Source: Neu to be named Cal’s next head coach

During his tenure as California‘s pitching coach from 2012 to 2015, nearly every time Mike Neu and former Bears manager Bob Milano met, Neu would razz the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach for not offering him a scholarship out of Sacramento City College.

Milano had known Neu since he was a rising star at Napa (Calif.) Vintage, but instead of bringing him to Berkeley, Milano passed on the local arm. Neu instead went across the country to Miami, and became the Hurricanes’ closer after a high school and junior college career spent starting. Almost exactly 18 years ago, was standing on the mound at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., closing out the 1999 College World Series, capping a 50-13 year. Today, according to a source familiar with the situation, Neu, a former Oakland Athletics and Florida Marlins reliever, will be named Cal’s next head coach, succeeding his former boss, David Esquer, who took the head coaching job at Stanford in June.

Neu has ensured that the path of his coaching career — from working as an associate scout for the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, to managing Diablo Valley College to two conference titles in three years, to his four years managing Cal’s arms, to taking the head coaching job at Pacific — has pointed back to Berkeley. It’s a job, he’s said, he’s always wanted.

UPDATE 1:38 p.m.: Cal has officially announced the hiring.

Neu is used to being underestimated. At 5-foot-9, the odds against him not only becoming a college star, but making it to the Major Leagues, were long.

“I used that to my advantage,” Neu said, during an interview in March of 2015, for a feature on that year’s Cal club. “I had to be better than everyone else — not just a little better; I had to be a lot better. It helped me understand how to be a better pitcher, but it also helped me really understand how to coach: I had to be better in every aspect of the game.”

Neu prizes competitiveness, will to win, work ethic, and a desire to be the best, while also subsuming that into a desire to do what’s best for the team as his top attributes in recruiting players.

During that 2015 interview, Neu set out his ideal makeup for his players: “They play their best when the situation … is the toughest, and the most pressure-filled. We want to welcome adversity in those situations.” Those were the same attributes he displayed on the mound, and are a good match for his new program’s state of affairs.

The Cal athletic department is in dire financial straits, with sport cuts a distinct possibility, if not an outright certainty. If cuts are made, they will have to be across the board, and that means running into Title IX. If women’s sports are cut, there will have to be an even larger cut among men’s sports, putting programs like baseball (36 participants), rugby (59 roster spots as of 2016-17), and crew (61 male participants) in jeopardy. 

Neu, given the blessing of the last two coaches — spanning 40 years of alumni — has the chance to unite two factions of the donor base both through his natural charisma and through guiding the current roster to the postseason. The current roster, Esquer said, upon the occasion of his taking the job at Stanford, is a “powderkeg of talent.” Almost all of that talent — including the three players on the hiring committee, Matt LadrechJared Horn and Erik Martinez — was recruited by Neu.

After his six-year professional career, and his time as a scout, Neu served as pitching coach at Diablo Valley College for two years, and then as head coach from 2009-11. As head coach, Neu went 87-41 with two conference titles in three seasons. His 2011 team ranked No. 1 in California with a 2.13 team ERA.

Neu then spent four seasons at Cal, rebuilding a program decimated by recruiting shockwaves that spun out of the cut in 2010. By his final season, 2015, Neu’s pitching staff put together a 3.03 team ERA (fourth in the Pac-12). He recruited Daulton Jefferies (compensation round A, MLB Draft) and Pac-12 Player of the Year Brett Cumberland (compensation round B, MLB Draft), as well as rubber-armed four-year starter Ryan Mason (13th round of MLB Draft) and eventual second-round draft pick Lucas Erceg, who he plucked from obscurity to become one of the top third basemen in the Pac-12.

In four seasons in Berkeley, Neu produced two Freshman All-Americans (Jeff Bain and Ladrech), a first-team All-Pac-12 pitcher (Jefferies) and eight different pitchers picked up in the MLB Draft (including Bain, who transferred to Cal Poly-Pomona this past season).

Neu also recruited current Cal No. 1 starter Horn, three-year starter Ladrech, weekend starter Joey Matulovich, junior closer Martinez, 10th-round pick Denis Karas, 24th-round pick Preston GrandPre, right fielder Jeffrey Mitchell and two-way star Tanner Dodson.

Neu left Berkeley after the 2015 season to take over as the head coach at the University of the Pacific, taking Cal alums Noah Jackson and Mike Reuvekamp as assistants, but, Neu has told BearTerritory, he always had his eye on Cal.

Neu guided the Tigers to a 40-65 record over the last two seasons. Pacific was 88-180 over the previous five seasons, and when Esquer was announced as the Cardinal’s new head coach on June 20, Neu had his opportunity to return.

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