Tony Vitello Tabbed to Lead Tennessee Baseball - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Tony Vitello Tabbed to Lead Tennessee Baseball

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (— Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics John Currie will introduce Tony Vitello (pronounced: VIE-tell-oh) as the Volunteers' head baseball coach during a press conference Friday. Details on time and location are forthcoming.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Vitello arrives on Rocky Top following four seasons as assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at Arkansas. His rise to the head coaching ranks also includes stops at Missouri (his alma mater) and TCU. He has earned a reputation as one of the elite recruiters on the college baseball landscape, having assembled eight top-15 signing classes—including America’s top-rated crop of talent in 2014.

In November 2016, ranked Vitello No. 2, and tops in the SEC, on its list of the top 30 recruiting coordinators in America.

During a Division I coaching career spanning just 14 years, Vitello has signed and developed six first-round MLB Draft picks and a dozen players who advanced to the big leagues. That list includes Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Finnegan, Kyle Gibson, All-Star Aaron Crow, Gold Glove Award winner and four-time All-Star Ian Kinsler and four-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.

“We are thrilled to bring Coach Vitello’s passion for baseball, relationship building and student-athlete development into the Tennessee athletics family,” Currie said. “Proven experience evaluating and recruiting at the highest level and in the grind of the SEC was an absolute prerequisite, and Coach Vitello checks all the boxes. He has a track record of helping to build healthy and competitive programs—from those earliest relationships formed during the recruiting process through the development of young men into major league ballplayers. Coach Vitello has been to a dozen NCAA Tournaments, and he’s been part of a staff that led a team to Omaha. He knows firsthand what it takes to win in the Southeastern Conference, and he has triumphed in recruiting battles for elite prospects in our SEC footprint and other talent-rich areas across the country.

“Throughout this process it has been inspiring to talk to many of the people who are passionate about Volunteer baseball—I believe that Coach Vitello is the right person to build our program into a perennial contender and bring championship baseball back to Knoxville.”

Vitello has agreed to a five-year contract with an average base salary of $493,000.

“This is as good of an opportunity as there is in the country,” Vitello said. “I consider myself incredibly blessed to be a part of the athletic department at the University of Tennessee. It’s the ultimate combination of an elite conference, a state school with great in-state players, a phenomenal city and outstanding tradition that exists not just with baseball, but across all sports.

“It’s no coincidence that it’s been a place where so many great coaches have been leaders in their sport. I want to work like crazy to uphold that standard.”

The 38-year-old Vitello already boasts the incredibly rare distinction of having mentored both a National Hitter of the Year (Benintendi) and National Pitcher of the Year (Crow). Benintendi won the 2015 Golden Spikes Award as America’s top amateur baseball player after batting .376 with 20 home runs, 57 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. Crow—who Vitello shepherded during his tenure on staff at his alma mater, Missouri—claimed the 2008 Roger Clemens Award following a campaign in which he won 13 games, posted four shutouts, totaled 127 strikeouts and at one point threw 43 consecutive scoreless innings.

Crow became the highest MLB Draft pick in Mizzou history when the Washington Nationals selected him ninth overall that summer.

Benintendi—drafted seventh overall by the Boston Red Sox in 2015 and the recipient of a $3.6 million signing bonus—is a prime example of Vitello’s abilities in player development. From his freshman to sophomore season, Benintendi improved his batting average by 100 points and hit 19 more home runs. En route to National Player of the Year honors in 2015, he became just the third player in SEC history to lead the league in home runs and batting average. Just 421 days after being drafted, Benintendi was promoted to the Majors.

Arkansas stood among the most competitive programs in the nation during Vitello’s four seasons in Fayetteville, averaging nearly 38 wins per year, winning 40 or more games three times, appearing in three NCAA Tournaments and advancing to the 2015 College World Series. That 2015 squad set a school record with a stellar .975 team fielding percentage. This season, Arkansas belted an SEC-best 83 home runs en route to 45 wins.

Vitello coached 16 Razorbacks who were selected in three MLB Drafts (this year’s draft takes place later this month).

Vitello’s tenure with the Razorbacks was preceded by three seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at TCU (which was a member of the Mountain West in his first season [2011] before joining the Big 12). Prior to that, he was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Missouri (then a member of the Big 12) for eight years.

In his three years at TCU, Vitello lured some of the top players in the country to Fort Worth and helped the Horned Frogs to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Super Regional berth in 2012. The Horned Frogs started seven freshmen, recruited by Vitello, in the Super Regional at UCLA. His final recruiting class at TCU was ranked 17th in the country, and three student-athletes he signed also played for Team USA.

During Vitello’s eight years at Mizzou, the Tigers made the postseason seven times. He served as the pitching coach, while also working with the team’s hitters and serving as the first base coach. Vitello’s 2008 Missouri recruiting class was ranked No. 11 nationally by Baseball America, and he had top-25 recruiting classes in three of his final four years in Columbia.

During his time as a Tiger assistant coach, Vitello recruited and developed 19 players who were drafted by major league teams, including major leaguers Kinsler, Scherzer, Crow, Gibson, Nick Tepesch, Doug Mathis and Justin James.

A three-year letterwinner at Missouri (2000-02), Vitello earned Academic All-Big 12 Conference honors as a senior and was named to the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll twice. Following his playing career and the completion of his management degree at MU, Vitello joined the Missouri coaching staff as a volunteer assistant in 2003 and completed his course work for his master’s degree in Business. In 2004, he was elevated to full-time assistant coach.

Vitello served as the associate head coach for the Salina Packers of the California Collegiate League in 2002. The Packers finished 50-14 and earned their first trip to the NBC World Series in Wichita, Kansas.

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