Thursday, January 28, 2010

Raising a Program: Hitting the Dusty Trail

UNF baseball knows only one head coach, but when the 2010 season ends, so will the Dusty Rhodes era in Jacksonville, Fla.

In 22 seasons, Rhodes holds a record of 879-420 at UNF, leading the Ospreys to 13 conference titles, 16 postseason appearances and five trips to either NAIA or division II college world series.

“We have had to build this program,” Rhodes said. “We have gone from NAIA to NCAA division II to this season being a full member of Division I.”

Rhodes’ final season ranks as the first for UNF baseball as a full member of Division I. The Florida Southern College graduate sees the Ospreys like a father sees a son. Rhodes raised the program from its infancy and in 2010 the program reached its ultimate goal of being a full member of Division I.

“This is what we have wanted since day one.” Rhodes said. “Our goal has always been to reach this level. It took a bit longer then we thought, but getting this team on this level has always been the goal.”

Under his guidance, UNF has posted 12 seasons with 40 or more wins, including three 50 win seasons. However the time has come from Rhodes to step aside and let another man guide his program into Division I. Replacing Rhodes will be no each task as he has posted a .676 winning percentage over 22 seasons.

Raymond “Smoke” Laval takes over his good friend’s program and looks to lead it into success at the Division I level. In a press conference in August, UNF athletics director Lee Moon named Laval, but his comments hammered home who built UNF baseball.

“With the retiring of Dusty Rhodes, we here at the University of North Florida knew that we had to replace a legend,” Moon said “We needed someone who could make an immediate impact on the program, and a person that Coach Rhodes would feel comfortable in turning HIS program over to.”

Why would Rhodes name his successor prior to the season? A simple reason, but a reason that makes more sense then any other: It is what was best for the program.

“I told the administration here I didn’t want to wait to the end of the season to announce the new coach,” Rhodes said. “I didn’t want to get behind in recruiting. I wanted to make sure we did what was best for the program.”

Although there were many candidates in the end it is only right that Rhodes turn the program that he raised over to a trusted friend.

“There were a number a great people that could come take over this program,” Rhodes said. “I have some great assistants now and some great former athletes but Smoke Laval has been a life long friend and really knows what it takes to compete at this level.”

Rhodes raised UNF baseball to the highest level of college competition. Now as he prepares to say goodbye, the Ospreys have a coach in waiting and though Laval will replace Rhodes in the dugout at Harmon Stadium, Laval knows there is no replacement for the person that is Dusty Rhodes.

“It’s an honor to follow a coach as successful and decorated as Dusty Rhodes,” said Laval. “I’ve known Dusty for a long time and respect him as a coach and a person.”

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