Can Jason Gill Reawaken the Ghosts of Dedeaux Field?

Adam Grosbard (OC Register)  —  LOS ANGELES — In the corner of Jason Gill’s office is a pile of framed pictures and art that have yet to find their permanent homes. It’s been eight months since Gill was hired, but the new USC head baseball coach is still making the new digs his own.

His wife, Kacey, came through a few weeks ago to spruce up the couch with pillows and a red USC blanket, and some fake plants to make the office less spartan. But the walls remain mostly barren.

“I just haven’t made it a priority,” Gill says. “Probably won’t get to it until after the season.”

Friday’s season opener against Western Michigan will be Gill’s first game since being hired in June to replace Dan Hubbs. Gill came to USC following 11 seasons at LMU, with SoCal roots that go much deeper.

The Mater Dei alum was an infielder at Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State Fullerton. He got his coaching start at the latter as a graduate assistant and also worked at LMU and UC Irvine before taking the Lions’ head coaching job in 2009.

When he got the call about the USC opening last summer, it was an easy decision.

“They asked me if I wanted the job and I said yes. There wasn’t a lot of negotiating going on. I didn’t have a very good poker face,” Gill says with a gravelly laugh. “It’s an obvious question. If you grew up in Southern California, it’s USC.”

But Gill doesn’t inherit the USC of old. Eighteen years have passed since the Trojans won the Pac-12, 19 years since their last College World Series appearance and more than two decades since they won the last of their record 12 national titles.

USC went 25-29-1 last season, failing to crack .500 in conference play and leading to Hubbs’ dismissal.

“Somehow the standards have been lost and it’s our responsibility to reestablish those standards,” Gill explains. “So we’re trying to wake up the ghosts of Dedeaux Field and shake it up and bring back all that history and tradition.”

USC pitcher Isaac Esqueda delivers a pitch during game against Michigan, Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

Gill, 49, has no timeline for his attempted renaissance. As he notes, he’s yet to manage a game so he can’t be sure what he has on the roster. The Trojans return key outfielders Brady Shockey and Jamal O’Guinn and pitchers John Beller and Isaac Esqueda (above), but were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12.

So Gill likens this season to laying the foundation before he can determine how long it will take to build the house.

But in the eight months since he’s taken the job, he’s tried to impress upon his roster that he will be an open communicator. He wants the players to understand his thought process, and to feel comfortable coming to him with any concerns.

“Oddly enough, it’s becoming a lost art with everybody on their phones and nobody knows how to communicate,” Gills says. “I just always try to treat people how I would want to be treated. I would never want to be left in the dark. I would want a coach to tell me, ‘This is where you stand, this is what you need to get better at, this is why you aren’t playing or this is why you are playing, keep it up.’

“Sure, we’ve had days where we’ve had some harsh conversations. But the response the next day has been excellent.”

Gill tries to keep a loose environment at practices. Prior to one last week, players played with a hacky sack prior to stretching. Gill walked around, a blue clipboard with the day’s plan in his armpit, encouraging his players during drills.

But it’s just the calm before first pitch Friday.

“I’m certain I’ll be emotional. I don’t think everybody gets their dream job so I feel like that’ll be a special day,” Gill says. “I’ll try to keep it real.”

USC

Coach: Jason Gill, first year

Last season: 25-29-1, 13-15-1 in Pac-12

Who’s back: OF Brady Shockey (.295, 2 HRs), P John Beller (2-2, 3.86 ERA), OF/IF Jamal O’Guinn (.281, 5 HRs), P Isaac Esqueda (3-5, 3.94 ERA), C Clay Owens (.275, 3 HRs)

Who’s gone: OF Matthew Acosta (.319, 7 HRs), P Chris Clarke (5-2, 1.03 ERA), C CJ Stubbs (.285, 6 HRs), P Connor Lunn (7-4, 3.69 ERA), OF Blake Sabol (.268, 3 HRs)

Who’s new: IF Johnny Olmstead (Newport Harbor High), OF Miko Rodriguez (Texas A&M), IF Tyresse Turner (Gahr High)

Coach’s quote: “As soon as the foundation is set, you start building the house. So I can’t tell you where we’re at because we haven’t competed against anybody yet. I can tell you that the players that I have now have responded very well to my coaches and myself and that we’re having fun coming to the field every day.”

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Paul_Muad_dib
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I always thought it was funny that baseball coaches also wear a uniform. Imagine Phil Jackson in a lakers uniform on the bench. Or Pete Carroll wearing shoulder pads and a helmet…

Jamaica
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That is hilarious Paul!

Jamaica
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Here’s hoping the coach Jason Gill knows how to win. It seems he has the knowledge playing at a winning baseball program like FSU and coaching baseball at LMU where its program has evolved upwards. SoCal is still very much the hotbed in baseball talent. Gill’s ability to communicate in recruiting the right players and meshing them together in forming a really talented & competent baseball program.