Anderson relishing his role as Vitello's right hand man
On May 17th, the scariest moment of the 2019 Tennessee baseball season occurred. A line drive hit by Ole Miss’ Ryan Olenek struck Tennessee pitcher Garrett Crochet in the face. As the medical staff came to look at Crochet someone in the Rebel’s dugout made a comment about the play. It didn’t sit well with Frank Anderson.
The Vols’ pitching coach burst out of the dugout, returning some choice words for the Ole Miss’ dugout before receiving a warning from the umpire.
“I’m not as feisty as a use to be, but I care about the kids,” Anderson said reflecting on the moment. “That’s your guy out there, and you don’t know if his jaw is broke at that time… You don’t want to see anyone say anything sideways or anything at that.”
It wasn’t the first warning Anderson has received in his career from umpires, and it won’t be his last. The fiery spirit is what Tennessee got when Tony Vitello poached the veteran pitching coach from Houston back in June of 2017.
That spirit mixed with Anderson’s 30 plus years of experience have led to a rejuvenation of baseball on Rocky Top. Tennessee made its first NCAA Tournament since 2005 in Vitello’s second season in Knoxville and it was Anderson’s group that led the way to success.
The Vols’ pitching staff ranked 2nd in the nation in shutouts in 2019, 10th in WHIP, and 19th in ERA while the Vols posted a 40-21 record.
After the 2017 season, Anderson was ready for the next chapter of his career. So, after five seasons at Houston University Anderson prepared to move on, but it wasn’t Tennessee that originally caught Anderson’s eye.
“I was offered the job at Arizona State. Same position (pitching coach) and had been out there, and that’s pretty much what I was going to do,” Anderson says. “Tony (Vitello) talked me into coming and taking a look before I did that.”
“I liked the feel of a town that was around the university itself,” Anderson said. “I liked the direction Tony was going and I knew he’d be fiery… It hadn’t been very good over here for quite a while, so that’s always fun to be a part of something like that.”
The move brought Anderson not only to a new conference but a new region. The 60-year-old had spent most of his career in Big 12 country with stops at Texas Tech, Texas, and nine years as the head coach at Oklahoma State.
“I always wanted to be a part of the SEC,” Anderson said “Let’s see what it’s like. Good teams are good teams no matter where you’re at, but I just wanted to see what it is and how tough it was. That stuff appealed to me.”
Tennessee made an immediate improvement in Vitello’s first year in Knoxville going from seven to 12 conference wins. However, on the final day of the regular season the Vols lost to Missouri to miss the SEC Tournament for the second straight season.
“We weren’t as good on the field as we needed to be,” Anderson said. “But we still won 12 (SEC) games. That might have been as disappointing as anything. I think that was one of the first times a team had won 12 (league) games and not made the conference tournament… That was a disappointing deal for me because those kids played hard for us, and maybe overachieved a little bit at times.”
Tennessee would get back to the SEC Tournament in 2019, earning its highest seed since the 2007 season. Anderson’s pitching staff’s revival gets much of the credit and people haven’t been hesitant to mention it.
Despite a disappointing end to his head coaching run at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys missed the NCAA Tournament two of his final three seasons in Stillwater, Anderson is content in Knoxville as Vitello’s number two guy.
“Zero. Not unless the Yankees call,” Anderson joked when asked about his interest to be a head coach again. “The money in those situations are great, but what you enjoy doing and coming to the yard every day and not having to deal with fundraising or booster functions where you have to get up and speak. That part of it I don’t miss at all.
“Probably the biggest one of all is the relationships you have with the kids. No matter how you try to slice it if you’re in the head coaching seat it’s a different relationship than you have as a position coach. You can say things to them, and they can say things to you that is more adversarial where you can get really close to them. When you’re the one that makes out the final lineup, it’s just a different relationship.”
After 30 plus years in the profession and 83 pitchers that Anderson has had drafted in the MLB Draft it’s the relationships that is the most rewarding part of his job.
“When you get a guy that hasn’t been drafted and then they get drafted, I just think that’s a really neat deal,” Anderson said. “The other one is when they stay in contact with you. You don’t want to be a crutch for them, but when things go a little bit sideways in professional baseball it’s such an individual deal. It’s a dog eat dog deal and you either eat or get eaten so to speak. You’re going to have some scuffles, so it’s kind of neat that they care enough or think enough of what we’ve done to call back and say, ‘what do you think?’
“You enjoy seeing those guys be successful, and then having them call back and enjoy messing with you and visiting with you is pretty rewarding.”