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Alum McNally named baseball coach

Duke hired one of its own to fill the coaching void left after Bill Hillier resigned from his position as head baseball coach May 25.

Sean McNally, a four-year letterman for the Blue Devils in the early 1990s, will take the helm of a struggling program, Athletics Director Joe Alleva announced July 15 at a press conference.

“Sean represents things that we were looking for in a coach,” Alleva said. “He knows the game of baseball. He’ll be able to teach it, communicate what it’s like to be a Duke baseball player and, most importantly, sell young kids on the experience at Duke: the benefits of coming here and their development not only as a student-athlete but their development as a potential professional baseball player.”

McNally, 32, spent the last three seasons in various coaching capacities at the minor league level, most recently as manager of the Cleveland Indians’ Single A affiliate. He has no previous collegiate coaching experience.

After the Blue Devils ended last year—their seventh-straight losing season—with a 14-39 record, it is clear the task at hand for the young coach won’t be easy.

“It’s certainly going to be a process,” McNally said. “You measure winning in a lot of different ways, and I think every day we’re going to work to get better. I don’t have a definite time frame of how long that will take. My eyes are wide open, and I know it’s a very competitive league, having played in it, watched it and followed it.”

Alleva and McNally said turning the program around will begin with recruiting better players—an area in which McNally has no experience. But the Rye, N.Y., native said he has a network of connections he developed during his nine years playing professional baseball for six minor league organizations.

Alleva said the athletics department will provide the program with the financial resources to recruit nationally. And although McNally has yet to choose his staff of assistants, he expects they will bring recruiting experience.

Duke is “a place that I care a lot for, and I feel like when I talk to recruits and when I talk to perspective student-athletes, I’ll be talking about a life experience that I’ve had and not something that I’ve heard about. That’s very special to me,” McNally said.

The coaching position became available when Hillier resigned after six disappointing seasons with the Blue Devils. The team finished last in the ACC four times under his watch.

Alleva and Hillier agreed in 2004 that if the team’s performance this past year did not show significant progress it would be Hillier’s last season in Durham.

In addition to the team’s poor performance, several former Duke baseball players’ allegations of coaching misconduct and steroid abuse were published in a story in The Chronicle April 15.

The announcement of McNally’s hiring ended a lengthy but diligent search for a replacement, Alleva said. A field of more than 100 applicants, including a number of top assistant coaches and recruiting coordinators from major programs across the country, was narrowed to six for the interview process.

The selection of such a young and inexperienced coach came as a surprise to some.

“I knew there were a lot of people very interested in this job all year long and then once the job became available even more so,” said Will Kimmey, who covers college baseball for Baseball America. “A guy that played at Duke was more important than a guy that had a good wealth of experience. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. Maybe he’ll be great, but you have no track record to look at. But there were a lot of candidates that did have a track record.”

Kimmey added that simultaneously learning the ropes of recruiting and managing a team in the highly competitive ACC would be daunting for any new coach. He said it will be a few years before McNally’s success and his hiring can be evaluated.

McNally’s time as a Duke player was one of the most prosperous periods for the baseball program, as it went 134-82 in his four seasons from 1991-1994. His senior-year .408 batting average is the highest single-season mark in Duke’s history. McNally also worked in Duke’s athletic administration as an academic advisor in 2003-2004.

Chris Kennedy, Duke’s senior associate athletics director who chaired the search committee, emphasized throughout the hiring process that the Blue Devils were looking for someone who understood what the student-athlete experience was like at an elite academic institution and would be able to convey that to his players.

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