Greg Van Zant
Now in his 16th season as the head coach at West Virginia University, state native Greg Van Zant has elevated the Mountaineer baseball program into the national spotlight. The former player from Williamson, W.Va., now ranks second in WVU baseball history with 450 wins.
In his time as head coach, Van Zant has accomplished plenty at West Virginia by winning BIG EAST championships (regular season and tournament), earning an NCAA Tournament appearance and churning out 46 players who have been drafted or signed contracts with Major League Baseball organizations, including 24 pitchers.
Van Zant has produced six All-Americans, the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year, the BIG EAST Player of the Year, two BIG EAST Rookies of the Year, 52 all-conference players, a first round draft pick, two major league players and most recently, an Olympian.
Van Zant has also been named BIG EAST Coach of the Year twice as well as the American Baseball Coaches Association East Region Coach of the Year. During his first 15 seasons, Van Zant has averaged 30 wins per year.
In 2009, Van Zant’s Mountaineers amassed 37 wins, tying the 1998 team for the most victories since joining the BIG EAST. Picked to finish seventh in the BIG EAST preseason coaches’ poll, Van Zant led one of country’s best offensive clubs to a third-place finish in the regular season, helping a school-record nine players earn all-BIG EAST accolades. The veteran coach propelled his group to 17 conference wins, WVU’s most since 2003, while directing the Mountaineers to a No. 26 ranking in the Collegiate Baseball poll and a No. 36 spot in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches’ Poll during the week of April 13, 2009.
Behind three .400-plus hitters in Dan DiBartolomeo, Jedd Gyorko and Vince Belnome, the Mountaineers set single-season school records for team batting average (.360), RBIs (491), doubles (161), extra base hits (242) and runs scored (525). Under the tutelage of Van Zant, pitchers Jarryd Summers and Billy Gross formed one of the best 1-2 starting combinations in the BIG EAST in 2009, combining for a 16-7 record with a 3.63 ERA and 157 strikeouts.
Van Zant also witnessed the progression of catcher Tobias Streich, who became WVU’s highest draft pick in 12 seasons after being selected by the Minnesota Twins in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball first-year player draft. Belnome also landed a spot with the San Diego Padres in the 28th round, while Gross (Baltimore Orioles), Austin Markel (Florida Marlins) and Joe Agreste (San Diego Padres) all signed free-agent deals.
In 2008, Van Zant guided one of nation’s most prolific offenses to a 35-21 mark, making WVU one of the select few Division I programs to post 100 wins in a three-year span (2006-08).
Led by All-Americans Tyler Kuhn and Gyorko, the Mountaineers finished fifth in the country with a .341 batting average, 13th in slugging percentage (.523) and 15th in total runs (477). WVU also had three other all-BIG EAST players in Agreste, Belnome and Justin Parks who added to the high-powered WVU offense, as well as BIG EAST All-Tournament Team member Markel.
Adding to Van Zant’s résumé was the selection of former WVU pitcher Jeremy Cummings to the United States Olympic Baseball team in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China. Van Zant oversaw the four-year progression of Cummings from 1996-99, as the Mountaineer pitching alum helped the United States earn a bronze medal.
In 2007, Van Zant led WVU to a 29-22 record. Senior left fielder Justin Jenkins earned third team All-America honors while producing a 38-game hitting streak, tied for the 10th-longest in the history of college baseball. Jenkins later signed as a pre-draft free agent with the Cleveland Indians. Four other Mountaineers were selected in the pro draft in 2007.
Van Zant guided the Mountaineers to a 36-22 record in 2006 and the program’s sixth BIG EAST Tournament appearance. WVU won its first 17 home games and owned the nation’s longest winning streak at the time. With the final three home wins at the end of the 2005 season, the 20-game home winning streak set a school record.
The 25-4 mark opening the season was the best start to a campaign in 40 years, garnering the school’s first national ranking since 1982. The 2006 squad put a strong offense on display as it finished the season with a .339 batting average, good enough for second in all of Division I.
The 2005 season was a special year for the skipper as he grabbed win No. 300 in a 15-1 victory over Savannah State on April 6. The year also marked the first time in school history that three former Mountaineers were playing Major League Baseball at the same time. Steve Kline, Scott Seabol, and current Major Leaguer Dustin Nippert of the Texas Rangers were all coached by Van Zant.
Van Zant has been chosen four times to participate as a clinician at the YES (Youth Education through Sports) Clinic in Omaha, Neb., at the College World Series. He has worked at the Omaha Clinic in 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2007, and has spoken at numerous baseball coaching clinics and camps nationwide.
In 2003, Van Zant orchestrated one of the most exciting seasons in team history, as a Mountaineer team slated to finish near the bottom of the conference battled its way to a 36-19 overall record and an 18-6 conference mark. For his efforts, the coach was named BIG EAST Coach of the Year for the second time in his career.
WVU produced a school-record six draft picks in the 2001 season as Van Zant reached 200 wins faster than any other coach in school history.
