MATTOON — The winningest coach in Eastern Illinois University baseball history, Jimmy Schmitz, has been hired by the Mattoon School Board as the Green Wave's new baseball coach.
Schmitz replaces Mark Jackley, who was the winningest coach in Mattoon history, going 679-273-4 in 29 years. Jackley retired after never having a season below .500 and coached the Green Wave to 12 regional championships, two sectional titles and a fourth-place finish in Class AA under the two-class system in 1997.
"We feel at this time where we are at that Jimmy will bring a lot of knowledge to the kids," said Mattoon Athletics Director David Vieth. "He has been around here for a long time."
The last time Schmitz, whose contract was not renewed at EIU, coached for the Panthers was May 23, 2015 in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in a 13-2 loss to Jacksonville State. Since then, he has held pitching and hitting camps at Mattoon and Charleston for first- through eighth-graders.
"I was substitute teaching at Mattoon and was asked if I would be interested in being the new baseball coach," said Schmitz. "I gave it some serious thought and talked to my wife about it. The reality is that I love the game of baseball and I love to coach players and be involved in the team things. That is what I miss more than anything — putting the team together.
"We have had a couple of offers to move, but we have tried to stay here. We have one daughter in Chicago and one in St. Louis and another one here. This area has been a great stop for us family wise. We have been here 24 years, and I had other opportunities, but they would have been 12-18 hours from the kids. I am lucky that this opportunity came about, and I want to have a lot of fun with it. If you do that, normally you are pretty successful."
Schmitz was 533-581-1 (.478) in 21 seasons at EIU, including Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championships and NCAA tournament berths in 1999 and 2008. Schmitz, who also has the most losses in EIU history, earned OVC Coach of the Year three times. The 1979 Wilmington College graduate was a three-time NAIA District 22 shortstop. He coached at Wilmington from 1984-86, going 61-60, including a school win record of 25-20 and reaching the NAIA. From 1987-1990, he went 103-101 at Cincinnati, including a then-school-record 31 wins (31-21 in 1987). All totaled in 28 years, he is 697-742-1.
Schmitz has met with Jackley.
"He's a very classy guy and he has helped me out," said Schmitz. "Obviously, I can look at the stats, but I just want to go and see them in action. He has put championship programs in front of Mattoon baseball. He has won so much. I am going to a place where they take their baseball seriously, and it is a pretty good opportunity here."
Both Schmitz and Vieth, a former baseball coach at Nashville who guided the Hornets to a fourth-place finish in Class A in the two-class system in 1993, know there is a difference between college and high school baseball.
"It is still teaching the kids, but it will be different than what he is used to," said Vieth. "He won't be recruiting and the college game is faster than the high school game. I am really looking forward to seeing what the future brings to us."
Mattoon was 23-9 overall and 8-4 in the Apollo Conference, good for third place last spring. The Green Wave lost three seniors due to graduation, including first-team all-Apollo Conference player Garrette Branson. Among the returning players could be first-team players Jackson Nichols and Jacob Spitz.
"The game is slower at the high school level," said Schmitz. "I have to understand what I am doing in terms of development. The expectations are the same as they have been here. It is a matter of understanding the game. Even at Eastern, you had freshmen who could not do what juniors could do. I can get the junior to do something that a freshman can't do. You have to create a development chart for every player you are working with, and that's the expectation a coach has to have."
In lessons Schmitz has given, he sees the smile on the kids' faces when they get the lesson.
"I enjoy watching players develop as you help them develop," said Schmitz, who becomes the third coach in Mattoon baseball in over 45 years. "I miss that smile on the face of players when you know they get it."