By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – When it came to selecting the next person to direct the Tennessee Tech baseball program into the future and build upon the most successful season in Ohio Valley Conference history, Tech Director of Athletics Mark Wilson didn't have to search long or far.
The perfect fit for the job was there all along.
On Thursday morning, Wilson selected Golden Eagle assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Justin Holmes as the 14th head baseball coach in school history, placing the four-year Tech veteran in charge of a program already flowing with his influence throughout it.
"First and foremost, I need to thank my wife," Holmes said. "I know that may be a little cliché, but behind every strong man, there is always a strong wife. I love my wife to death and she has made sacrifices so our family could be in this position.
"But what a tremendous dream come true. This is why you get into this business. You want to have the opportunity to lead a program. I'm so proud of this place. It's my home. I've seen these guys grow up, and I think that's the part I'm most excited about. I get to continue this journey and this adventure with the guys in this locker room. They're a pleasure to come to work with every day and I'm just excited for that."
Holmes' work with the players – both bringing them into the program and developing them once there – has been evident, as an Ohio Valley Conference-record eight Golden Eagles were selected during the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft, with one more signing as a free agent.
"It's a natural fit," Wilson said. "Over the past four seasons, Tennessee Tech baseball has enjoyed one of its most successful stretches in program history and he played a pivotal role in making that happen. Justin is passionate about not only baseball, but also about the student-athletes in our program and their personal, educational and professional development. We are excited to see the continued development of Tech baseball under his watch."
Tech has put together its best four-year stretch in program history since Holmes joined the coaching staff, accumulating 151 victories – including 83 in OVC play – the most among league members during the span. The Golden Eagles also claimed back-to-back OVC regular season titles the past two seasons.
"Early on when you want to be a head coach, you want it to happen now," Holmes explained. "God has a plan, but sometimes you're sitting there like 'man, what is going on,' but you keep grinding. The past few years, I just quit worrying about it and concentrated on my work. I tried to lose myself in what my job was at that moment."
The 2018 campaign was particularly easy to lose himself in the job and the moment, as the Golden Eagles burst onto the national scene with the nation's longest winning streak of 28 games. The streak led to the team's first-ever, consensus national ranking and continued the rest of the way.
"It's funny, when you're in the moment and taking care of business, then the dream can come true," Holmes expressed. "I had to learn that lesson, that you'll be taken care of if you do good work. That really put me at peace as far as making this step, which has been a goal I've always had. I'm truly honored. There are guys in this business that have done a heckuva job much longer than I have, and they haven't had an opportunity like I do now. That's not lost on me. I'm very thankful to the University and (Tech president) Dr. (Philip) Oldham, to Mark and the administration, to (Tech predecessor) Coach (Matt) Bragga, to the players and to any and all people that have supported me throughout this process. I don't take it lightly."
Tech captured the OVC's first-ever at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and first-ever appearance in a Super Regional, taking home the Oxford Regional title after defeating No. 2-ranked Ole Miss twice on its home field in one magical day. The Golden Eagles finished the year with a league-record 53 wins, prompting Rice University to tab former Tech head coach Bragga as its new lead man and creating an opportunity.
"The tradition speaks for itself," Holmes said. "You can read about it. That's what these guys are striving for; to create something that is going to outlast them, that is not necessarily going to benefit them, but the people that come after them. The tradition of this program is one of winning. It goes back many decades, and during Coach Bragga's tenure, it's been the most successful stretch in the history of the program."
But the highest level of success experienced by an OVC program doesn't mean there's not room to grow more.
"So, what are my expectations?" Holmes asked, with his answer ready to fire. "My expectations are to be even more successful. It's very difficult for me to think any other way. I will never limit what these guys think they can do. Whatever they want to do, whatever their goals are, it's my job to help them reach those goals. I think there are guys in this locker room that have lofty goals. They believe they can do anything and I certainly would never step in and put my expectations lower than theirs.
