It’s never easy seeing a head coach leave one program for another, especially one as successful as former baseball coach Mark Kingston. Though his tenure at ISU was short, Kingston was at the helm for some incredible seasons and will be greatly missed. Fortunately for ISU and Redbird baseball however, the program didn’t have to look far for a more than capable replacement.
To say that Bo Durkac has lead a baseball life would be an understatement. The new head coach of the Redbirds has been heavily involved with the sport, from playing third base at Virginia Tech to a seven-year professional career in which he’s played across the world. It’s clear that Coach Durkac knows baseball and with twelve years of coaching experience behind him, he is now ready to take on his first head coaching position. In anticipation for next spring, The Vidette was fortunate enough to be able to ask the new head coach a few questions about his transition into the new position as well as what he anticipates for next season.
During his five years at ISU, former head coach Mark Kingston led the Redbirds to some of the program’s best seasons. What aspects of your time under Kingston do you believe best prepare you for your transition into the head coach position?
Mark’s success as the top assistant and recruiting coordinator at Tulane University is what allowed him to get the head coach position here 5 year ago, so naturally, I had to learn to recruit under his direction. He told me the type of team he wanted to field, and it was up to me to find the players that fit his style of play. Once I knew what type of players he wanted, we then worked as an entire staff to recruit the players and convince them to say “yes” to Illinois State. Perhaps the greatest strength of us as a staff was that we had great communication, and I will expect the same level of communication from my new assistant coaches.
You’ve spent five seasons with the Redbirds, including two as associate head coach. During this time, did you ever see yourself serving as the head coach of the future?
When I was at Charlotte as an assistant for seven years, I knew that I wanted to become a head coach one day, but I felt that I needed to be an assistant under one more high-level head coach before taking that step. After two years here at Illinois State, I believed that I was ready to become a head coach; however, it’s not as simple thinking you are ready and then becoming a head coach. A head coach position at a top-100 school in the country is an extremely rare and coveted job, so I had to continue to bide my time until a job opened up.Of course, I would have loved to be the head coach here, but Mark did, too, and I wasn’t sure if he was ever going to leave. Fortunately for me, South Florida made Mark a great offer, and Larry Lyons and his staff promoted me to the head coach position. You could say that everything worked out well.
ISU has now been to two straight MVC championship games but unfortunately has come up short both times in winning the title. What will your priorities be this next season in trying to get ISU over the hump?
Any time you play in a “winner take all” scenario, anything can happen. A bad bounce our way and a good bounce their way can be the difference in victory and defeat, and in both 2013 and 2014, we just didn’t get it done. That said, the fact that we got to the championship game in both years means that we were doing something right; it is up to me to put us into that same position in the future.
ISU has recently seen some great recruits enter the program as well as a record six players drafted this year. What will you do to continue to make ISU an appealing program for recruits?
First of all, I have to acknowledge the commitment that the athletic department has made to baseball and, specifically, Duffy Bass Field. Recruits want to know that baseball is a high priority at the school they choose, and they also want to play in a great facility. I truly believe that we have the best on-campus baseball stadium in the state of Illinois, and I am proud to show it off to recruits. Secondly, the way we recruited and developed our players over the past five years has provided the blueprint for the future. I will change very little. The next wave of recruits can expect to be developed with the same personal attention as the six players who were drafted this year. If they enter the program with the natural ability to be professionals one day, my staff and I will work tirelessly to see that those dreams come to fruition.
Although it is obviously great to have so many players drafted, it will also be difficult adjusting after some of ISU’s key players are leaving to play professionally. Is there a particular player that is primed to have a breakout season to replace some of the lost production?
When a team loses underclassman pitchers to the MLB draft, it certainly leaves a void on the pitching staff. Baseball will always be about pitching, and we will need several pitchers to step up. We did a good job as a coaching staff preparing for the loss of several pitchers, so I like our incoming pitching recruits. However, Will Headean and Jack Landwehr are two returning pitchers whom I expect to compete for the coveted weekend starter roles. On the offensive side, Paul DeJong has decided to return to ISU even though he was drafted by the Pirates in June. He was, in my opinion, the second best hitter in the Missouri Valley Conference — behind only Casey Gillaspie, the 20th overall pick in the MLB draft — and he will likely be the best hitter in the Valley this year. He will be a big part of our offense in the spring.
Entering the 2015 season, it’s clear that ISU will be more driven than ever to win an MVC championship. Which program do you see as the “team to beat” in that pursuit?
With the addition of Dallas Baptist to the MVC, you have to view them as the team to beat year in and year out. They have a great coaching staff, play in a great facility and do a great job recruiting. At Wichita State, coach Todd Butler’s first recruiting class will be on campus this fall. He did a great job recruiting at Arkansas, and I am sure that his 2015 team will be outstanding.
ISU has seen a great amount of success the past few years, but there is certainly the potential for much more. Looking ahead, where would you like to see the program in the next five years?
While we did some great things here over the previous five years, I still feel as if there is another level of success we can get to. If I felt that we had “maxed out” the program, that it is as good now as it could possibly be, then I would have gone to South Florida. With the right recruiting efforts and the right plan for developing those recruits, I would like to be a top-3 team in the Missouri Valley Conference each year, which would be quite impressive considering the strength of the conference over the past few years, with a top-50 RPI nationally. In doing so, we would be in a position to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament based on a strong RPI if we didn’t win the MVC championship. I am excited to get my staff in place and to start building for the future. Go ‘Birds!