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Q&A: Knights baseball head coach Terry Rooney

By Jessica Gillespie
On June 26, 2011

In Terry Rooney's short tenure as head coach of the Knights baseball team, UCF has made major strides.

The Knights earned a top-25 ranking. Then, they swept national championship contender Florida and beat ranked teams Florida State, Alabama, Rice and Stetson en route to the team's first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2004.

Following the memorable season, eight Knights were offered big-league opportunities when they were selected in the MLB Draft or when they signed free agent contracts.

Last week, UCF lost another key component of its team when associate head coach Cliff Godwin left the Knights and accepted the position of hitting coach at Ole Miss.

The Central Florida Future caught up with Rooney to discuss what losing Godwin and these players means for the Knights.

Central Florida Future: What does it mean for the UCF baseball team to lose Coach Godwin?

Terry Rooney: Coach Godwin did a tremendous job in his time here. He is an extremely big reason for our success, serving as our recruiting coordinator and our hitting coach. Coach Godwin and I personally were together for six years and there's no question that he's one of the best hitting coaches in the entire country. Obviously, he is going to be missed. He did a great job while he was here.

CFF: Do you have any plans for his replacement so far?

Rooney: Yes, I'm searching for somebody. I'm in the process right now in finding his replacement.

CFF: Do you expect anything to change in recruiting by losing Coach Godwin?

Rooney: No.

CFF: After coaching with Coach Godwin for six years, how different will it be for you with him no longer on your staff?

Rooney: Coach [Godwin] was a very good friend of mine, and he's an outstanding coach and he certainly did a great job recruiting-wise, coaching-wise; [he] certainly did everything. So obviously when you've got somebody that's been with you for that long, it's a certain comfort level.

But obviously we've got a great staff with Coach [Jeff] Palumbo and with Coach [Brandon] Romans, and I feel confident with the direction of the program and where we're going. We've established ourselves and we're back in the national spotlight. We've established ourselves as a top-25 baseball program. Coach Godwin certainly had a lot to do with that, and I feel like we're going to go out and find an outstanding candidate to replace him.

CFF: Now that UCF has made it back to the NCAA tournament, despite getting knocked out at the regional level, how does this help motivate the team to get even further next season and work hard in the offseason?

Rooney: First and foremost, I think in many ways the hardest part is just getting there. Now that, for the first time after seven years we've gotten there, everybody knows what the expectation level is. We're not just satisfied to have gone there. The most important thing is we're trying to win a regional and get to Omaha.

CFF: What does it mean for UCF to have eight players drafted or sign a free-agent contract, going up from just three last year?

Rooney: I think it is outstanding to see all of those kids to get opportunities to play professional baseball. You know, one of the reasons that you come to school at UCF is to try to fulfill individually your goal of playing professional baseball, reaching the major leagues. I want that to be a goal of all of our guys so that's awesome. Obviously it means we're going to have to replace a significant amount of those guys and I feel like with our recruiting class, hopefully we'll be in good shape with that.

CFF: After losing a handful of players to graduation and the draft, how do you feel about the team going into the summer, the fall and next season?

Rooney: I think we have one of the top 10 recruiting classes in the entire nation coming in. Some of that will be contingent upon our signing class and if they enroll. We had several of our recruits drafted and obviously a lot of those guys will also have an opportunity, so it just depends. But I feel right now that we have one of the best recruiting classes in the country.

CFF: Tell me a little bit about Chris Matulis. You drafted him out of high school and now, going into his junior season, he'll finally get a chance to play for you.

Rooney: Obviously, I recruited him to LSU. He had Tommy John surgery, so he was really rehabbing this year. He was drafted, that shows you the potential of him; he didn't throw a pitch this year but he was still drafted. Obviously he has a very bright future ahead of him and he's somebody we're going to be counting on tremendously next year.

CFF: There are some big shoes to fill in the infield, especially at the corners and especially at first base. I know that it'll be determined through the fall and start of spring once the team is together, but D.J. Hicks is playing at first this summer up in Cape Cod. Can we expect him to step up and be a contender for that position?

Rooney: Yeah, I definitely think so. I talked to D.J. at the end of the season and told him that he's going to have an opportunity to play every day as a position player in the field. Jonathan Griffin was an outstanding first baseman and that's why D.J. DHed last year, but D.J.'s going to have every opportunity to win our first-base job.

CFF: What about Chris Taladay? When Derek Luciano was knocked out of the 2010 season with an injury, Chris took over third base. Once Chris is fully recovered, is he a possible chance for everyday third base?

Rooney: I think that once Chris Taladay is healthy, he will be an everyday player for us; I know that. Chris Taladay has proven himself as one of the best players in Conference USA. He can play a lot of different positions, so I feel very confident that as long as his rehabilitation continues and he gets through his injury that he'll be an everyday player for us. Third base is certainly an option but he can be in the outfield or catch. We're going to have to use a lot of guys at catcher this fall.

CFF: There's always been depth at the catcher's position, but Beau Taylor's always won that spot. What are your plans for that position?

Rooney: We have several returning players who have caught and we've got some of our incoming signees are also catchers, so I feel like we're going to have enough of a collection of guys to replace Beau Taylor.

CFF: UCF lost Nick Cicio and Johnny Sedlock, two-thirds of its key lefty-relieving trio that everyone had come to rely on. How hard will it be to rebuild the bullpen in that respect, and how important is it to do so?

Rooney: I thought that we pitched a lot better last year as from the year prior, so the biggest thing is that we need to continue that progression with our pitching. We've got a few left-handed pitchers coming in, in this recruiting class.

CFF: With half of the team scattered around the country playing summer ball, what are you doing this summer?

Rooney: Actively recruiting. Obviously the summer is an extremely busy time for us from a recruiting standpoint, so obviously we're on the road quite often. No. 1 is recruiting and No. 2 is preparing for the fall.

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