"Honestly, I expect to remain competitive at a national level and continue to be a force in the OVC. But if you want to know, you really need to talk to these guys. It can be your idea all you want, but unless it's their idea, it's not going to work. And I think that's what we're blessed with. We're blessed with a program and a culture of people who believe they can do whatever they want to do. We're just going to go about our business, compete and try to achieve that.
An assistant at Mercer University from 2010-2013, Holmes served as both the hitting coach and first base coach to the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference championship-winning squad. The Bears earned a 43-18 record on their way to their first-ever regular-season championship and NCAA Tournament berth. The team also found itself ranked for the first time in program history.
During his tenure at Mercer, Holmes helped develop and coach a First-Team All-American, three Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans, two Capital One Academic All-Americans, three ABCA/Rawlings All-South Team members, the 2013 A-Sun Player of the Year, the 2012 A-Sun Freshman of the Year the A-Sun Scholar-Athlete of the Year, 10 All-Atlantic Sun selections and three players who went to play professional ball. He also helped coordinate a defense that finished first in the NCAA in fielding percentage in 2013.
Mercer won 121 games during his three seasons as a member of the coaching staff, finishing in the top 100 in RPI as well.
Prior to working at Mercer, Holmes served as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater, the University of Georgia, from 2007-2010. He served as the first base coach while preparing and conducting practice sessions devoted to hitter development, base running and infield defense on a daily basis.
In 2008, he was part of the coaching staff that won the 2008 SEC Championships and finished second at the College World Series. Holmes coached and developed two All-Americans, the 2008 SEC Player of the Year, two All-SEC First Team selections from the infield and a Rawlings NCAA Division I Gold Glove winner. He saw six former UGA players move on to professional baseball in his time as coach and helped develop a defense that led the SEC in fielding percentage in 2008.
"The journey has been incredible and it's been fun," Holmes said reflecting on his path to this point. "I've met some incredible people. I've had some great players. I've had some great mentors. My job is now to take all of that and turn it into a successful head coaching career. I'll lean on great mentors and my players because that's what it's all about. I'm here to take care of them and to take care of this program that belongs to the alumni. I know how hard that is going to be to do, but I'm ready for that challenge. It's just an absolute pleasure to be here."
After playing one season at the University of South Florida, Holmes transferred to and played three seasons at the University of Georgia, starting at shortstop from 2002-2004. The captain and co-MVP of the 2004 SEC Championship team, Georgia finished third in the College World Series and finished the season with a 45-23 record. He earned an All-SEC Second Team selection that year, as well as All-Regional and Super Regional honors while batting a team-best .332 with eight home runs and 56 RBI. He finished his career as the program's all-time leader in fielding percentage for a shortstop and as a two-time Scholar Athlete Honor Roll recipient.
The 26th round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2004, Holmes played in the Indians organization for two years, spending time in Burlington, N.C. in the Appalachian League and Eastlake, Ohio for Lake County in the South Atlantic League. He also played for the Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums of the Frontier League where he was a two-time All-Star selection and finished as the franchise's all-time hits leader.
A graduate of UGA in 2005, Holmes earned his bachelor's degree in classical culture. He is married to the former Elizabeth Newsome of Washington, Ga., a 2008 graduate of the UGA veterinary school and member of Georgia's 2003 and 2004 national championship equestrian teams. The couple lives in Cookeville with their son, Rider and daughter, Vera.
"The Lord has blessed me and my family," Holmes said. "We have a responsibility. We know what we're undertaking, the staff here and myself, and we intend on doing a very good job."
|THE HOLMES PROFILE|
|Age:||36 (born November 28, 1981)|
|Education:||University of Georgia – B.A., Classical Culture|
|Coaching Experience:||2007-10 » Georgia (Volunteer Assistant Coach, First Base Coach)|
|2010-13 » Mercer (Assistant Coach, Hitting Coach, First Base Coach)|
|2013-18 » Tennessee Tech (Assistant Coach, Recruiting Coordinator, Third Base Coach)|
|2018-Present » Tennessee Tech (Head Coach)|