In 1998, Van Zant’s talented squad produced a 37-17-1 record and advanced to the final four of the BIG EAST Tournament. Four players were drafted off that team, including 19th-round pick Brad Elwood. His Mountaineers ranked among the NCAA’s best in hitting (second) with a .358 team batting mark, pitching (22nd) with a 4.49 ERA and scoring (28th) at 9.02 runs per game. Outfielder and former WVU assistant coach Joe McNamee became the coach’s second All-America player in two seasons.
A year earlier in 1997, Van Zant led West Virginia to its second BIG EAST American Division title in as many years. Owning a 36-19 overall mark, West Virginia registered the third-most wins in school history at the time. His top pitcher, Chris Enochs, became the school's first All-America selection since 1964 and was selected in the first round (11th overall selection) of the Major League Draft by the Oakland Athletics. For Van Zant's efforts, he was honored as the 1997 BIG EAST Coach of the Year.
West Virginia’s 1996 squad posted a 33-25 record, BIG EAST regular and postseason championships, and a third-place finish at the 1996 Atlantic Regional at Clemson, S.C. His club defeated nationally-ranked Tennessee and Georgia Southern in the NCAA Tournament, securing the school's first wins against nationally-ranked teams since 1982.
West Virginia was one of just three schools from the nation's 10 major baseball conferences to win the regular and postseason titles that season, and its 2-0 start in the NCAA Tournament was the best in school history.
By virtue of his club's 1996 BIG EAST Tournament championship, the coach has now participated in the NCAA Tournament as a player (1982), an assistant (1990 and 1994) and a head coach.
The Mountaineers finished the 1996 campaign ranked No. 36 by USA Today/Baseball Weekly, the highest West Virginia has ever finished in that poll. He was named the ABCA/East Region Coach of the Year, one of eight regional coaches honored nationwide.
He took over the Mountaineer program in December of 1994, a month after the death of longtime mentor Dale Ramsburg. Like Ramsburg, Van Zant has been active among the coaching fraternity. The hard-working coach is a 26-year member of the American Baseball Coaches Association, and has served two terms as president of the BIG EAST Baseball Coaches Association. In 2005, Van Zant was chosen as a member of the NCAA Division I Baseball East Region Advisory Committee and served in that capacity through the 2007 season.
Van Zant began his association with college baseball as a four-year starting third baseman at WVU from 1980-83, helping the Mountaineers to the NCAA regional playoffs in 1982. He is probably best remembered for a double play that he started in the ninth inning to give WVU a 7-5 victory over Rutgers in the Eastern Eight Championship game. That team finished No. 16 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball and came within two games of advancing to the College World Series.
After graduation, he worked for Ford Motor Company from 1985-87 before accepting a coaching position at Georgia Southern under legendary coach Jack Stallings.
During his three years at Georgia Southern, he was responsible for working with the infielders as well as marketing and promoting the baseball program. In his final season at Georgia Southern in 1990, Van Zant was part of an Eagle team that won 50 games and advanced to the College World Series. Among the prominent players at Georgia Southern during Van Zant's stay were future Major League players like pitcher Joey Hamilton, catcher Todd Greene, and shortstop Chris Petersen.
Van Zant spent the summer of 1990 coaching in the Cape Cod League with the Falmouth Commodores, where he helped instruct St. Louis Cardinals first round pick Alan Watson. Later that summer, he returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach.
Serving as Ramsburg's top assistant and recruiting coordinator, Van Zant helped recruit the WVU players that produced an NCAA regional berth in 1994. He was also a part of several improvements to the Mountaineer baseball program, including re-establishing the alumni game played every fall since 1991 and the construction of an eight-foot outfield fence with advertising and 30-foot foul poles.
As head coach, the improvements have continued. The most notable are the constant upgrades to Hawley Field, including the installation of lights and initiating the Mountaineer Baseball Marathon Game, which has raised thousands of dollars toward improving the baseball program. Recently, Van Zant helped raised funds for a new outfield drainage system, a state-of-the-art infield, a new warning track and a major league style batter’s eye just beyond the center field wall.
Van Zant has also maintained the respectable rapport with professional scouts established under Ramsburg; West Virginia has had 69 players selected in the Major League draft since it was first initiated in 1965 (in just 15 seasons, Van Zant has coached over half of those drafted at West Virginia). Four of those players have gone on to play in the big leagues.
Holding multiple degrees stemming from his time as a graduate and undergraduate student, Van Zant has not disappointed in stressing the significance of the ever-important realm of academics. He was instrumental in guiding former players Josh Williamson (1997) and Lee Fritz (2005) toward CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, and has also coached three academic all-district performers during his reign in Morgantown.
A 1984 WVU graduate in industrial engineering, Van Zant earned master's degrees in sport management in 1988 and business administration in 1989 from Georgia Southern. The southern West Virginia native received the Rawlings Baseball post-graduate scholarship in 1991 and 1992.
Eight years ago, Van Zant was widely recognized by his hometown when he was inducted into the Williamson High School Hall of Fame. Van Zant resides in Morgantown with his wife, the former Leslie Jones of Farmington, W.Va.