NMJC Head Baseball Coach Leaving, Assistant Coach Recommended for Replacement
7/24/2008 8:52:11 a.m. - Hobbs, NM. It's official. New Mexico Junior College Head Baseball Coach Cory Hall is heading for a new position at Western Texas A & M University this fall -- and Assistant Coach Josh Simpson has been recommended to replace him in leading the Thunderbird program.
Hall, who has served as head coach at NMJC since Ray Birmingham's departure to UNM in 2007, has decided to accept the head assistant coaching position at WTAMU, a NCAA Division II school. There, he will once again partner with Matt Vanderburg, who was hired as Head Coach in May. Under Hall's guidance in 2004-2005, the two had coached Clarendon College to its first national ranking in school history.
At NMJC, Hall led the T-Birds to their fourth consecutive Western Junior College Athletic Conference title in 2008 with a 45-11 overall record -- 26-2 in conference. The season ended at the Region V Tournament in Lubbock, Texas, when tournament officials stopped the game after a fight broke out between the Thunderbirds and Weatherford College. Both teams were eliminated from the tournament and received sanctions including a ban from postseason play in 2009 and a shortened regular and fall season.
Offered the position at WTAMU even before the regional tournament, Hall discussed the possibility with NMJC's Athletic Director, Don Worth. The opportunity to be closer to his family, especially his grandparents, who raised him, was something Hall had contemplated for some time. "From one standpoint, working under Don Worth and Steve McCleery has been the best working environment imaginable. But the opportunity to get closer to home, that's something that's been weighing heavy on my heart for three or four years now," he said. "The older I get, the more I want to go home. My grandparents are getting up there in age, and it's an opportunity to be with them when I can or whenever they need me."
Worth fully understands. "We really appreciate the time and effort he's given this college and Thunderbird baseball, and that's why I hate that we're going to lose him," he said. "Not only as a coach, but as a friend and colleague. This is bittersweet, but he has an opportunity that he's chosen to take, and we wish him nothing but the best."
Pending Board approval, Simpson, 28, will step in as head coach. Having played baseball for El Paso Community College, Simpson said all he heard there was, "NMJC, NMJC, NMJC," referring to the T-Birds' reputation as the team to beat. During 2005, his first year in coaching, Simpson assisted Lamar Community College to a Region IX championship and a 51-11 record. In 2006, he was a volunteer coach at the University of New Mexico, and in 2007, he served as the hitting coach at Central Arizona College, helping them to a Region I championship. Last season, Simpson was hired as NMJC's hitting coach and recruiting coordinator.
For Simpson, the transition from highly successful assistant to head coach is an opportunity to prove himself. "It's a big deal for me," the Las Cruces native said. "My family's really excited, and I can't wait for the season to start."
If he's approved for the position, he may have his share of obstacles to overcome, what with a year of sanctions ahead. But neither he nor Hall foresees any major problems. With every freshman except one returning, NMJC will still be a force to reckon with. "They understand what they're coming into, but the reason they're coming here is that they get to play for NMJC," said Simpson. "It's going to take hard work and a lot of time spent on their own this year, unfortunately, but we have the right kids in here to get us back."
Hall agrees. "This is a really good group of kids coming back. And this is about the reputation of NMJC as a powerhouse. One year of sanctions doesn't change the fact that they'll be wearing 'NMJC' across their chests. The history is still there. The Thunderbirds will still be the team to beat."
Hall believes that this fact, along with Simpson's rock-solid relationship with the team, will create a program that's as strong as it ever was. "I can tell you right now working with Josh for one year, he is as hard, if not the hardest working coach I've been around. The guy gets after it when it comes to recruiting. One thing I'd tell you by observing him with our guys, he was probably closer to 90 percent of them than I was. The guys that played for us this year absolutely loved playing for Josh, and that's a huge factor. A good coach lets his team know how much they mean, and I promise, they would run through a brick wall for him. People may question his lack of experience, but giving Josh this chance is the right choice for him and NMJC. He'll take this and run with it, no doubt. Just watch."