Georgia Tech’s Danny Hall addresses future, potential successor in James Ramsey

Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall isn’t sure when he’ll retire from coaching, but he has a replacement in mind. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

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Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall isn’t sure when he’ll retire from coaching, but he has a replacement in mind. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall isn’t sure when he’ll retire from coaching. But he knows who he’d like to replace him when he does.

That would be hitting coach James Ramsey, whose promotion from assistant coach to associate head coach was announced in early May. While acknowledging that the decision to select Hall’s successor will belong to athletic director Todd Stansbury, Hall had no problem divulging his preference in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before Tech’s final games of the season in the NCAA Tournament at a regional hosted by Tennessee.

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“Do I think James Ramsey is capable of being the head coach here at Georgia Tech?” Hall asked. “One hundred percent. … I think we have a great staff in place right now. If Todd thinks that James is the guy, he’s going to get my endorsement for whatever he wants to do.”

Given that Stansbury signed off on the new title for Ramsey – the promotion was part of an extension that was completed in September – it hardly would be a surprise if he saw it similarly. However, there is not a coach-in-waiting agreement in place, Hall said.

“We gave him the title of associate head coach for a reason,” Hall said. “We want to do everything we can to encourage him and keep him here. I think that’s another part of my job is to mentor him, mentor (pitching coach) Danny Borrell, get those guys in good positions to be successful when I’m done. But I think as long as we’re doing good, James and Danny will just keep getting great opportunities.”

Ramsey has proved his worth in four seasons at Tech, including the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Hired before the 2019 season, Ramsey grew up in metro Atlanta before starring at Florida State, getting drafted in the first round and playing seven seasons in the minor leagues. Ramsey has impacted recruiting and Tech’s hitting. The Yellow Jackets finished the season ranked in the top 10 in Division I in batting average, runs per game, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and home runs per game.

Ramsey’s influence might be seen most in two Jackets players who came to Tech through the transfer portal. Second baseman Chandler Simpson transferred from Alabama-Birmingham having hit .288 as a freshman last year. Designated hitter Tim Borden was a backup at Louisville, hitting .220 in 28 games.

“I'm happy with both of them. They're both just great people. They're great family guys. I think they're perfect fits for Georgia Tech, perfect fits for me. We're all different personality-wise, but I think together we're good."

- Tech coach Danny Hall, on assistant coaches James Ramsey and Danny Borell

It is a near certainty that Simpson’s .433 batting average will be the highest in Division I. He is Tech’s first .400 hitter since Mark Teixeira in 2000. Borden hit .335 with 20 home runs in 206 at-bats. He ranked seventh in the ACC in slugging percentage (.689).

Ramsey’s performance at Tech could draw the notice of his alma mater Florida State, which is hiring a new coach after the firing of Mike Martin Jr. after three seasons. Even if he isn’t hired, it likely won’t be the last time he is connected with a head-coaching job.

Hall, Ramsey and Borrell all received extensions through the 2025 season. For Hall, that would be his 32nd at Tech. Before the extension was announced, it was surmised that this season, with son Colin finishing his Tech career, might be Hall’s last. But Hall, who turns 68 in November and has Stansbury’s support, said that he hasn’t identified the 2025 season as his last, either.

“But I know I can’t coach forever,” he said. “And so for me, the competitor in me, I want to compete at the highest level I can. I’m not the kind of guy that has a bunch of hobbies and is going to go play golf or do whatever. I enjoy coaching baseball and being part of a team. As long as I have that desire and we’re achieving at a high level, then I’ll just see where it takes us, as they say.”

Hall said the extension’s purpose primarily was to help with recruiting by offering prospects the assurance of stability within the program.

“But right now, I wouldn’t say that three years after this year, that I’m for sure done,” Hall said. “Talk to me next year at this time. I may have a different opinion on it.”

Hall also explained the extension awarded to Borrell, whose staff has not delivered results since he came to Tech in August 2019 after a highly regarded term as minor-league pitching coordinator for the Yankees.

Hall parted ways with pitching coach Jason Howell after the 2019 season, when Tech’s ERA was 4.46, 95th in Division I. In the two full seasons since, it has only gone up – 5.71 in 2021 (180th) and 6.57 this season (227th). The team’s strikeout-per-walk ratio also has worsened. The Jackets’ ratio was 2.58 in 2019 (28th nationally) but dropped to 1.77 in 2021 (181st) and 1.89 this season (156th).

