Out of the Dugout and Into the Spotlight : Baseball: Jody Robinson, the new Loyola Marymount baseball coach, is eager to start his new duties.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jody Robinson realizes that he was not Loyola Marymount University's first choice as its new baseball coach.

Maybe not even the second or third, for that matter.

But Robinson is still excited about the prospect of coaching the Lions.

"I realize that some people had to turn the job down for me to get a chance at it," he says. "I realize I wasn't in the original cast of characters. But that doesn't mean that I felt slighted in any way."

Robinson, 37, said he didn't hesitate when Loyola Marymount Athletic Director Brian Quinn officially offered him the position Monday.

"They didn't have to ask me twice," he said. "When they asked me if I would accept this position, I said, 'Yes.' I didn't have to ask my wife if she thought this was the right thing."

Before Robinson accepted, reportedly as many as three others were offered the position only to turn it down, including Mike Weathers of Chapman College.

"I was offered the job," Weathers said, "and the reason I didn't accept it is we've upgraded to a Division I program, and the school has been behind me on that, and we've already recruited 20 kids with that in mind.

"I didn't feel like I could just walk away. Perhaps it was timing more than anything. If they had offered me the position (two months ago), I might have taken it."

Robinson said some of the candidates may have been dissuaded by rumors that the Loyola athletic program was dropping from Division I to Division III. Those rumors, he said, are false.

"All of those rumors are things that were used against our basketball team, and I'd imagine they'll use them against the baseball program too," he said.

But Robinson says he is not concerned about the school's commitment to baseball.

"From everything I can see, the university is making a strong commitment to the baseball program," he said. "I looked at the budget here, and there's a commitment to scholarship dollars and there's a commitment on other matters."

Although Robinson wasn't on Loyola Marymount's initial list of finalists, Quinn is convinced that he fits the position well.

"One of the things we were looking for was someone with extensive Division I coaching experience and someone who was associated with winning programs," Quinn said. "First and foremost, however, we wanted an excellent baseball man who also understood the academic mission of the university. Jody excels in all of those areas."

Robinson was the top assistant at Cal State Northridge last season and at the University of Illinois the previous four seasons. He has also been coach at Long Beach City College and an assistant at Cal State Fullerton and Cerritos College.

He helped lead Northridge to a 44-18-1 record and an appearance in the NCAA West Regional championship game in the first year in Division I for the Matadors. His Illinois teams won Big Ten Conference titles in 1989 and 1990.

Before arriving at Northridge, Robinson was a finalist to replace Coach Augie Garrido at Illinois.

"I was one of the four people that they interviewed for the job," he said. "I was already (an assistant) at the school, and they put me through the interview process. But it seemed like they had themselves set on another coach (from Southern Illinois)."

But Robinson says he didn't get discouraged after he wasn't chosen to coach Illinois, and he credits his persistence as a major factor in landing the job with the Lions.

"A Division I head coaching position has been a goal of mine for a long time, and I've worked very hard toward that goal," Robinson said.

Robinson succeeds Chris Smith, who resigned in August and has since become a scout for the Seattle Mariners.

Smith's teams went 77-46 during the past two seasons and the Lions advanced to the NCAA regionals in 1989.

Smith was preceded by Dave Snow, whose teams went 179-71 over four seasons. Under Snow, who left after the 1988 season to become coach at Cal State Long Beach, the Lions went to the NCAA playoffs three times, including a berth in the College World Series in 1986.

"They did an excellent job in their six years here, and I just hope to keep the program at that level," Robinson said. "If I could do that, I would be a happy man."

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