When Kansas State hitting coach Mike Clement made the decision to leave for Ole Miss last week, head coach Brad Hill said just one name came to mind.
That name, was Andy Sawyers.
Sawyers had been Hill’s hitting coach in 2009 and 2010, before departing for Texas A&M. What he left behind were the pieces that came together to win a Big 12 title in 2012. So when Clement announced his move, Hill had to at least ask.
“When Mike left I thought ‘boy, wouldn’t it be nice for Andy to come back and smooth over this transition,’” he said. “You reach out and just ask if there was interest there, and there was.”
Sawyers knew his answer, but had to make sure it was one his wife wanted to make as well. They looked at the positives and negatives, and made their decision.
“There were really no negatives,” he said. “It’d kind of been on my heart. When coach Hill said ‘you want to come back and do this,’ in my heart I knew I wanted to do this. It wasn’t a hard decision at all.”
Sawyers said of all the places he’s coached, Manhattan is the one that most felt like home. He and his wife love the community, their son was born here and they want him to attend school here.
But that was only part of the reason he wanted to return. He said he likes the challenge of coaching and recruiting at K-State, and he likes the relationship he’s developed with Hill.
“Coach Hill and I are a really good complement for each other,” he said. “He’s a wonderful baseball coach and gives the program great structure and stability, and then he allows me to really do my best work and lets me be fun and energetic with big energy.
“We seemed to work really well together the last time and I really relish the freedom he gives me to play to my strengths. I had a ton of fun coaching with him the last time.”
When Sawyers arrived in 2009, he helped the Wildcats reach their first regional in school history. K-State broke numerous offensive school records and ranked among the Big 12’s best in several hitting categories. They were one game away from advancing the their first super regional.
In 2010, K-State made its second straight regional before Sawyers left for the same job at Texas A&M. That same season, sophomore outfielder Nick Martini was named the Big 12 Player of the Year. Sawyers has had six players — between stops at Nebraska, K-State and A&M — win player of the year awards, including two by the Huskers’ Alex Gordon.
Hill said the relationship between he and Sawyers was so good, that he was constantly looking to fill his spot on the staff with someone that was just like him. With Clement, he felt like they’d found a guy that was as close to Sawyers as they’d get.
Both Hill and Sawyers stayed in contact over the four years that he was at A&M, but the topic of him ever returning to Manhattan wasn’t one they discussed. Sawyers stayed even more connected to the program by talking to Clement on an every-other-day basis.
Sawyers said he relished the Wildcats’ 2013 run to a Big 12 regular season championship, and followed closely as they made it to their first super regional in school history.
“Ross Kivett was Big 12 Player of the Year and I have a lot of pride because I recruited Ross,” Sawyers said. “I recruited a lot of those guys in that offense that were so darn good. I took pride in that because when I arrived in 2009 we had a good year and set a bunch of records, but I didn’t recruit those guys. I was able to reap the benefits of someone else’s labors in recruiting. I was very proud of the group we left behind.”
Sawyers won’t be the only new face in the K-State program next year. Hill said they could have as many as 20 new players after losing a large group during the offseason.
The Wildcats lose four seniors, two drafted juniors and multiple other defections, including sophomore closer Jake Matthys. Other players thought to be leaving the program, some confirmed through social media, are junior righthander Jake Whaley, sophomore lefthander Landon Busch, freshmen pitchers Ethan Landon and Jake Fromson, freshman catcher Tanner DeVinny, freshman outfielder Tyler Stover and Manhattan High product Kyle Speer.
Hill did not address individual departures, but said the challenge ahead is why he knew Sawyers was the one for the job.
“The only name that popped into my mind right away was his,” Hill said. “He was the target because I thought he would be the right man for the job to be able to come back here and get things turned around a little bit. I think the kids will be extremely excited to be under him and the type of aggressive play he will bring to our program again.
“There’s a few guys that have been around for a little bit, but at the same time we’re also kind of starting from scratch and looking to mold this thing and move on with some guys that will have to step up.”
Sawyers said he’s aware of the situation in the program, but he embraces the challenge he’s coming in to. At K-State, Sawyers said coaches recruit kids who are coming to play college baseball and grow as players, not just to improve draft stock. And when players get the chance to grow together, he said they can create something really good.
“I tell this to our players all the time when you think of a tough situation or crisis,” he said. “The Chinese symbol for crisis is the symbol for opportunity superimposed on top of the symbol for danger, so anytime you have a crisis or difficult situation, there’s always another half to that equation and it’s opportunity. Yeah, we’re in a little flux with our roster and a lot of kids left, but also that gives us an opportunity to rebuild the team and remake it and go in a direction we want to go.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, I understand that, but at the same time you’re bringing a bunch of kids together and giving them a shot at growing up together. When you do that, you’re looking at, in a few years, something really special.”