“I think he continues to grow and learn about the college baseball game,” Hall said of Borrell. “The easiest thing to say and cut right to it – we have to win. We know that.”

Hall said Borrell is learning on the job, as he has had to learn an approach different from his position with the Yankees, where his primary objective was to develop pitchers into major leaguers.

“And in the minor leagues, wins are important, but the most important is that those guys keep developing,” Hall said.

That can factor, Hall said, into a facet of the job such as calling pitches. As Hall saw it, the 2021 season was Borrell’s first full season as pitching coach. This season, he worked with an inexperienced staff. He does have promising freshmen who could turn the corner next season. Hall said Borrell has to learn as he goes.

“Until you get in the fight, that’s how you’re going to learn,” Hall said. “And I think that’s where Danny is. He’s in the fight now.”

Even before Borrell’s hire, developing a pitching staff had been a consistent shortcoming for Hall. Starting with the 2012 season, Tech has finished 95th or lower in ERA in Division I eight times in the nine full seasons since and 150th or lower seven times. (The Jackets were 64th at 3.34 in 2020 when the season was canceled by the pandemic.)

In the same span, the Jackets have ranked in the top 60 in runs per game seven of the past nine seasons.

This season, the inability to consistently retire opposing batters – Jackets opponents hit .291, second highest in the ACC – prevented Tech from taking advantage of a historically prolific offense. Getting sent to the regional hosted by overall No. 1 seed Tennessee was a tough break, but the Jackets made their bed with regular-season results such as losing series to Clemson and Duke (the Tigers in a sweep) by giving up 35 runs in three games to the former and 34 to the latter. Better results in those two weekends alone could have been the difference in getting a better assignment for the regionals and an easier path to the super-regional round and potentially the College World Series.

Hall acknowledged that the first step in identifying and recruiting pitchers has been its own challenge. Many Jackets pitchers’ seasons have been lost to Tommy John surgery.

“There’s just no easy predictor on pitching,” Hall said. “And I’ve said it a lot: We live in an area where they can play baseball year-round, and what you don’t know a lot of times when you’re recruiting a pitcher, getting a pitcher, is just how much wear and tear they have had, from, say 10 years old to 16 years old.”

While the extension given to Borrell, at the least, confused many Tech fans, it can be said of Hall that he hasn’t been afraid of making changes. After the 2012 season, he fired pitching coach Tom Kinkelaar, who had been a college teammate and roommate of Hall’s, believing his program needed a fresh start in coaching and recruiting. (Under Kinkelaar, Tech actually finished in the top 50 in Division I in ERA three out of his five seasons.)

The Jackets do appear to be on an upward trajectory after missing the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and 2018, the first time that Tech had missed the tournament in back-to-back seasons in Hall’s tenure. The Jackets have reached the tournament each of the past three full seasons, a period coinciding with Ramsey’s tenure. The 2019 team earned the team’s first top regional seed since 2011 before a heartbreaking defeat to Auburn.

That said, Tech has not made it past the regional round of the NCAA Tournament since Hall’s third College World Series trip in 2006, falling short in 11 consecutive tries. Since then, 12 of the other 13 teams in the conference have made it to the super-regional round at least once, most of them making multiple trips. Eight ACC teams, including Notre Dame this year (making its first trip since 2002), have made a total of 25 trips to the College World Series.

There are other markers of success that Tech has achieved since 2006 – two ACC Tournament titles, three regular-season conference or division titles, 78 players drafted (23 in the first five rounds) and 18 All-Americans. In Tech’s tournament win over Campbell, Hall became the winningest active coach in the NCAA. For that matter, 11 tournament appearances in 15 seasons is no small accomplishment.

On Tech’s campus, only the men’s golf team and women’s tennis team have been more consistently successful over that span. But the Jackets have come up short in meeting the defining objective of making it to the College World Series.

Perhaps no one feels that shortfall as much as Hall, particularly as the end of his career approaches. And to get back there, he has aligned himself with Borrell and, for that matter, Ramsey.

“I’m happy with both of them,” he said. “They’re both just great people. They’re great family guys. I think they’re perfect fits for Georgia Tech, perfect fits for me. We’re all different personality-wise, but I think together we’re good.”