The sudden rise of the Iowa baseball program isn’t so sudden to Jack Dahm.
I know that for a fact because he made the prediction shortly after being fired as the Iowa baseball coach in May 2013 that his replacement would be successful.
Dahm, who is now the head baseball coach at Mount Mercy in Cedar Rapids, told me over the phone two years ago that the Iowa roster was filled with a diverse collection of young talent that was poised to make a breakthrough. He felt the program was on the verge of doing something special and would regret not being a part of it.
Dahm was right in both cases.
The Iowa baseball team, under second-year coach Rick Heller, is doing something special, with records of 34-12 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten.
A bulk of the roster is players that Dahm recruited near the end of his 10-year coaching reign at Iowa. He still feels a connection to the team, but it’s not easy watching somebody else reap the benefits.
“I knew that the program was in very good shape with the returning players,” Dahm said Wednesday. “You just go around that lineup and all those guys played as freshmen. It’s a very experienced lineup. It’s a very athletic lineup with some very good arms.
“And Rick has done a good job of filling in with some other players and done a great job developing the guys. So I’m very happy for the players. It’s a little bittersweet, of course. I wish I was a part of the success that they’re having. But you know what? If they wouldn’t have made the move, they might not have been having this success.”
If Dahm harbors any bitterness about how things ended at Iowa, or towards Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta, he hides it well.
Dahm wishes he would’ve had better facilities while coaching at Iowa, but that seems to be his only gripe two years later.
“It’s just tremendous what’s going on with the Iowa baseball program,” Dahm said. “What I had mapped out for the program is happening right now. The plans that I had given to Gary for numerous years is exactly what they’re doing right now. And good for them.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t benefit from it. But the good thing is my players are benefiting from it.”
Dahm called his dismissal from Iowa an eye-opening experience for UI athletic officials. He said they knew after letting him go that a stronger commitment was needed in order for the baseball program to succeed.
“When they let me go, they knew that they needed to kick it up,” Dahm said of UI athletic officials.
Part of the kick-up was paying Heller, who has annual salary of $142,500, about $40,000 more in annual salary than what Dahm earned at Iowa. The facilities also have been upgraded since Dahm left, highlighted by the new turf field and a giant video board in the outfield. The former weight room for the Iowa football team also has been converted to an indoor hitting facility. That was made possible when the football team moved to its new operations facility.
“We had no batting cages, we had nowhere to hit,” Dahm said. “My last year there we had an entire week where we couldn’t practice because we had nowhere to hit.
“And now they’ve got indoor cages. They’ve got two indoor facilities.”
Heller deserves credit for taking the talent that he inherited from Dahm and mixing it with several junior-college recruits, most notably, ace pitcher Tyler Peyton, who also excels as a hitter. Most of Iowa’s starters who currently are juniors and seniors have played extensively since they were freshmen and sophomores under Dahm. They took their lumps under Dahm, but also grew from the experience.
“They developed without a doubt,” Dahm said of the veteran players that he recruited, which includes senior second baseman Jake Mangler, senior center fielder Eric Toole and senior utility player Kris Goodman among others. “And I think there is a lot to it. Rick Heller is doing a tremendous job. Rick is a great developer of talent.
“But it’s very rare that you have that many guys that have been starting as freshmen, with the amount of games and experience that they have.”
Dahm speaks fondly of Heller and his praise seems genuine.
“I’ve always respected the way he goes about his business, Dahm said.
It would be hard not to respect Heller’s approach to coaching and the results that have come with it. Before coming to Iowa, Heller was the head coach at Indiana State, Northern Iowa and his alma mater, Upper Iowa. He was successful at all three schools.
Dahm, who also works as a baseball analyst for the Big Ten Network, speaks with Heller at least once a month. He will call Heller before doing a game with the Big Ten Network in order to get a feel for the Big Ten climate. Dahm also makes it point to contact Heller after big wins, usually by sending him a text message.
“It’s very impressive what they’re doing and how quickly they’re doing it,” Dahm said of the Hawkeyes, who will play their final home series against Minnesota beginning on Friday. “There is definitely a respect between us.”
Dahm was working at Randy’s Carpets in Coralville, and as an individual baseball instructor, when he was offered the opportunity to be a baseball analyst for the Big Ten Network.
His experience with the Big Ten Network rekindled Dahm’s passion for coaching.
“Once I started doing the Big Ten Network stuff a year ago I kind of got the bug to get back around college baseball,” Dahm said.
Dahm was contacted by what he said were two smaller Division I baseball programs during the year he was out of coaching. One of the programs, according to Dahm, went as far as to offer him its head coaching job. But Dahm’s desire to stay in Iowa City, mostly for the benefit of his three children, was too strong.
Its location in Cedar Rapids is one of the reasons the Mount Mercy coaching position appealed to Dahm. He was hired last June and he recently finished his first season as head coach, leading the Mustangs to a 19-25 record. Mount Mercy had only won 12 games in each of the previous two seasons before Dahm was hired last June.
“It worked out good where I didn’t have to move,” said Dahm, who also is in charge of athletic fundraising at Mount Mercy. “We just didn’t want to move.
“So it worked out good where I can be in coaching, fundraising, I’m still doing my Big Ten Network stuff, I’m still doing my private lessons in North Liberty. So I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.”
Because of his coaching responsibilities, Dahm hasn’t worked as many games for the Big Ten Network this season compared to a year ago. But he still covets his job as a color analyst.
“It’s fun to be able to still be a part of the Big Ten Conference and keep track and talk to the coaches,” Dahm said. “It’s been a neat experience.”
Dahm was the head coach at Iowa for 10 seasons from 2004-13. The Hawkeyes qualified for the Big Ten Tournament three times under Dahm, finishing second in 2010. It was their highest finish in the tournament since 1982.
Dahm didn’t win enough game to keep his job at Iowa. But he has won the hearts of many people in this community with his kindness and compassion. The family of Austin Schroeder certainly would agree with that.
Austin died last week at the age of 15 from brain cancer, but he touched so many people along the way, including Dahm’s family.
Dahm had told Austin that he wanted to coach him in college, so Dahm made it happen one day in March. He had Austin, who was an avid baseball player, sign a letter of intent with Mount Mercy during a touching ceremony.
“When I told him you’re going to play for me some day, when I said that I think he was real excited because he thought I was going to be at Iowa,” Dahm said of Austin, who lived in Coralville. “But he ended up signing a national letter of intent with Mount Mercy.
“It was good to know that we made him smile a little bit. I learned a lot from Austin.”
We all could learn a lot from Jack Dahm, mostly that a person isn’t defined by just wins and losses.