Dick Cooke, Davidson Wildcats Baseball

Davidson Wildcats baseball

Dick Cooke is in his 28th year as head coach of the Davidson Wildcats baseball program for the 2018 season and has also served as the Senior Men’s Administrator for the past 12 years. Cooke led the charge as the Wildcats shifted from the Southern Conference to the Atlantic 10, where the program has seen rapidly improving success each season.

Cooke, the winningest coach in Davidson Wildcats baseball history, is the only skipper to win 20 or more games in four consecutive seasons, which he has done on two separate occasions (1991-1994) (2014-2017). He also served a three-year stint as chair of the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee.

Twelve of Cooke’s players have been selected in the Major League Baseball Draft during his tenure, with another four by way of free agent contracts.

Atlantic 10 Success
The Davidson Wildcats have participated in the Atlantic 10 Tournament every season since joining the league in 2015, and have recorded four consecutive seasons of 28 wins or better. In the inaugural season, the squad earned the No. 4 seed after a 28-22 (14-10 A-10) record, where the team fell in the semifinals.

The Davidson Wildcats had their most successful season in program history in 2017, capped off by Cooke earning Regional Coach of the Year honors. The team won their first conference title in the program’s 115-year existence with a school record 35 wins, and went on to become just the second number four seed to ever sweep a NCAA Regional. Cooke’s tutelage helped lead outfielder Will Robertson to become the most decorated player in school  history, earning four All-America honors, being named a NCAA Breakout Player of the Year finalist, and being taken by the Baltimore Orioles in the 30th round of the MLB Draft. Cooke’s pitching expertise also helped senior hurler Durin O’Linger rise to fame, who threw over 500 pitches in the postseason in his determination to help his team succeed and became a legend amongst Davidson faithful. O’Linger signed a free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox and was promoted to High-A just a few weeks into his professional debut.

The 2016 campaign marked a historic season for the ‘Cats, where the team became the first No. 6 seed to ever compete for the A-10 title. Friday night ace Clark Beeker was selected in the 33rd round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins after earning All-Conference honors and finishing his career ranked third all-time with 21 wins.

SoCon Era
Cooke’s most successful season in the Southern Conference came during his final year, when the ‘Cats set a then-program record for 29 wins and SoCon wins (17). Six players were named to the All-Southern Conference teams, highlighted by position player Forrest Brandt earning Co-Player of the Year honors. Cooke was named SoCon Coach of the Year for his efforts.

This plaudit came after one of the most challenging times of Cooke’s career, when his vehicle was struck by a drunk driver in September of 2012. The recovery is still ongoing, but Cooke was able to return to the team for the 2013 season, where he was a recipient of the CollegeBaseballInsider.com’s Tom Walter Inspiration Award.

Cooke was building a team for success for many seasons, highlighted by feats such as the school’s sixth no-hitter ever, near upsets of multiple Top 10 ranked opponents. Brandt was also named a Freshman All-American during his rookie campaign.

In 2005, Cooke oversaw one of the country’s most prolific offenses as the Wildcats ranked in the Top 10 nationally in batting average, home runs per game, doubles per game, and slugging percentage. Jay Heafner turned in the country’s second-best batting average at .448 as he too gained All-America status and was taken in the MLB Draft. In fact, Heafner was the fourth Wildcat in five years to be chosen during the draft.

Big South, Belmont Abbey, and Richmond Eras
Cooke was named Big South Coach of the Year in 1992 in just his second season at the helm of the program, where Davidson tied the then-school record for wins at 28.

Prior to taking over the reigns at Davidson, Cooke served as the head coach and assistant athletic director at Belmont Abbey in Belmont, N.C. He was responsible for reinstituting the baseball program following a 17-year hiatus from varsity competition.

Before becoming a Crusader, Cooke was an assistant for five seasons at his alma mater, the University of Richmond. He graduated in 1978 with a degree in journalism and was a three-year letterman for the Spiders. During his senior year, the southpaw went 6-3 with a 2.80 ERA and 73 strikeouts across 68 innings.

Cooke spent three seasons in the Boston Red Sox organization, reaching as high as Triple-A and serving as a senior player-coach in 1981 in the Florida State League.

USA Baseball
Cooke served on seven different staffs with USA Baseball. He first joined the staff of Team USA for the Pan American Games in 1999, where the U.S. earned the silver medal and subsequently qualified for the 2000 Summer Olympics. In 2003, he oversaw Team USA’s pitching staff, where the Americans posted a record-setting 1.29 ERA with 13 shutouts as the team reeled off 25 consecutive wins.

Cooke then served on the Olympic-qualifying team staff as an auxiliary coach in 2003 and 2006 where the U.S. beat the host squad Cuba in the gold medal game to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. In November of 2007, he again served as an auxiliary coach, helping lead Team USA to a 6-3 win over Cuba in Taipei City to win the IBAF World Cup for the first time since 1974.

About the author, Bill

Bill Ballew has been involved with collegiate and professional baseball since 1983. He has been the Atlanta correspondent for Baseball America since 1991 and has served as the editorial content manager for Baseball The Magazine for more than five years. He is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).