Danny Jackson, a 2002 graduate of Edwardsville High School, on Tuesday was hired as McKendree University’s new baseball coach.
Jackson replaces Jim Boehne, a Carlyle native who coached McKendree for 19 years. The Bearcats were 24-73 overall and 15-49 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in the last two seasons. Boehne led the Bearcats to 589 wins at the NAIA and Division II levels.
Jackson, 32, has spent the last six seasons at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Cougars before being promoted to interim coach in April after Tony Stoecklin was relieved of his duties.
Jackson also was SIUE’s hitting coach and in 2015, the Cougars ranked in the upper half of the Ohio Valley Conference in home runs (42), doubles (72) and total bases (538).
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“I couldn’t be more excited to have a chance to lead the McKendree baseball program,” Jackson said. “It’s a beautiful university that offers a fantastic education, and the athletics department is certainly on the rise as well. There is great support from the administration on down, so we believe we will have the support as we build a championship program.
“It’s going to be a lot of work. The Great Lakes Valley Conference is a great and very competitive conference. But I feel like we will put in the kind of work we will have to in order to get to the top (of the standings). We want to win that conference championship.”
Sooner rather than later.
“Start winning right away. That’s the goal,” Jackson said. “I feel like at the college level, if you’re investing the time to develop guys, the results will come on the field. That’s going to be my main goal. I’m going to try to help develop each player on the team. ... This was just too good of an opportunity. McKendree’s got nowhere to go but up.”
A valuable resource
It’s the second time in the last 14 months that McKendree Athletics Director Chuck Brueggemann’s search for a new coach has led him to SIUE. In March 2015, Brueggemann hired Kari Kerkhoff as the Bearcats’ new women’s basketball coach.
“We’re excited that Coach Jackson has accepted the position of head baseball coach at McKendree University,” Brueggemann said. “We feel that he has many intangibles that will enable our program to continue to grow in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and NCAA Division II.
“Danny had an outstanding playing career both at the high school and collegiate level, but more importantly, he was able to learn the game from some legendary coaches. That lineage has been invaluable while shaping the beginning of his own coaching career.”
Before going to SIUE in 2010, Jackson spent three seasons as an assistant coach at St. Louis University. He coached first base for the Billikens and worked with their hitters, outfielders and corner infielders. SLU won 88 games during Jackson’s time there and was the Atlantic 10 Conference champion in 2010 when it qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
“His experience as a recruiting coordinator at the Division I level has made Danny keenly aware of the rich baseball talent not only in the surrounding area, but throughout the Midwest region,” Brueggemann said. “Along with all those qualities, Danny brings a fire and passion into the dugout that energizes those around him. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for McKendree baseball with Danny at the reins.”
Pedal to the metal
Jackson promises the Bearcats will employ an aggressive style.
“We’re going to play the game hard and we’re going to play it the right way,” he said. “We’ll come out in attack mode both at the plate and on the mound. I feel that a fast-paced game puts pressure on defenses. That’s how you win games. You make them make mistakes, you make them handle the ball and it puts pressure on them.
“That’s our plan by playing that fast-paced style. We’ll have to learn to trust each other in playing this style of baseball, and we’ll use the fall to build that trust as our players get to know the coaches and what we’re trying to accomplish on the baseball field.”
Good baserunning, Jackson said, will be emphasized.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time on baserunning,” Jackson said. “It’s one of the things that gets overlooked. If that ball hits the dirt and hits off a catcher’s chest protector, we’re gone. We’re going to run every time and we’re going to make (opponents) field the ball. People aren’t going to like to play us, let’s just say that.”
Jackson is the career leader in home runs (41), walks and RBIs at Edwardsville. He hit 12 homers as a senior in 2002 when the Tigers (34-5) placed second in the Class AA state tournament. Jackson was a three-time all-stater under coach Tim Funkhouser and was the Belleville News-Democrat’s Player of the Year in 2002.
Jackson played for legendary coach Gene Stephenson at Wichita State University, where he was a pitcher, first baseman and designated hitter. Jackson was the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament’s Most Valuable Player in 2005 and was an all-conference selection as a designated hitter in 2007.
Wichita State qualified for the NCAA Tournament in each of Jackson’s four seasons.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Jackson said. “I’ve been able to play for some really good coaches. I’ve kind of tried to take away the bits and pieces I love from each coach and try to leave the things I didn’t like behind. I think I’ve developed my own coaching style from that.
“It all started with my dad (Ralph). My dad was the best coach I had growing up. I grew up on the field watching him play baseball. That’s where I fell in love with it. He coaches me until high school, and whenever I struggled, I always went back to him because he was always able to relate what I needed to know and teach me how to correct things.”
Jackson never imagined being a coach when he was in high school.
“I was an 18-year-old kid. I was OK, so I had the delusion I was going to play forever,” Jackson said. “If I hadn’t had as many injuries as I did (torn labrum, four knee surgeries, torn hamstring), I would have had a chance to go farther. But coaching never even entered my mind until my senior year in college. I developed a leadership knack and was the team captain my senior year.”
Stephenson encouraged Jackson to take a swing at coaching, and Jackson said, “I’ve never really looked back ever since he put it in my head I should be a coach.”
Jackson and his wife, Jenny, have a 9-month-old son, Sawyer. The family lives in Edwardsville.