By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HOUSTON, Texas — A 19-year veteran of the head coaching ranks, Matt Bragga has been named the 21st head coach in Rice baseball history, Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard announced Friday afternoon.
“Matt Bragga is the right person to carry on the terrific legacy and national prominence of Rice baseball,” said Karlgaard. “He has 19 years of head coaching experience and has driven success at multiple levels of college baseball. Everyone we spoke with said that the reason Tennessee Tech has been so successful in recent years is Matt’s ability to identify and develop talent, inspire young men and teach the game of baseball. His commitment to the development of the whole person in a fun and positive learning environment will enrich the lives of both current and future Rice baseball players.
"I am humbled to lead the Rice Baseball program and honored to carry on the rich tradition established under Wayne Graham,” said Bragga. “My goal is to compete in the College World Series and win championships. I will also work to ensure our student-athletes reach their full potential both on and off the field, at one of the greatest institutions in the world. I want to thank President Leebron and Joe Karlgaard for putting their trust in me to lead this storied program and the young men who comprise it.”
Bragga has spent the last 15 years as the Head Coach at Tennessee Tech, building the program into one of the best in the Ohio Valley Conference. His 446 wins are the second most in school history. The four-time OVC Coach of the Year has led the Golden Eagles to three NCAA Tournament appearances, winning six OVC championships in the past 10 years while winning 40 or more games in four of the past six seasons.
This past year, he helped Tennessee Tech to its best season in school history, amassing a school and OVC-record 53 wins, the most in the country, while leading the team to the Ohio Valley Conference regular season title and its first-ever trip to the NCAA Super Regionals.
His high-powered offense led the nation in batting average, runs, runs per game, hits, home runs, home runs per game, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, while setting single-season school records for runs, hits, extra-base hits, total bases, home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, walks, saves, wins and consecutive wins. In fact, 20 players rank in the top 10 in the country in 13 different categories, including NCAA leaders in RBI (Chase Chambers, 84) and total bases (Kevin Strohschein, 184).
Bragga’s squad earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, being sent to the Oxford, Miss., regional. After an opening game victory, the Golden Eagles fell to Ole Miss. Tennessee Tech then staved off three straight elimination games, including defeating host Ole Miss twice on the final day to advance to the Super Regionals. He saw five players earn All-American honors and a school record eight players drafted in last week’s Major League Baseball draft, which tied for the fifth-most in the nation. He coached the Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher and Player of the Year and had 11 players earn All-OVC honors, including a league-record 10 on the first and second teams.
The Golden Eagles also entered the national rankings midway through the season and never left, rising as high as 10th and earned an RPI as high as 16.
The 2017 season saw TTU win 41 games, along with the OVC regular season and tournament titles. It competed in the NCAA Tallahassee Regional where it defeated eventual College World Series participant Florida State, 3-1, in the first contest. Ryan Flick garnered numerous postseason accolades, including five All-American nods and a spot among the five finalists for the Gregg Olson Award (Breakout Player of the Year).
Besides winning championships in the OVC, his teams also have the highest overall winning percentage in the last 10 years within the league. TTU’s average finish in the conference standings is also the best in the OVC over the past 10 seasons. Outside of the OVC, the consistency of the Bragga-led Golden Eagles has shown as well.
Bragga has coached 15 players that have earned 43 All-American honors, including the 2016 National Freshman of the Year. He has also had 33 players selected in the MLB draft.
Under Bragga, the Tennessee Tech baseball program has also shown great improvement in the classroom. The past 12 teams have earned the 12 highest baseball team GPA marks since records started being kept in 1972.
Before taking the head coaching position at Tech, Bragga spent three and a half years as an assistant coach at Birmingham Southern College. He spent the majority of his time at BSC working as the hitting and outfielder coach as well as recruiting for the Panthers. Under Bragga’s direction, BSC hitters batted a combined .316 during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Prior to his role at Birmingham Southern, Bragga served as the head coach at Bevill State (Ala.) Community College for four seasons. Bragga took over a Bevill State baseball program that, prior to his arrival, had an all-time record of 175-350 (.343). During his time at Bevill, his teams compiled a 148-86 record, going from a .343 winning percentage prior to Bragga’s arrival, to one of Alabama’s best Community/Junior College programs, amassing a remarkable .630 winning percentage during his time. In 1998, Bragga’s second season at Bevill State resulted in a school record for most wins in one season. That team also participated in the school’s first-ever postseason tournament.
Bragga played his collegiate ball at Kentucky, earning four letters from 1991 to 1994. He played multiple positions at Kentucky, including outfield, catcher, first base and designated hitter while excelling at the plate. Bragga earned multiple honors including second-team All-Southeast region and Southeastern Conference all-tournament first-team in 1993. In his senior season, Bragga finished with a .408 batting average in SEC play, which ranked him second in the league. He also etched his name in the Kentucky baseball record books, ranking among UK’s all-time best in multiple season and career categories.
After graduating from Kentucky with a degree in communications, Bragga signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds organization in 1994. He played one season in the Pioneer League with the Butte (Montana) Copper Kings before advancing to Charleston, W.Va., to play with the Cincinnati Reds’ Single A affiliate the following season. Bragga earned his master’s degree from the University of Alabama.
Matt is married to the former Elisa Currins, a 1997 graduate of the University of Alabama, where she competed in cross-country. The couple are the proud parents of two children, Luke and Emerson.