The greatest opportunity of Greg Lovelady’s baseball coaching career led to one of his most difficult days Monday when he agreed to leave Wright State after 12 years to become head coach at Central Florida.
“Everyone who knows me at all knows these players mean the world to me,” Lovelady said. “That’s obviously the toughest part out of all the other stuff that’s extremely difficult. We’ve lived here for 12 years. My kids were born here. A lot of people have grown up with us, and my wife (Lindsay) and I are so thankful for all of it.
“But the players were the toughest because they mean so much to me,” he continued. “They’ve been unbelievably supportive and thankful and grateful, but not nearly as grateful as I am for them.”
Lovelady, a Miami native who graduated from the University of Miami in 2001 after leading the Hurricanes to a pair of national championships, was an assistant at WSU for nine years, including seven as associate head coach under Rob Cooper, before taking over when Cooper left for Penn State in 2013.
In three seasons at the helm, Lovelady went 124-56 (.689) while guiding the Raiders to two Horizon League regular-season titles and back-to-back HL tournament championships in 2015-16.
WSU won a school-record 46 games this season while advancing to the NCAA regional finals for the second year in a row before falling 3-1 to Louisville, the nation’s No. 2-ranked team.
“I’m sitting there watching everything in Louisville thinking ‘this is awesome,’ but at the same time my athletic director mind is thinking ‘this is just going to increase the pool of people who want Greg,’ ” WSU AD Bob Grant said. “I thought we were out of the woods because usually by July 11, you think all the dominoes have fallen and things have settled down.”
But on July 5 Terry Rooney left Central Florida after eight seasons to take the job at Alabama, and UCF athletic director Danny White moved quickly to replace him with Lovelady.
“I got a call Friday, I flew in on Sunday and got the job offer Monday,” Lovelady said. “It was extremely fast.
“There were very few jobs I would leave Wright State for. I’d say maybe five,” Lovelady continued. “But this was one of them, so I had to listen. It’s just an unbelievable opportunity financially, it’s an unbelievable opportunity with the facilities and the league and obviously the talent level with the mass amount of kids in Florida, and it was something I just felt like I couldn’t pass up.”
Grant said he knew that would be the case when Lovelady called him Friday to inform him of UCF’s interest.
“He’s going to his home state, they’ve got a lot of money, their enrollment is huge,” Grant said. “Central Florida is getting a phenomenal coach who I’m sure will win a ton there.
“I tend to look at it positively, that the Wright State tree is growing and we are a place you can be successful,” Grant continued. “Our culture helps folks get to other levels, which is good. But this one stings as bad as any because I’m so fond of him personally. He’s just a genuinely good guy who fit our culture really, really well.”
Lovelady said he wants to take WSU assistant coaches Jeff Mercer and Justin Parker with him to Orlando, but at the same time he hopes that’s not an option.
“If Bob wants one of them to take over — and I believe they both are deserving — that would be awesome to pass this on to somebody they know and trust and believes in all of we’ve done and the traditions and all that,” Lovelady said.
Grant said he hopes to have Lovelady’s replacement named “by the end of the week, at the latest.”