OMAHA, Neb. (WTVF) — When Vanderbilt and Michigan square off in the College World Series finals starting Monday night it will be a coaching reunion of the most unlikely sorts.
Michigan Head Coach Erik Bakich has led the Wolverines from the bubble into the finals where he will now meet his old boss and mentor Tim Corbin, with whom he helped build a once woeful Vanderbilt program into a national power a decade ago.
“Vanderbilt is not Vanderbilt without Erik Bakich,” Corbin said matter of factly Sunday. “When Vanderbilt was not an attractive school to come to, I felt like he's someone that was like me. He just needed the opportunity, and he was not going to take no for an answer in anything that he ever did.”
The two first met when Corbin was an assistant coach at Clemson under Jack Leggett and Bakich was brought on as the team’s volunteer assistant coach. The two hit it off immediately because of a common work ethic and a shared background in the sport.
Corbin was a former division three player, Bakich played junior college ball. Both were determined to be coaches and were willing to work long hours to accomplish their goals.
Corbin was so impressed by Bakich he brought him to Vanderbilt when he was hired as head coach a year later.
“You hear the phrase a lot about being in the right place at the right time and surrounding yourself with the right people,” Bakich said. “I felt like I hit the jackpot with that when I got to Clemson, and that had a lot to do with Coach Leggett and Kevin O'Sullivan, but I connected with Coach Corbin right away and just wanted to be like him.”
Together Corbin and Bakich laid the foundation for a Vanderbilt program that is now one of the best in the country. The Commodores reached the NCAA Tournament for just the fourth time ever in their second season in Nashville and were ranked no. 1 in the country in 2007.
By the time Bakich left in 2009 the Vandy Boys had become one of the preeminent powers in college baseball. Corbin says the success his program’s experiencing today can be traced back to those early years with Bakich by his side.
“He built a recruiting base that stands today,” Corbin said. “The David Prices, the Pedro Alvarezes, the David Maciases, the Dominic de la Osas, the good players back then, those are because of him. And because of that, it allowed other people like them to want to come to Vanderbilt.”
Bakich has built his own program at Michigan despite the disadvantages of playing in the cold weather of the upper Midwest at a non-traditional baseball school.
Considered a rising star in the college coaching community, Bakich has had opportunities to leave Ann Arbor for jobs that many might consider greener pastures. But he chose to stick it out and, like Corbin did at Vanderbilt, create his own program.
Bakich has cemented his legacy over the last month by directing a Michigan team that was one of the last four teams into the NCAA Tournament all the way to Omaha and now the CWS finals. He calls Corbin instrumental in his path to success.
“Vanderbilt would be the skyscraper it is today because of (Corbin) and his wife,” Bakich said. “I was very fortunate to be a part of that, and what I got from that is a blueprint of how to build something that maybe hasn't done it before, and what it takes to do that.”
Corbin is enjoying his protege’s success. As Michigan was wrapping up a win over Florida State early in the College World Series, Corbin tan from the Vanderbilt hotel to the ballpark just to congratulate his friend.
Now the two will watch their respective teams square off with a national championship on the line.