Wright State athletic director Bob Grant made it clear with just two words how much consideration he gave to looking outside of what has become one of the top mid-major baseball programs in the country to find a replacement for Greg Lovelady:
“None whatsoever,” Grant said Wednesday afternoon, shortly after announcing former assistant Jeff Mercer would be promoted to head coach after Lovelady left to take the job at Central Florida.
“That’s what’s so nice about having a staff like baseball has, these kind of things tend to be a no-brainer for me,” Grant said. “We’ve had, and in this program especially, great success doing this. I had as much pause in naming Jeff as I had in naming Greg three years ago. And that ended up being a tremendous scenario for us.”
Lovelady was a WSU assistant for nine years when he replaced Rob Cooper in 2013, at which point he hired Mercer, who played for the Raiders in 2008 and 2009, as one of his assistants.
Wednesday’s announcement makes Mercer the first Wright State graduate to lead the program.
“Coach (Ron) Nischwitz, Coach Cooper and Coach Lovelady have created the foundation of success at Wright State, and I am humbled to follow in their footsteps,” Mercer said. “As a Wright State alum myself, my time as a player and assistant coach have been the best experiences of my life. The incredible love and support of the entire Wright State community has always made this a very special place to me.
“As the head coach, I can ensure I will pour my heart and soul into leading this program at the extremely high standard it’s accustomed to,” Mercer added.
A two-time first-team all-conference selection and the HL player of the year as a senior, Mercer has served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator the last three years, making him largely responsible for compiling a program that has gone to back-to-back NCAA regional finals while winning a school-record 46 games in 2016.
Under Mercer’s tutelage, Wright State hitters led the HL in hits, walks, runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, triples, home runs, sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies and hit batsmen last year.
“Jeff is a tireless worker and recruiter, a tremendous leader and motivator, and someone the kids can look up to and emulate,” Lovelady said. “It was a hard decision to leave a program that I had put so much sweat into, and I feel a whole lot better knowing he will be in charge. I’m positive he will take good care of these wonderful kids and continue to elevate this great program.”
Prior to returning to WSU, Mercer was a volunteer assistant at Western Kentucky for two seasons and at the University of Michigan for one after working as a graduate assistant at Ohio Northern for one season.
“It can be difficult to slide from the assistant chair to the head chair,” Grant said. “It is a lot of times the longest 30 inches in our business. But Mercer is wired a lot like Lovelady. He’s a passionate guy. He’s a baseball man through and through. He’s a guy of great integrity. And he’s part of the Raider family like no other coach in our history.
“Jeff’s able to sit in a living room with a prospective student athlete and their parents and say I’ve played baseball at Wright State and I’ve played other places and I’ve coached at Wright State and I’ve also coached at other places and this is a special place with a unique culture and really, really great baseball situation,” Grant continued. “That comes with a lot of credibility because he’s not just saying it, he’s lived it.”
Parker is heading to UCF with Lovelady, so Mercer will have at least two assistant positions to fill, and he said he’s eager to get started.
“We will compile an excellent coaching staff and continue to recruit high-level student-athletes who will be great representatives of our university,” Mercer said. “I’m very excited about this opportunity as we continue elevating the tradition of the RaiderGang.”