June 21, 2007
Coach Raleigh with Bob Kesling | Press Conference
An intensive national search headed by UT Athletics Director Mike Hamilton culminated in the declaration that Raleigh was the singular clear choice as the beacon who could successfully usher the Volunteers program into and well beyond its centennial season. Tennessee embarks on its 99th season of varsity baseball in 2008.
"I am excited that Todd Raleigh is joining our staff at the University of Tennessee," Hamilton said. "We were fortunate to have an extremely talented and successful field of candidates. Todd's passion for the game, his plan to rejuvenate Volunteers baseball and his history of disciplined teams and physical brand of baseball stood out among the field.
"He and his wife, Stephanie, will be a great addition to our team as we work our way back to Omaha in pursuit of a national championship."
An outstanding eight-year head coaching tenure at Western Carolina lifted Raleigh into the national spotlight and set the stage for his introduction as Tennessee's 23rd all-time head coach. During his eight seasons in Cullowhee, N.C., Raleigh's clubs won two regular-season Southern Conference championships, one Southern Conference tournament title, turned in five top-three league finishes and made two NCAA Regional appearances - reaching the Regional final both times. He also was named the 2002 and 2007 Southern Conference Coach of the Year.
One of the many strengths Hamilton saw in Raleigh was the young coach's willingness to play a highly competitive schedule against the region's top programs. Games against Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference teams were regular staples in the Catamounts' schedule during Raleigh's tenure. Upon his departure from Western Carolina, Raleigh had won three of his last five meetings with Georgia, three of his last four meetings with Georgia Tech (including a win over the top-ranked Yellow Jackets in 2005) and two of his last four meetings against Clemson.
In 2006, Raleigh's club was the only team in the nation to record non-conference road wins over a pair of College World Series teams, winning at both Clemson and Georgia.
And his 2007 Southern Conference championship squad posted a winning record against teams in the top 35 of the RPI. Upon being awarded a rare mid-major at-large bid to the field of 64 for the 2007 NCAA tournament, Western Carolina - which worked itself into a top 40 national RPI slot - was touted by ESPN college baseball analyst Kyle Peterson as featuring an "SEC-style offense."
Upon his hiring at Tennessee in June 2007, many around the national baseball landscape had already taken notice of Raleigh's steady rise through the ranks.
"Wins and losses are the standard for measuring a coach," Doug Harris, Texas Rangers East Coast Cross-Checker, said. "But the highest compliment I feel a coach can receive deals with his ability to reach and connect with his team and get the most out of them as individuals. As his track record shows, and the university will see going forward, Todd brings this immeasurable trait."
"He's a player's coach," Smith said. "After they leave the program, his players come back and thank him for the positive impact he's had on their lives. He's a team player. He doesn't take a lot of credit, but he works to get the job done.
"He did a great job with academics, and his kids do a good job in the classroom. He takes the APR very seriously and has a very good graduation rate. He makes it clear that the student-athletes are there to get an education. And he doesn't rely on administrators or counselors to make that point, he takes it on himself and the players respond."
Before Western Carolina presented Raleigh with his first head coaching opportunity in 2000, he spent eight years developing his leadership philosophy during successive stints on collegiate staffs at Vermont, Western Carolina, Belmont Abbey (Division II), James Madison and East Carolina.
But Raleigh's longstanding relationship with the game of college baseball began with a humble hitch-hiking trek from his hometown of Swanton, Vt., all the way to the Western Carolina campus in Cullowhee, where he walked on to play for young up-and-coming head coach Jack Leggett.
"That just shows what he's all about," Leggett, the current head coach at Clemson, said. "He came to Western Carolina sight-unseen, no scholarship, just wanting an opportunity. He got a ride part-way down, got left off and hitch-hiked the rest of the way down. He's just blue-collar. What you see is what you get. That's why I've got so much respect for him. He's never had anything handed to him, and he hasn't expected any handouts in his whole life. He gets by on work ethic, being honest, and looking you in the eye."
Raleigh starred behind the plate at WCU from 1988-91, and his association with Leggett developed into a friendship that would continue to blossom as Raleigh later went on to establish himself in the college coaching ranks.
"I've known Todd for a long period of time," Leggett said. "He was a great player for us at Western Carolina, and he's a great person. He's one of the best leaders and captains I've ever had in all my time coaching. I've known him as a coach and competed against him, and Tennessee has the right man.
"His teams are aggressive, very tough, fundamentally sound and extremely competitive. Let's just put it this way, if you're going to play Todd Raleigh's team, you better have your `A-Game.' He's just a competitive, hard-nosed person, and his teams take on that same personality."
But it was coaching - teaching young men the game - that Raleigh felt most drawn to, and he landed his first full-time coaching job in 1992 at the University of Vermont (where Leggett had coached prior to taking the job at Western Carolina).
