Rice baseball has hired its 21st head coach in program history, officially introducing former Tennessee Tech head coach Matt Bragga at Reckling Park on Thursday.
It’s been a long time since Rice baseball was on the hunt for a new head coach. Any trepidation towards their first hire in nearly three decades quickly faded away thanks to the sharp smile of new head coach Matt Bragga. The jovial, passionate coaching veteran held his introductory press conference on Thursday before a packed crowd at Reckling Park. “[Rice] is an elite program in college baseball,” he said, “my expectations for what is going to happen here are high.”
Bragga doesn’t make such claims lightly. He took a Tennessee Tech program from a 15-win season when he arrived to the brink of a College World Series appearance in 2018. After defeating the Texas Longhorns in Game 1 of the Austin Regional, Bragga’s squad couldn’t quite seal the deal and deliver on the trip to the College World Series that he had promised when he took the Tennessee Tech job 15 years prior. “We got one game away from Omaha,” recalled Bragga who went on to add, “If you can do it at Tennessee Tech. We can do it big time at Rice.”
There was a time when College World Series was an annual affair for Rice baseball, but it’s been a decade since the Owls last played in Omaha. Bragga intends to use the same mentality that he used to transform Tennessee Tech at Rice, with one notable exception. Rice isn’t starting over from square one, rather, Bragga views Rice as a sleeping giant that’s ready to wake up. And that starts with the players.
Bragga’s culture is one of respect, passion and competitiveness. In his brief moments at the podium, he hammered on those focal points. He didn’t mince words when he delivered his vision for the program going forward. “This is what you can expect from me,” he declared. “High energy, great passion, blue-collar work-ethic mentality, competitiveness. I love competitors. Competitors win.” That competition extends to not-so-friendly games of ping-pong, getting to class first and every day of practice. Everything is a competition, but it all comes with one purpose in mind – returning to Omaha.
“When the players know you love them, you can make them believe anything is possible.” That message, one of Bragga’s lasting impressions from his interview with athletic director Joe Karlgaard, was what Karlgaard shared in his opening remarks during Bragga’s introduction. And that tone, one which invoked an atmosphere of family, resonated throughout the room as Bragga continued to share his hopes for Rice baseball.
For a moment, it felt like the new head coach had been there for years. His humble sincerity was invigorating. There wasn’t any flashing lights or smokescreens. Just Bragga, who summed up the press conference with a simple, but telling statement. “I’m a baseball coach,” he said. “At the end of the day, I like to get on that field and get dirty and roll my sleeves up and go to work.”
There’s plenty to be done at Rice, but if Bragga is to be believed, it might be a shorter process than previously expected. For now, it’s time to get to work.