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ASU Baseball: Ray Anderson has to hit home run with coaching hire

Our resident columnist gives his opinion on who the Sun Devils should grab.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It's time to see what Ray Anderson is made of.

The first major decision of Anderson's tenure as Vice President of Athletics could make or break his Sun Devil career before it ever really got started.

Anderson is tasked with replacing former Sun Devil baseball coach Tim Esmay, who resigned last week. In reality, Esmay was likely asked to go, having just one year left on his contract and failing to advance the pride of Arizona State - Sun Devil baseball - past the College World Series Regional round for the second consecutive season.

In hiring Arizona State's fifth baseball coach, Anderson needs to make a statement, and preferably one stronger than that of his predecessor, Steve Patterson. While Patterson might have been the driving force behind the hiring of football coach Todd Graham, his only major hire as VP of Athletics was Craig Nicholson, a somewhat surprising hire at the time who failed to impress in his first year at the helm of what was the nation's premier (or so we thought) softball program.

Anderson has said all of the right things so far. "We want to be at a higher level," he said after Esmay's resignation. "We expect to be at a higher level and we should be at a higher level."

He's right. Sun Devil baseball and championships are synonymous. The program is one of the three greatest in NCAA Division I history, along with USC and Texas. Barry Bonds and Reggie Jackson once donned a Sun Devil uniform. The program has only had four head coaches. Heck, Ken Knutson has been the pitching coach for six years. The same Ken Knutson who spent 17 seasons at the helm of the Washington Huskies baseball program, and who could have surely taken another head coaching job somewhere else by now.

That's what Arizona State baseball does to people: It makes them want to stay. When someone leaves the Sun Devils for greener pastures, you better believe they looked hard and long to make sure those pastures weren't mirages.

But while some have mentioned Knutson's name as a possible replacement, including House of Sparky's Justin Emerson, that's not the direction Anderson should go. Not if he's holding true to his statements from last week.

"It is going to be an exhaustive search and quite frankly, it is not going to be limited," Anderson said. "We won't necessarily be limited to looking at current collegiate coaches. We think this is one of the top four or five elite programs in the nation for college baseball."

If Anderson really wanted to make a splash, he'd pick up the phone and call Barry Bonds.

Wait, what? No, that wasn't a mistake. Bonds, baseball's all-time leading home run hitter, is the greatest player to ever step on the field at Packard Stadium. Did he use performance-enhancing drugs? At this point, it's probably safe to assume so, but there was also a point where Bonds was not "juicing" and during that time he was still one of the best all-around players in the game.

Could you imagine if Anderson, whose background in the NFL has certainly taught him a thing or two about performance-enhancing drugs, could convince Bonds that now is the time to come clean and start fresh?

It worked for Mark McGwire, the Los Angeles Dodgers batting coach who is well on his way to becoming a manager. It would work for Bonds, too.

He'd have to answer a lot of questions and swallow a lot of his pride, but if Bonds could put his ego aside, his knowledge of the game and familiarity with Sun Devil baseball would surely be beneficial to the program. What better way to start fresh for everyone, with the Sun Devils in a new stadium and Barry Bonds finally being able to wipe his slate clean, and instead give back to younger players by teaching them the right way to play the game, and educating them about how not to give into the pressures of being a star?

Don't like that idea? Then you'll probably disagree with this one, too: Hire Pat Murphy.

The former Sun Devil skipper is wasting away at Triple-A El Paso right now. He was a recruiting savant and his teams were often dominant.

Murphy was unfairly forced to resign in 2009 because of NCAA investigations into the improper employment and recruiting of players. But Murphy was never actually found guilty of anything, and the postseason ban later handed out to the baseball program was due to a lack of institutional control.

In other words, the NCAA really couldn't find anything, and because of that, had to save face and penalize Sun Devil baseball.

Every great college coach pushes the limits in recruiting; it's the nature of the beast. But if Bruce Pearl can return to a basketball court, Pat Murphy should be back on the diamond.

His four College World Series appearances speak for themselves, as do his 629 wins at Arizona State. He won 318 games at Notre Dame and was named Baseball America's Coach of the Year in 1998. The man loved Arizona State, and Sun Devil players loved him.

UCLA coach John Savage might consider taking the job, Grand Canyon coach Andy Stankiewicz is the local favorite with strong ties to the program, and UC Santa Barbara coach Andrew Checketts is the next big thing.

None of them are Murphy.

If Ray Anderson wants to make a statement, he needs to turn heads. He needs to prove that this job isn't too big for him; that he's not going to sit around and let Arizona State continue to be merely good at athletics when it should be great.

Show us what you're made of, Ray. Swing for the fences.