Column: Aughney heads back to college

After five years in high school baseball, Bryan Aughney longed to coach in college again.

He finally got that chance on June 21, when Our Lady of the Lake University announced he would be its next head baseball coach. Aughney, 35, comes to San Antonio after coaching at Harlingen High School the past five years. His arrival here marks a return to his roots of coaching college baseball.

“The better part of my coaching career has been at the college level,” Aughney said. “It’s always been a goal of mine to get back to the college ranks. I really like the college athlete. When this job opened, it’s a program I followed and it’s in San Antonio. I used to coach in the conference. It seemed like a great fit.”

Before Harlingen, Aughney was the head coach at UT-Brownsville for nine years. UTB was part of the Red River Athletic Conference — the same as OLLU’s — until the school’s athletic department was dissolved when UTB and UT-Pan American merged to formed UT-Rio Grande Valley. UTB’s final baseball season was in 2012. Out of work, Aughney found a job in nearby Harlingen. In five seasons under Aughney, Harlingen was 73-64 and made the playoffs three times. Although he had never coached high school before, Aughney found the experience rewarding.

“It really made me, in the long run, a better coach,” Aughney said. “I had to exercise better patience and get back to the fundamentals of the game and how important those fundamentals are.”

The biggest adjustment was realizing he was not coaching a college-level athlete anymore. He had to teach more and learn to communicate with athletes who were not as experienced as those in college. Now that he has re-established and reinforced his communication abilities, he’s ready to apply those skills to his new job.

“I came in (to high school) with an expectation with how the game is played and then maybe dropped down a couple of levels,” Aughney said. “We are going to crank it up again.”

Aughney takes over a program that just completed its third year of existence. He succeeds Jeremy Flores, who took over as an interim head coach right before the 2017 season when Freddy Rodriguez left the program after two years.

The Saints were 23-27 last season. They are 78-84-1 overall in three years. It is a program still trying to find its legs and gain traction. Aughney is determined to be the one to do that.

“We’re still trying to find an identity,” Aughney said. “I’ve spoken with all the returners and commitments. Coach Flores did a good job of keeping all the guys together through the season and in the process of hiring a new coach.”

Aughney inherits a team with good experience. The Saints are expected to return 22 players, including 10 starters. Among the expected returnees are pitcher Jordan Hackett, a graduate of Taft who is the program’s winningest pitcher with 22 victories. He is also the all-time leader in ERA (3.29) and strikeouts (233). Jacob Pool, who led the team in slugging percentage (.441), Seth Garcia, who led the team in on-base percentage (.402) and Russell Brown, the team’s leading base-stealer (19), are all expected to return, too.

Aughney said practice during the fall will help determine how he shapes his team for 2018. It’s a clean slate for everyone, and it’s a message he’s sending to his new players.

“The beauty of it is, I don’t know you and you don’t know me,” Aughney said. “Whatever your role was last year — whether you liked it or didn’t like it — you are going to earn your role for this year.”