Oilers hire coach, search for new GM

Posted: Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Peninsula Oilers will have a new head coach and general manager next season.

Mike Coutts, the head coach in 2005, decided he would like to stay closer to his home in Maine next season.

Mike Baxter, the acting general manager of the Oilers, said the Oilers board decided to go in a different direction when it came to Ron Lucia, who had been the general manager the past two seasons.

Baxter referred further questions on Lucia to Albert Parra, the president of the Oilers board. Parra did not return phone messages Monday night.

Baxter was the Oilers general manager for the 1995 through 2003 seasons. He often said the position was a dream job for him, but he stepped down following the 2003 season to devote more time to his business.

Baxter, who has been on the Oilers board since 1978, is back on a nonpaid basis until the Oilers can find a permanent replacement for Lucia. Baxter said he does not know if he will apply for the general manager job.

The first order of business for Baxter was finding a head coach for 2006, since college coaches are already contacting the Oilers about placing players on the team next summer.

The Oilers have hired Thadeus Johnson, a 26-year-old who served as the pitching coach for the Oilers in 2003 and 2004.

Baxter said he recommended two people to the Oilers baseball operations committee. He said the committee unanimously decided on Johnson.

"It's always been my preference, as well as the board's preference, to recruit from players and coaches who have already been here when it's possible and practical," Baxter said.

Baxter has been away from the day-to-day operations of the Alaska Baseball League club in the last two seasons so he said he did not have a whole lot of experience with Johnson. Baxter did talk to the people who knew Johnson and got very positive reviews from those people.

Baxter said he told Johnson upon his hiring of the need to get the Oilers organization back to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kans. The Oilers have not been to the NBC World Series since 2000, when they were wrapping up their third straight Alaska Baseball League title.

The Oilers have had a hard time getting any continuity at the head coaching position since Gary Adcock finished his two years as pitching coach then his two additional years as head coach in 2000.

Brian Green managed the 2001 season and half of 2002 before he had to leave the team due to other commitments.

Oilers assistant Damian Stambersky took over for the last half of 2002, but did not come back for 2003. Kyle DiEduardo was named the manager for 2003, then DiEduardo decided to leave the Oilers job because of a desire to stay on the East Coast.

Aric Thomas managed the team in 2004 before Coutts came on in 2005.

It is not uncommon for ABL teams to have quick turnover in coaching positions because most of the coaches are up-and-comers in the college ranks. As the coaches get promoted in college, coming back to Alaska in the summer is not possible.

Johnson, reached Monday night in California, said he has aspirations of getting into head coaching at the college level and also breaking into the Division I level of coaching. He said the Oilers head coaching job is a great way to gain experience.

"You are working with some of the best talent in America," Johnson said. "The last two years, we won for the most part, but we were missing that little edge to bring us to a new level. Hopefully, we can get that league won."

In 1998 and 1999, Johnson was an All-American at Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, Calif. He moved on to Oregon State University in 2000 and 2001, where he was an all-conference pitcher. He then played professionally for two seasons in the Oakland Athletics system and helped lead the Phoenix A's to the Class A championship in 2001.

Johnson graduated cum laude from Oregon State with a degree in sociology. His wife, Michelle, is an English teacher at Riverside and she plans to spend next summer in Alaska.

Johnson said that now that just one team from the ABL goes to the NBC tournament, it is very important to get off to a good start. He said the Oilers went 12-3 at one stretch last season, but had already let the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks get too far ahead of them.

"Being a pitching guy, I plan to build the team around pitching," Johnson said.

He said he will look for pitchers with the right mindset, and not necessarily power arms. He said pitchers do not need power arms to pitch inside in the ABL, where college players are getting used to using wood bats.

Defense also will be a priority.

"You've got to get two guys in the middle who can flat out pick it," Johnson said. "That's OK if they are short with the bat. The corner guys can bang it."

Johnson said the missing ingredient for the Oilers the past two seasons was a player who could consistently produce runs the entire year. He said the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks have had such a player the past two seasons to push them over the top.

"We need a guy in the lineup who, when he gets to the plate, everybody knows he can change the game with one swing," Johnson said.

Johnson is situated in southern California, a baseball hotbed. He described the head coach at Riverside, Dennis Rogers, as a living legend that will give him contacts across the college baseball community.

The Oilers have continually tapped coaching talent out of Riverside over the years, including Adcock, who has the best winning percentage in Oilers history.

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