Rick O’ Dette won nearly 500 games coaching baseball in the Midwest — now he’s looking for similar results down south in Pasco County.
O’ Dette, who coached at Division II Saint Joseph’s College of Indiana for 17 seasons, was named Saint Leo University’s new baseball coach on June 15.
He replaces Saint Leo alumnus Sean O’ Connor, who surprisingly was let go after a 23-26 record in 2017 — his first losing campaign in five seasons (155-90-1 record).
O’ Dette, 41, most recently steered Saint Joseph’s to a 35-22 record and the program’s fourth berth in the NCAA Midwest Regional — despite the knowledge that the university would be suspending all operations following the 2016-2017 academic year.
The achievement earned him Great Lakes Valley Conference’s 2017 Coach of the Year. He also was selected as HERO Sports Division II Coach of the Year by a fan poll.
Other college programs expressed interest in his services, but O’ Dette picked Saint Leo, calling it a “hidden gem” among the Division II baseball ranks.
Besides the sunny Florida climate, O’ Dette pointed to Saint Leo’s conference affiliation (the highly competitive Sunshine State Conference), the university’s facilities and resources, and its academic reputation as key reasons the gig is so attractive.
“I thought it was an extremely appealing place…that we could win, and win at a high level,” he said.
He’s done plenty of that.
At Saint Joseph’s College, O’ Dette amassed a 494-407-4 overall record.
In fact, he will begin his first season in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) ranked fourth among active SSC head coaches in total wins behind University of Tampa’s Joe Urso (744), Rollins College’s Jon Sjogren (680), and Barry University’s Juan Ranero (542).
Throughout his 17-year ledger at Saint Joseph’s, O’ Dette coached 56 All-GLVC (Great Lakes Valley Conference) selections, 25 All-Region honorees and four Division II All-Americans.
Moreover, 24 of his players have gone on to play professional baseball, including eight who were drafted or signed as free agents by Major League Baseball teams.
Victories on the diamond aren’t the only hallmark of O’ Dette’s squads.
His players also are known for their classroom success.
Every baseball student-athlete that exhausted his eligibility — during O’ Dette’s tenure at Saint Joseph’s College — has earned a degree.
Additionally, 84 players have earned GLVC Academic All-Conference honors during O’ Dette’s time at the helm of Puma baseball. His most recent squad finished the academic year with a 3.38 team grade point average.
It’s a trend he plans to continue at Saint Leo.
“We want to make sure they’re well-rounded,” O’ Dette said. “It’s just not going to be majoring in baseball, they’re going to have to do something when baseball is over.”
He continued: “We have to recruit the right students. If we’re chasing that guy to go to class, we’re wasting time.”
O’ Dette, meanwhile, can best be described as a baseball lifer.
He was a 15th round pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 1997 MLB First-Year Player Draft, and played at four different levels within the Red Sox organization, until injuries halted his career.
He began his coaching career at 23 years old, almost immediately after his playing days ended.
O’ Dette worked as a professional instructor for Championship Sports Academy in Tinley Park, Illinois, as well as the Chicago White Sox Training Center. He spent two summers as the head coach for the Upper Deck Cougars Baseball Organization out of Palos, Illinois, guiding the club to consecutive fourth place finishes at the World Championships.
O’ Dette also spent the 1999-2000 academic year as the pitching coach for Andrean High School in Merrillville, Indiana.
In a release, Saint Leo athletic director Francis X. Reidy said O’ Dette “was exactly the type of coach we were looking for” in the hiring search.
“He has proven his ability to develop a program built on academic success, athletic excellence and a commitment to the Division II ideal, and I am confident he will bring Saint Leo baseball back to the upper echelon of Sunshine State Conference baseball,” Reidy said.
Additionally, several of O’ Dette’s former players expressed support for the hire on Facebook and Twitter, while fans and alums of Saint Joseph’s College lauded his coaching acumen.
The hire also received support from industry leaders in the sport, including University of Illinois head baseball coach Dan Hartleb, the 2015 Big Ten Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year finalist.
“Rick O’ Dette is an outstanding hire for Saint Leo. He’s one of the most respected recruiters in the Midwest and Chicagoland area,” Hartleb said, in a statement.
“He is a tireless worker, develops great relationships with players, with people in the community and from a recruiting standpoint. Rick will develop the same type of recruiting relationships and reputation in Florida in a short amount of time. Rick will do whatever it takes to ethically build Saint Leo’s program into a national contender.”
Interestingly, O’ Dette isn’t the first ball coach to make the trek from Rensselaer, Indiana, to east Pasco County.
Academy at the Lakes varsity softball coach Diane Stephenson worked for Saint Joseph’s College in 2014 and 2015. She was hired by Academy at the Lakes in July 2016, and last season she led the private school to a 20-3 mark and the Class 2A regional finals.
Published June 28, 2017