UCI Gives Baker Two-Year Contract Extension
Rod Baker received a two-year contract extension Friday to remain as head basketball coach at UC Irvine through the 1996-97 season, turning down an offer to join mentor George Blaney as an associate head coach at Seton Hall.
The Anteaters’ record in Baker’s three years at Irvine is 23-63. They were 4-14 in Big West play last season, but rebounded with a remarkable run to the final of the conference tournament, winning three in a row before falling seven points shy of earning an NCAA tournament berth.
Baker and staff maintained the momentum with one of the best recruiting years in school history, signing highly sought Latvian point guard Raimonds Miglinieks (Riverside College), forward Michael Tate (Ventura College) and forward Kevin Simmons (Tilden High in New York).
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, who always has praised Baker for his emphasis on academics, relationships with players and leadership skills, said last season that in light of all that, victories and losses remain the ultimate measuring stick for coaches.
However, the Anteaters’ performance and Baker’s game management in the conference tournament--topped by the recruiting successes--made it “prudent,” in Guerrero’s estimation, to offer Baker an extension to the four-year deal that would have expired after the 1994-95 season.
“We made the decision a year earlier than we maybe would have otherwise,” Guerrero said, “but some things that have occurred between the Big West tournament and now have given me the indicators that we’re headed in the right direction. We think we’re going to be a much-improved product.
“What we demonstrated in the tournament was the real ability to make the adjustments necessary to be competitive game in and game out. That was very critical. And the recruiting was sort of just icing on the cake.”
Baker, who was named coach at Irvine on April 10, 1991, after three years as an assistant to P.J. Carlesimo at Seton Hall, played for Blaney at Holy Cross and was his assistant in 1976-77.
“It was a tough decision because of the opportunity to work with a guy who I have an awful lot of respect for, a guy who I don’t know if I could ever do enough to repay all he’s done for me,” Baker said. “But when all is said and done, this is where I work, this is where my heart is and this is the place where I’m trying to make my mark on the world.
“And the fact that we have good players and the foundation from which to move in a positive direction are reasons enough to want to benefit from our labors.”
Baker would like to have bottled some of the magic of those four days in Las Vegas last March when the Anteaters, seeded last in the tournament, upset UC Santa Barbara, Utah State and Pacific before losing to New Mexico State, 70-64, in the championship game. He probably would re-open the bottle Nov. 30 when the Anteaters make their 1994-95 regular-season debut at Oklahoma.
“Hopefully, that was more than four days of divine intervention,” Baker said. “In fact, things did come into place. Now, we just need to not move them too far out of place and get the new people on the same page as everybody else.
“But we need to do more than just retain that. We need to move on from there.”