Tennessee baseball coach Tony vitello said he has reached a “verbal agreement with some things,’’ a strong indication he will return to Rocky Top next season, Vitello said Monday on WNML’s SportsTalk radio show.
“There’s a lot going a lot going on with what we’re trying to do with the facilities. I can tell you there’s been constant communication with the administration, which is nice. Also there’s a lot of kicking the can down the road a little bit, if that makes sense.’’
Vitello said he would like to enlarge 4,500-seat Lindsey Nelson Stadium with skyboxes and/or seats down the third-base line. He would also like some infrastructure improvements and more money for his staff.
Vitello didn’t want to negotiate a new deal during the season so as not to be a “distraction’’ to the team or staff.
“The healthiest thing for anyone involved with the Vol Nation was for some things to get moved down the road, so maybe things happen later than some expected,’’ Vitello said.
“There’s progress being made every day.’’
Vitello did not indicate a time frame for signing a new deal. Sources said Vitello could make between $1.2-to-1.5 million per year with an extension that would take him through the 2026 season.
When it was suggested Tennessee fans might have been happier than LSU fans that the Tigers hired Arizona coach Jay Johnson, Vitello chuckled.
“I appreciate you saying that,’’ vitello said. “because what I got in there I think was a compliment and what I also got in there was disgruntled LSU fans, and we’ll take that any day of the week.’’
Obviously, with LSU hiring Jay Johnson of Arizona, that lessoned the chances of Vitello leaving UT.
It’s not a given that Vitello would have taken the LSU job if offered, considering the amount of pressure that goes with the territory.
Vitello was a hero for getting UT to the CWS. Former LSU coach Smoke Laval went to two College World Series and was fired because he didn’t win one. In 15 years at LSU, Paul Mainieri won one national championship and went to five CWS, but that was a disappointment to many of the Tiger faithful, who saw Skip Bertman win five CWS in 10 years.
Texas A&M had Vitello high on its list, but the feeling wasn’t mutual.
Vitello didn’t argue with the notion that Tennessee had a disappointing end to a great season, going 0-2 in the CWS.
“Everyone was a little bitter about how things went in Omaha,’’ Vitello said. “It may sound like a loser’s mentality … I feel you’ve got to get there first to play your best.’’
Vitello said his team is looking for a theme for next year, the “Last Dance’’ theme of the Chicago Bulls under Phil Jackson.
“Our goal is to win one game in Omaha next year,’’ Vitello said. “Obviously, you’d like to win two, but you can’t win the second if you don’t win the first.’’
UT had a remarkable season. The Vols won the SEC East Division, made Omaha for the first time since 2005, had more wins (50) than any team in the CWS field, lost only two SEC series (at home to No. 1 Vanderbilt and later No. 1 Arkansas), had seven walk-off wins and hit six grand slams.
UT even had a watch party outside of Lindsey Nelson Stadium, for crying out loud.
Vitello has instilled a new energy in Tennessee baseball that was absent for more than a dozen years.
And if there is concern that Vitello can sustain his success at UT, remember, the Vols were 15-2 last year before the pandemic shuttered the season, with perhaps a more talented roster than the one that just went to the CWS.
Also, the state of Tennessee is loaded with talented baseball players, and Vitello is an ace recruiter.
There’s no reason to think Vitello can’t sustain success.
Of course, when you’ve tasted the CWS, expectations rise. They also rise when you get a lucrative contract. Just ask Rick Barnes. While Barnes probably doesn’t feel any added pressure, fan unrest occurred last season when the talented Vols were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by relatively obscure Oregon State, which had to win the Pac-12 tournament to make the field.
“It was pretty cool what happened last year,’’ Vitello said, “and I think it can get even better.’’