Serrano leaves UCI for Fullerton

Dave Serrano, who coached the UC Irvine baseball program to its first Division I College World Series appearance in June, will leave the school to become head coach at Cal State Fullerton, where he played and worked as an assistant coach.

Serrano, who compiled a 114-66-1 record in three seasons at UCI, including 47-17-1 last season, a school record for wins, will replace George Horton, who left Fullerton after 11 seasons last week to become coach at Oregon.

Serrano had been a candidate at Oregon, before removing his name from consideration Aug. 22.

When Oregon hired Horton Aug. 31, Serrano released a statement through UCI stating he had no interest in returning to Fullerton, where he was pitching coach under Horton for eight seasons from 1997-2004.

“I have no interest in leaving UC Irvine for Cal State Fullerton,” Serrano said in that statement, produced hours after he learned that Horton was going to Oregon.

Serrano, however, changed his mind after learning that Rick Vanderhook, a longtime Horton assistant who was named associate head coach at Fullerton in June, would not be offered the head coaching job at Cal State Fullerton.

“When it was presented to me that the opportunity at Fullerton was not going to be given to Coach Vanderhook, then, and only then, did I start thinking I wasn’t going to let it pass,” Serrano said in a statement released by Cal State Fullerton Friday. “It’s great to be back.”

Serrano, named National Coach of the Year by Baseball America last season, will be formally introduced as Titans coach at a reception Monday at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field.

He has signed a contract with the Titans through the 2011 season.

Though eight UCI players moved on to the professional ranks from last year’s team, Serrano leaves behind a program expected to compete for the Big West Conference championship next season.

First-team all-conference pitcher Scott Gorgen, a third-team All-American, as well as second-team all-conference picks Ben Orloff, a shortstop, and Ollie Linton, a center fielder, are expected back.

UCI was recently named No. 2 among the top 10 rising programs in the nation by Rivals.com.

Serrano’s team finished tied for second in the Big West last season, before catching fire in the postseason.

The Anteaters defeated national power Texas twice on their way to winning the Round Rock Regional, then became the only road team to win a Super Regional, sweeping host Wichita State to advance to Omaha.

After losing to Arizona State in its College World Series opener, UCI eliminated Cal State Fullerton, 5-4, in a five-hour, 40-minute contest that is the longest game in CWS history.

UCI then bounced Arizona State from the double-elimination tournament in another dramatic extra-inning game, before bowing out to eventual champion Oregon State to finish tied for third.

Serrano’s dynamic personality and emphasis on fundamentals transformed UCI, which resumed its baseball program after a nine-season hiatus in 2002, into a determined team that believed it could compete at the highest level.

UCI’s underdog status, unique nickname and ability to produce in the clutch quickly made it a fan favorite to spectators in Omaha, as well as many watching on national television.

Serrano replaced John Savage, who left to become coach at UCLA, after being named National Assistant Coach of the Year in 2004.

That season, as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, Serrano helped the Titans win the school’s fourth national championship.

Serrano pitched for legendary coach Augie Garrido at Fullerton in 1986, after earning All-American honors at Cerritos Community College while playing for Horton.

Serrano began his coaching career as a Horton assistant at Cerritos. He helped Tennessee reach the College World Series in 1995, his only season as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Volunteers, before being lured back to Fullerton by Horton.

Serrano and Horton, best friends, had discussed plans to have UCI visit Oregon for its 2009 season opener.

Serrano did not immediately return phone calls Friday.

Orloff and Linton, reached by phone Friday, declined immediate comment.

It is not known, whether UCI assistants Greg Bergeron, who coached at Fullerton, and Sergio Brown, who played and coached at Fullerton, would accompany Serrano to Fullerton.

“It has been a whirlwind 48 hours for the Serrano family,” Serrano said in Friday’s statement. “Now that I am realizing that I am the baseball coach at Cal State Fullerton, and following in the legacy of Augie Garrido and Larry Cochell and George Horton, I could not be prouder.”

Fullerton Athletic Director Brian Quinn said Serrano was his No. 1 choice to replace Horton.

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