals.

“I’m trying to get to know the players. That’s going to take a little bit of time.”