OMAHA — Texas head coach David Pierce last made a trip to the College World Series as an assistant at Rice in 2008. He remained on the Owl staff for three more seasons before taking the Sam Houston State job. He stayed in Huntsville for three seasons until taking the Tulane job, and stayed there for two seasons before becoming head coach of the Longhorns.
In his first six seasons as a head coach, Pierce made the NCAA Tournament each time. He could never get into the round of 16 until 2018. While an accomplishment, it wasn’t where he, or the Longhorns, wanted their season to end. After four years away from Omaha for Texas and 10 years for Pierce, both achieved goals they both desperately wanted to reach.
“I missed it a lot,” Pierce said Friday of Omaha. “But I swore I wasn’t coming back until I brought a team again.”
Things have changed since he was last in Nebraska’s largest city. Not only is the stadium different, the regulations regarding both bats and baseballs have been drastically altered. Close attention is given to things like pitch counts and arm usage, much more so than 10 or even 20 years ago.
Despite all the technological, strategic, or other development that the game has seen, Pierce’s coaching style has remained constant his entire career. That style helped him do what he set out to do ten years ago: bring a team to Omaha.
“I coach the same way at Texas as I did at St. Pius High School, at Dobie High School, at Episcopal High School,” Pierce said. “I have matured, though. We all mature at some point. I used to get in your face a little bit more as a younger coach, and I’ve understood how to control myself as far as maximizing a young man because I’m believing in them instead of just trying to push the envelope to get them to do exactly what I want at that particular time. There’s a lot more communication going on now.”
His experience is also part of what helped Texas get to Omaha. Freshman designated hitter Zach Zubia has been on the team for two years and has known Pierce since he was recruited by him to Tulane.
“He always tells us stories from his Rice teams and from his past experiences in Omaha,” Zubia said. “He told us at the beginning of the year that this would be the greatest week of your life if we got here. We focused on that, and he really emphasized that this is a special place to be with a group of guys. We came here and really, really focused on becoming a team for that reason.”
Pierce may not get in player’s faces as often as he used to, but he still brings some fire to the game. He was ejected three times in 2018 after making it through his first season unscathed.
That fire also brings confidence. When asked Friday why he believed he got the Texas job in 2016, Pierce’s response was simple.
“I think I got the job because I have a proven track record to win,” he said.
In order to achieve the goal of making the final eight, team chemistry had to be built. That’s not a process that ends up successful if it starts in the early stages of the season. It’s a process that should begin during workouts in the fall.
Pierce took all logos off the team’s workout equipment during the fall. Though a common coaching technique, the emphasis of working together to the team was something learned in the fall and carried into mid-June.
“When we earned our Horns it was a big deal,” Zubia said. “To earn the horns and earn the T on top of your head, that’s something you can’t take away. It’s a special moment for sure.”
For a team that’s been to half of the College World Series in Omaha, there could be a sense of entitlement for players in college baseball’s most historic program. Pierce, however won’t let that happen.
“You never get spoiled coming here,” Pierce said. “What it does is it creates and anticipation and it creates an expectation.”