UCA Bears Baseball Rolling with Changes

Chris Murray Bio
CONWAY – Summer continues to be a season of change for head coach Allen Gum and the UCA Bears baseball team, with the newest transition being the addition of Nick Harlan as associate head coach/pitching coach.

Harlan comes to UCA after a sterling run as head coach at York College in York, Neb. This past season, Harlan led York to the NAIA World Series with a 42-12 record. Gum’s and Harlan’s paths had crossed, but it was Harlan’s interview that impressed the most.

“We interviewed a lot of quality people, good coaches,” Gum said. “The thing that stood out the most about (Harlan) is he is player-driven. He’s got that passion and drive, and he loves to get out on the field and help players.

“I had met him in Chicago, and then you start hearing how good (York) is doing. We know some of the same people, and word of mouth starts to spread.”

Harlan was hired to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Kirk Kelley, who left to jumptstart Lyon College’s football program. Kelley had been a UCA assistant for three years, and had previously served as Lyon’s head baseball coach from 1992-2009. Losing Kelley was a tough blow for Gum – who has known Kelley since he served as coach at Batesville High School – but not a total surprise.

“It was tough,” Gum said. “He has been a rock for our program. We lost a tremendous coach and a great man. Since I’ve known (Kelley), he always said, ‘Before I retire I want to coach football.’ For him and his family, for a lot of different things, it was the right move.”

The Bears had an historic season in 2013. They claimed the Southland Conference championship, winning five games in three days in Sugarland, Texas. They advanced to the Starkville, Miss., Regional, where they made it to the finals, falling to eventual national runner-up Mississippi State. UCA finished with a 42-22 record, defeating MSU, Wichita State and Oklahoma State.

“The biggest thing was, in our second year we gained respect throughout the conference,” Gum said. “Last year, we gained respect nationally, too.”

A follow-up performance in 2014 certainly won’t come easy. Last year’s squad was senior-laden, so there will be plenty of big shoes to fill.

“The turnover, we lost five of our top six pitchers, and we only have two returning position players back,” Gum said. “It’s an anomaly, but it happens every once in a while. There’s going to be so many new players. Our challenge will be to bring it together as fast as we can. We’ll do what we always do – work hard”

Gum has gained a reputation as a tireless worker, logging seemingly endless hours of preparation. He seems to come by it honestly.

“With the NCAA, we really have to teach our players how to train themselves, not just practice,” he said. “I don’t know how crazy it is, but I can get locked in on something. It can work as a flaw for me. ”

On at least one topic, Gum holds a contrarian position. Conventional wisdom holds that the sharp decrease in offensive output in college baseball is due to changes made to the composition of bats prior to the 2011 season.

“It’s not the bats,” Gum said. “We’ve gotta get better as coaches. Right now is a great time to be a pitching coach. The minor-league and major-league balls jump better, but I’m happy the way it is. It’s stretching me as a hitting instructor and coach.”

After the breakout 2013 season and NCAA run, Gum’s name became one tossed around concerning higher-profile job openings. After growing up in Bentonville, and coaching stops at Sheridan, Batesville, and Southern Arkansas, Gum seems perfectly content at UCA.

“All my decisions in coaching have been based on family,” he said. “I’m very happy with how I’ve been treated at UCA, and I love the state of Arkansas. (UCA President) and Dr. (Brad) Teague, the athletic director, have treated me tremendously.”

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