After one season working in his home state, a coaching opportunity arose back at Western Carolina, and Raleigh returned to his alma mater as an assistant for two more seasons. During his six combined seasons as a player and assistant coach at Western Carolina, Raleigh helped the Cats capture four Southern Conference championships - two each as a player and coach - and advance to four NCAA Regionals. He helped coach the 1994 squad to a league best .295 team batting average.
His ascent up the coaching ladder continued in 1996, when he landed the top assistant position at James Madison. There he served as the hitting, outfield and catching coach; he also served as interim head coach for two months during the 1997 season. Raleigh's implemented batting techniques helped the Dukes lead the Colonial Athletic Association in hitting four times. He also held the title of JMU's recruiting coordinator, and two of his signing classes were ranked among the nation's top 30 during his tenure in Harrisonburg, Va. James Madison finished in the top three of the CAA three times in Raleigh's four seasons on staff there.
Raleigh's final assistant coaching stop was a one-year stint at East Carolina University, where he worked as hitting instructor and recruiting coordinator on the staff of the late Keith LeClair in 1999. Raleigh's impact was immediate, as the Pirates won the CAA championship, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and finished the year with a No. 18 national ranking.
That 1999 campaign marked just Raleigh's eighth year in the assistant coaching ranks, but he had done more than enough to prove himself ready to lead his own program. Fittingly it was his alma mater that came calling, beckoning him back to Cullowhee for a third time.
The 2002 season brought even more improvement, as WCU turned in a second-place conference finish with a 33-23 (20-10 SoCon) mark. Raleigh was recognized as the 2002 Southern Conference Coach of the Year for his efforts, but he was still plenty hungry.
The 2003 season capped an impressive four-year resurgence at Western, as Raleigh steered the Cats from an 8-22 league record in 2000 to a SoCon-best 22-8 league mark and an NCAA Regional final in 2003. In the process, he was tabbed the 2003 North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association College Coach of the Year.
Western went 43-21 overall and 22-8 in the SoCon in 2003, with the 43 wins marking the fourth-highest season total in WCU history. Raleigh's squad also produced a school-record 25-3 home record. Included was a 9-5 upset of 10th-ranked Clemson in what was the first-ever home night game for the Cats. Western later went on to claim 12-5 and 15-9 victories at 26th-ranked Oklahoma State. The OSU wins came in the midst of a 10-game win streak by Western, propelling the Cats to a season-high ranking of No. 26 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper national poll.
In the 2003 NCAA Wilson Regional, Western Carolina split its first two games before using a one-hitter to down 19th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth. Western then faced 12th-ranked and regional host NC State, and the Cats battled the Wolfpack before falling 6-4 in the 14th inning of the Regional final.
Raleigh lost a substantial amount of talent heading into the 2004 season and was faced with the prospect of replacing SoCon Player of the Year Alan Beck, three-time All-SoCon pick Todd Buchanan, All-SoCon selection and WCU doubles record holder Rod Goldston, WCU all-time saves leader Ryan Foster, seventh-round MLB draft pick Ryan Basner and career 17-game winner Seth Foster. Raleigh's club never yielded, however, notching an upset win over eventual ACC champion Georgia Tech and reeling off a late six-game win streak to qualify for the conference tournament despite season-ending injuries to multiple players on his roster.
The hard-luck Catamounts mounted an inspiring run in that 2004 SoCon tournament, catching the attention of the baseball world by upsetting 30th-ranked and No. 1 seed College of Charleston 4-3 in the first round to make WCU just the fourth team to hand a top seed a loss in the first round. After a 7-6 triumph over Elon in the second round, Western shocked host team The Citadel, 5-2. That victory marked the first loss the Bulldogs suffered to a SoCon team on their home field in 2004 and made WCU just the second No. 8 seed ever to reach the SoCon championship game without a loss. However, The Citadel managed wins on back-to-back days to end Western's run and earn the SoCon's NCAA automatic bid.
Developing individual talent was a staple of Raleigh's tenure at WCU. Under his watch, the Cats produced 24 All-SoCon selections (including six in 2007), 11 Major League draft picks (including a school-record-tying five in 2007) and three SoCon Players of the Year. Donovan Minero twice led the Southern Conference in home runs, ranked 12th nationally in RBIs as a junior and was a third-team All-America honoree in 2001.
Raleigh also served as a driving force behind numerous facility improvements to WCU's Ronnie G. Childress Field at Hennon Stadium. During his head coaching tenure, the facility had its playing surface and locker room redone, new lights were installed and a famed "Purple Monster" was erected rising as tall as 20 feet in the outfield.
Raleigh earned his bachelor's degree from WCU in 1991 and obtained his master's in 1994. He is married to the former Stephanie Deitz of Sylva, N.C., and the couple has three children: Caleb John "Cal" (10), Emma Grace (8) and Carley Elizabeth (1).