Record of excellence
Van Horn 2 shy of 500th victory with Hogs
TOM MURPHY ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Dave Van Horn glance AGE 54 (born Sept. 17, 1960) HOMETOWN Kansas City, Mo. FAMILY Wife: Karen. Daughters: Hollan and Mariel CAREER RECORD 1,083-524 (.674) in 27th year ARKANSAS RECORD 498-284 (.637) in 13th year COACHING CAREER Arkansas graduate assistant 1985-88, Texarkana Community College 1989-93, Central Missouri State 1994, Northwestern (La.) State 1995-97, Nebraska 1998-2002, Arkansas 2003-2015 NOTEWORTHY Led Nebraska to College World Series in 2001 and 2002 and led Arkansas to the College World Series in 2004, 2009 and 2012. … NCAA Division II coach of the year in 1994 after leading Central Missouri State to the Division II national title. FAYETTEVILLE — Coach Dave Van Horn is two victories away from his 500th victory at Arkansas, but in some ways the milestone accomplishment is just another number in the middle of an SEC season that is developing as his most trying with the Razorbacks. Asked Wednesday how it felt to be “on the brink of 500” in his 13th season at Arkansas, Van Horn launched into a three-minute analysis on how the Razorbacks are 14-14 at this stage of the college baseball season. A break-even record would be a new low point for Van Horn, who has 1,083 career victories, a career winning percentage of .674 and a personal streak of 16 consecutive appearances in the NCAA regionals. His worst record at Arkansas has been 10 games above .500 (34-24) in 2008, and the closest he’s come to a losing record in 26 seasons as a head coach is a 24-20 mark in his first season at Nebraska in 1998. The man who has led Arkansas to three College World Series appearances as a head coach and one as an assistant coach is as feisty and as blunt
as he’s ever been when discussing what’s left for his current club. “We still have 21 conference games left and five or six nonconference,” he said. “We probably have to win about half of those conference games at a minimum and most of those nonconference games and find a way to get in that [NCAA] tournament. “I’ve seen it where just all of a sudden the light comes on and you get on a streak, win five or six games in a row, even in league play, and it could really flip-flop you. We’re in the middle of the pack, lower-middle, but if we could win a couple of series in a row we could pull ourselves out of it.” Van Horn, 54, laughed when the reporter clarified that he was asking about nearing 500 victories at Arkansas, not his team’s winning percentage heading into its SEC series this weekend at Auburn, Ala. “That just shows you where my mind is,” Van Horn said. “Five hundred wins, that’s great. It’s not about, and it’s never been about me. Maybe as a young coach, you maybe have an ego. But as a coach that’s been around, it’s really about the players and playing well and winning the number of games that you need so your team can advance.” After a few moments of further reflection, Van Horn continued. “I am proud of the fact we’re going to win 500 here, and hopefully 600 and 700,” he said. “But it’s attributed to a lot of things, and it really has to do with having players that show up every day and play hard and having good coaches that work hard and bring in good players and coach them up.” TURNED AWAY Van Horn was essentially hand-picked by one of his mentors, Arkansas coaching legend Norm DeBriyn, to succeed him in 2003. But the De-Briyn-Van Horn connection almost never happened after the Razorbacks jilted Van Horn during his senior year at Winnetonka High School in Kansas City, Mo., in 1979. DeBriyn and his staff signed another infielder from Missouri that year, Chris Shaddy of Carthage, who would go on to play on the Class AAA level in the professional rank and whose son, Carson, is a redshirt freshman on the current roster. “We could have gotten him out of high school and didn’t take him,” said DeBriyn, who now serves as an associate director of the Razorback Foundation. “I was disappointed,” Van Horn said. “For some reason, I always liked Arkansas. I can remember my senior year in high school, whenever I wore a hat, it was an Arkansas hat. People are always going, ‘You like Arkansas?’ Yeah, I like Arkansas. “I was from Kansas City and I wasn’t a Missouri Tiger, wasn’t a KU, K-State, Oklahoma guy. It was Arkansas, straight south.” Van Horn could have signed with Wichita State or Kansas or other local schools for the 1980 season, but he went to McLennan (Texas) Community College for two seasons where he became an All-American and played twice in the NJCAA World Series. When it was time for Van Horn to pick his major college destination in 1982, his list of suitors had grown significantly. Texas A&M was in the lead for his signature before Arkansas re-emerged. Van Horn, a tenacious infielder, went on to become the team MVP and the Southwest Conference’s newcomer of the year in his lone season at Arkansas before being chosen by the Atlanta Braves in the 10th round of the major league draft. “I was so fortunate that he wanted to be a Razorback or we would have lost him,” De-Briyn said. ‘I WAS HOOKED’ Van Horn played in the Braves organization from the summer of 1982 into the 1984 season. He said he realized that he wouldn’t make it to the big leagues when he rounded the corner of a building one day and saw the heavily muscled Ron Gant, whom the Braves were trying to turn into an infielder. Van Horn remembers a phone call with DeBriyn at the time in which he told his former coach, “I’m not a bigleaguer. I’m not big enough, strong enough, like these guys.” DeBriyn offered the 24-year-old Van Horn some advice. “He said, ‘You need to coach. Time goes by fast,’ ” Van Horn recalled. “I’ll never forget Norm saying that.” Van Horn still needed to earn his degree, so he returned to Kansas City to take a couple of classes that fall and then started a four-year run at Arkansas as an undergraduate assistant and then as a graduate assistant the following semester. DeBriyn turned the infielders over to Van Horn in 1985, a season in which the Razorbacks advanced to the College World Series, and let him scout and recruit, which was allowed by the NCAA at the time. “I got to go on the road, get meal money, used my own car … and I was hooked,” Van Horn said. “I said, ‘This is what I want to do the rest of my life.’ ” Van Horn took a gamble by accepting the head coaching position at Texarkana Community College in 1989 at the age of 28, but the move eventually paid off. After five seasons there, one at Central Missouri State and three at Northwestern (La.) State, he hit the big time by landing the head coaching position at Nebraska. After leading the Cornhuskers to back-to-back College World Series — the first CWS berths in school history — in his fourth and fifth seasons, DeBriyn came calling again and Van Horn was eager to listen. Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Byrne, who hired Van Horn in 1998, wasn’t prepared to let him slip away easily. “When I got back from my trip here, Bill Byrne and I met in his office and he had a big packet,” Van Horn said. “He goes, ‘I’ve got something for you. You need to look at this before you make any decisions.’ ” Van Horn said he slid the package back across the table, unopened, with a simple reply: “I’m going to Arkansas.” “That was tough,” Van Horn said. “I felt like I was letting Nebraska down and I was letting Bill Byrne down, but in the same sense, I wanted to coach in the SEC and I wanted to coach at Arkansas.” IN THE NOW Van Horn is determined to find the right buttons to push that will guide his 14-14 team back into a contending spot in the SEC West and into the program’s 13th consecutive NCAA regional under his guidance. “This has been the most challenging year ever for me,” he said. “I think I’m learning a lot about myself, trying to stay patient and trying to just do the right thing and get it right the rest of the year and get it right for next year.” Several upperclassmen talked Wednesday about their reasons for coming to play for Van Horn. Senior outf ielder Joe Serrano came to an Arkansas baseball camp as a high school sophomore from Tucson, Ariz., and was determined to get back to Fayetteville to spend his college days. “It’s been the best four years of my life,” he said. Van Horn “knows a lot about the game. Some people might doubt his philosophies on hitting or fielding or base running or whatever, but at the end of the day he has the record to prove it. “Honestly, he’s almost like a Norm DeBriyn icon in Arkansas.” Junior pitcher Trey Killian said he learned a lot more about Van Horn last summer when he pitched on the USA Collegiate National team for which Van Horn served as manager. “It was good for me and him,” Killian said. “We grew closer and you can’t replace that, playing for a coach that you like and you’re close to and you know they care for you and you can actually have a conversation with him outside the realm of baseball.” Senior infielder Michael Bernal, a junior college signee last year, said Van Horn’s presence was a big factor in his signing with the Razorbacks. “He wins,” Bernal said. “That’s something I wanted to be a part of, somebody who knows how to win and who is very competitive. I feel like the way I play the game is sort of the same way he coaches the game: Play hard and get after it. That’s something that definitely attracted me.” Van Horn’s affection for Arkansas has worked out well for both parties. “I was just called to come here, I feel like,” he said. “It’s been good.” Closing in on No. 500 Dave Van Horn, who is in his 13th season as Arkansas’ baseball coach, is two victories shy of 500 with the Razorbacks. Overall, he has coached 27 seasons five schools: SEASON SCHOOL RECORD POSTSEASON 1989 Texarkana CC 39-18 — 1990 Texarkana CC 44-14 — 1991 Texarkana CC 45-12 — 1992 Texarkana CC 48-10 — 1993 Texarkana CC 38-18 — TOTALS 214-72 (.748) 1994 Central Missouri State 51-11 NCAA Division II national champion TOTALS 51-11 (.823) 1995 Northwestern (La.) State 37-15 — 1996 Northwestern (La.) State 34-27 — 1997 Northwestern (La.) State 35-23 — TOTALS 106-65 (.620) 1998 Nebraska 24-20 — 1999 Nebraska 42-18 NCAA 1-2 2000 Nebraska 51-17 NCAA 4-2 2001 Nebraska 50-16 College World Series 5-2 2002 Nebraska 47-21 College World Series 5-3 TOTALS 214-92 (.699) 2003 Arkansas 35-22 NCAA 1-2 2004 Arkansas 45-24 College World Series 6-3 2005 Arkansas 39-22 NCAA 2-2 2006 Arkansas 39-21 NCAA 1-2 2007 Arkansas 43-21 NCAA 2-2 2008 Arkansas 34-24 NCAA 0-2 2009 Arkansas 41-24 College World Series 7-2 2010 Arkansas 43-21 NCAA 3-3 2011 Arkansas 40-22 NCAA 2-2 2012 Arkansas 46-22 College World Series 7-3 2013 Arkansas 39-22 NCAA 2-2 2014 Arkansas 40-25 NCAA 2-2 2015 Arkansas 14-14 — TOTALS 498-284 (.637) CAREER TOTALS 1,083-524 (.674)
NWA Democrat-Gazette/MICHAEL WOODS Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn, on the cusp of 500 victories in his 13th season with the Razorbacks, said the team is one good winning streak from turning around its season. Through Tuesday night’s loss to Missouri State, the Razorbacks are 14-14 overall and 3-6 in the SEC.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Norm DeBriyn (center), Arkansas’ baseball coach from 1970-2002, handpicked Dave Van Horn (right) to be his successor. In 13 years as the Razorbacks’ coach, Van Horn has collected 498 victories.