After a national search, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Tuesday hired former Bradley University associate head coach Sean Lyons as its new baseball coach.
Lyons and Missouri State University pitching coach Paul Evans, a Granite City native, were the two finalists for the position out of an estimated 70 applicants, according to SIUE Athletics Director Brad Hewitt.
Lyons had a full-day interview on Monday and Evans had his on Friday.
“It’s so important to get that final review on campus and have them meet as many of our staff and alumni and campus constituents as possible,” Hewitt said. “Then we take the collective mindset and try to find the best fit. We went into it with high priorities we were looking for and both candidates met the majority of them.
“It was very difficult for me and it was very difficult for our committee.”
Hewitt said the hiring committee included athletic department personnel, other coaches and seven former SIUE baseball players — Roger Belshe, Tim Hogan, John Lakin, Bill Lee, Ed Kopff, John Moad and Chad Opel.
“It was a difficult decision for everybody,” Hewitt said, “but in the end we felt like Sean was the total and better fit for us at this time with the program.”
Lyons, 39, is looking forward to being a Division I head coach.
SIUE is a very special place. There’s a lot of energy around the athletic department and desire to win and compete in the OVC. I want to be a part of that and really look forward to the opportunity to lead them.
New SIUE baseball coach Sean Lyons
“It just felt like a good fit for me,” said Lyons, a native of Byron in the Rockford area. “I’m ready to be a head coach and I’ve got lots of years of experience in the (Ohio Valley Conference). I’m really familiar with the teams and a lot of the names coaching in the league. It was a great opportunity.
“I was ecstatic about being named a finalist and they weren’t going to go wrong with whatever choice they made, but I’m grateful for the opportunity that Dr. Hewitt and the rest of the committee has given me.”
Lyons is only the fourth baseball coach in school history, following Roy Lee (1968-78), Gary “Bo” Collins (1979 to 2012) and Tony Stoecklin (2013-16).
“I believe the potential is here for SIUE to compete at a high level and I am looking forward to be able to facilitate that,” Lyons said. “I think the key is going to be getting out on the road and recruiting and finding players that are the right fit for SIUE and the right fit for our program.
“SIUE is a very special place. There’s a lot of energy around the athletic department and desire to win and compete in the OVC. I want to be a part of that and really look forward to the opportunity to lead them.”
Hewitt said recruiting ability definitely factored into the decision.
“Sean’s reputation as a recruiter is really what brought him forward through the process,” Hewitt said. “We heard from so many respected baseball people what a great recruiter he is. The way he was able to engage everyone, regardless of their role in our department was good, and the same thing with the alums.
“Both our candidates had tremendous recruiting reputations.”
In a release Bradley baseball coach Elvis Dominguez talked about Lyons taking the SIUE position.
“Sean is a tremendous human being. He is a great coach, but a better person,” Dominguez said. “I was blessed to have him here as long as I did. He’s a rising star. He’ll pour his heart and soul into that program. There are great days ahead for SIUE.”
Sean’s reputation as a recruiter is really what brought him forward through the process. We heard from so many respected baseball people what a great recruiter he is.
SIUE Athletics Director Brad Hewitt
Stoecklin, the head coach for 3 1/2 seasons, was replaced as head coach by assistant coach Danny Jackson in mid-April. Stoecklin, a Roxana High graduate who pitched in the Atlanta Braves organization for three years, guided the Cougars to a 63-121 record. That includes a 48-57 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Stoecklin was an assistant coach for 13 years under Collins. When asked about the coaching change, Hewitt said “I just didn’t feel like we had made the progress that we had agreed upon. We’d set benchmarks in progress in a lot of areas and winning is always very important in college athletics, but that wasn’t the driving factor.”
Hewitt said the length and intricacies of the SIUE hiring process contributed to Stoecklin being reassigned during the season.
“It was the first time I’d ever made a decision like that,” Hewitt said. “But I felt like if we were going to have a new start in the spring or summer, if I could I wanted to get the hiring process moved up.”
Jackson guided the Cougars to a 3-17 mark (3-12 in the OVC) after replacing Stoecklin on an interim basis. Jackson left SIUE to take the head baseball coaching position at McKendree University in Lebanon and also hired former SIUE assistant Chase Green, giving Lyons two assistant coaching positions to fill.
Lyons was the recruiting coordinator and hitting instructor at Bradley the past seven seasons. This season was his first as associate head coach and the Braves reached the NCAA Tournament in 2015.
While at Bradley, Lyons recruited and coached four Major League Baseball draft picks and coached four Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans
Before coming to Bradley, Lyons was on the Eastern Illinois University coaching staff for six years. EIU competes in the OVC with SIU Edwardsville.
Lyons also was a standout player for Eastern Illinois from 1996 to 1999 and led the team in hits for three straight seasons. He also was chosen one of EIU’s 20 greatest OVC athletes during the Panthers’ 20th anniversary in the conference.
Both Evans and Lyons came with Missouri Valley Conference ties.
“Having two highly respected and longtime assistants from that league sort of brought the cream to the top,” Hewitt said. “We really focused on the regional recruiting ties, that’s the essence of our recruiting base. The Missouri Valley Conference is probably the premier mid-major baseball conference in the country.
“It was very difficult and very close, but in the end you’ve got to make a decision.”
St. Louis University coach Darin Hendrickson, another Granite City native and former pitcher at SIUE, was not a candidate.
“As a member of the search committee, I saw the whole process,” Opel said in a release. “We had a lot of great interest, as we should have. This is a phenomenal job. We had it down to two great finalists. I’m excited to have Sean on board; I think he’ll do an amazing job.
“I’m excited for him to get started.”