FEATURE: Paving the Way – University of Memphis Athletics

pave the way

Kerrick Jackson becomes the first black head coach for baseball at the University of Memphis
By Trent Shadid

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Kerrick Jackson held it together for most of the introductory press conference announcing him as the University of Memphis’ next baseball head coach.

He spoke about the potential for performance of the program, his plan to develop players on and off the field and the trust he had already built with UofM athletics administrators.

Then, 27 minutes into his induction celebrations, his emotion revealed the meaning of the moment as he answered a question about becoming the first black head coach in Tiger baseball history.

“I got a call from a guy in Memphis who was tracking my number and said, ‘I just heard the news, and when I heard the news, I had to stop and yell,'” Jackson said. “That’s when it got real.”

Jackson’s voice began to crack, his head dropped, and it took him a moment to collect himself.

“The fact that we’re still talking about firsts in 2022, and I’m the first, means a lot. I plan on doing everything in my power to make sure we stop talking about firsts and that there are people following in our footsteps, to see the things we’re doing here and some powerful things to make it happen.”

One of Jackson’s two sons, 11-year-old Zion, approached the podium and handed his father a towel. He took off his glasses and wiped away the tears forming in his eyes.

With all the talk about Jackson’s impressive resume and the potential of the program, this was the moment Wednesday afternoon that showed the importance of his tenure.

Excluding the historically black colleges and universities, Jackson becomes one of only three current black head coaches in Division I baseball, joining Georgetown’s Edwin Thompson and Presbyterian’s Elton Pollock.

“We will be the Mecca for the development of young minority coaches and create more opportunities for minority players, starting at youth level,” Jackson said. “When you’re in a community that’s 65% Black, the opportunity to build the game starts right here at the University of Memphis, on our field. Once people see the impact we are going to have, there will be an impact on other communities who believe they can do the same. We will have the reach that will help them achieve these things as well.

It’s hard to find a coach with more diverse skills and experience than Jackson in any sport. He is a respected leader, recruiter, talent assessor, player developer and baseball visionary.

Jackson was president of the MLB Draft League, a collegiate summer baseball league created to draft players before the MLB draft, before joining the Tiger Family. He has been a Division I head coach, an assistant coach at two Power Five conferences, a certified players’ agent charged with spotting top talent, and a scouting supervisor for a major league franchise.

“We really couldn’t have found anyone more qualified than Kerrick,” he said Laird Veatch, UofM Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. “More importantly, he’s a great person with great character. Everyone we spoke to during this process raved about him as the kind of coach, person and leader he is.”

As an assistant and recruiting coordinator in Missouri, Jackson played a pioneering role in several high-level recruiting classes, including the No. 12 class in 2014. He helped the program win the 2012 Big 12 championship and make the transition to the Southeast conference in the following Season.

Jackson has also been successful at other college stints with far fewer resources. He was an assistant at Fairfield, Nicholls State, Emporia State, Jefferson College, Coffeyville Community College, and St. Louis Community College-Meramec.

In his first experience as Division I head coach at Southern University, Jackson achieved the nation’s biggest turnaround in 2019 when he led the Jaguars from nine wins last season to 32 wins and the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship. The SWAC title earned the program its first NCAA tournament appearance in 10 years, and Jackson was named SWAC and Louisiana Sports Writers Association Coach of the Year.

“I’ve been to places where we had way, way less than we had[in Memphis],” Jackson said. “I’ve been to places where we didn’t have tees or a cage to hit. I told my players then and I will tell my players now, none of it matters. Nobody wants to hear excuses. You either do it or you don’t, and this program is going to be about getting it done.”

Like Veatch and UofM Blair DeBord, Associate Athletic Director for Development, who led the search for the Tigers’ next head coach, Jackson became an undeniable option. The many discussions with trusted external advisors seemed to lead back to a candidate.

“Every baseball player we spoke to knew Kerrick, regardless of their circle or coaching tree, and would typically respond with something like, ‘Kerrick Jackson would be a great match for Memphis,'” said DeBord, a former Kansas State All-Big 12 catcher. “Kerrick went from ‘contender’ to ‘contender’ pretty quickly.”

Veatch was sold to Jackson early in the process. His decision-making process when hiring a coach revolves around one question, “Would I want to play for him or her?” Veatch is adept at spotting those qualities, having been the linebacker for former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, one of the most respected and most successful coach in college football history.

“There’s no question Kerrick is someone I want to play for,” said Veatch. “I would put it another way: we want a coach who can balance the challenge of love and discipline that our student-athletes need today. He has that ability.”

When the UofM leadership identified Jackson as their first choice, he had long been a believer in Memphis. He’d seen Bluff City’s baseball talent during his years as a scout, recruiter, and opposition coach.

In 2019, the Tigers hosted Jackson’s Southern team for a three-game streak. He told his wife Talia about the tremendous potential he saw in the UofM program after this trip.

“This program, this community, and everything that you’re all about, is what I’m about, too,” Jackson said. “For me, this is a unique opportunity, unlike any other in the country. I come here with the intention of making this place a powerhouse. My plan is for us to be in the top 50 programs in the country year after year, and year after year.”

The appeal of Memphis and the university extended beyond the baseball field. During the interview process, Jackson recognized that Diverse Magazine had ranked UofM among the top 12 universities nationwide for African American student graduates.

“It’s a big deal,” Jackson said. “Things like that drew me to this position.”

Jackson’s historic appointment comes as the UofM and its supporters invest in the future of their baseball program. A $1.5 million gift from businessman, philanthropist and lifelong baseball enthusiast Avron Fogelman will support extensive renovations at the Tigers’ home stadium – FedExPark Avron Fogelman Field.

“We are so lucky to have found a coach like Kerrick to lead our program,” DeBord said. “It fits perfectly at the perfect time. He’s going to build a winner here and people in college baseball are going to take notice.”

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