When Jason Kelly was introduced as the new Washington baseball head coach Friday morning, it evoked his memories of an old allegiance to the Huskies.
“UW started for me at a really young age. I was seven, eight years old and there was a left-handed quarterback at my high school named Mark Brunell,” Kelly said. “To watch [Brunell] play through high school and then commit to Washington, UW just became a place that every Saturday, that’s what we were watching.”
A native Californian, Kelly may not have been able to locate UW on a map, but still became enamored with Huskies lore.
Over two decades later, Kelly finally donned the purple and gold, courtesy of former head coach Lindsay Meggs. In 2004, Meggs hired a 24-year old Kelly to Chico State, kickstarting his coaching career. So in 2012, when offered the pitching coach job at UW, Kelly and his family jumped onboard after a tough decision to part ways with Cal Poly.
The following seven years saw an accomplished tenure for Kelly serving as Washington’s pitching coach, highlighted by the Huskies’ first ever trip to the College World Series in 2018.
Kelly left the program in 2019, and made brief stops at Arizona State and LSU.
He always embraced a return to Seattle, a city that felt like home. And following Meggs’ retirement, the opportunity arose for Kelly to take the reins on Montlake.
“This opportunity for me, and for us, is not something that we’re going to take lightly,” Kelly said. “To come back here is something that we always dreamed of, so for it to become a reality is just really special for us.”
Athletic Director Jen Cohen took the head coaching search national, but in the end she looked to Baton Rouge to bring Kelly on as a first-time D1 head coach.
“Ultimately, we were looking for somebody who could follow through on a lot of different things,” Cohen said. “It’s the ability to actually develop guys at a high level. Having a pitching coach that’s that elite is going to help you win a lot of games. We like the way he connects with kids, the culture he wants to build….and also seeing UW as a destination, and wanting to be here and seeing the potential in the place and being really intentional and knowing what it looks like.”
Kelly didn’t try to conceal his lack of experience as a head coach, but he is confident on the recruiting trail nonetheless, and views dedicated recruiting as a main precursor to success.
“For us, it’s going to start on the recruiting trail, that’s our number one priority as we get going,” Kelly said. “That starts in Seattle, and that starts in the state of Washington. And we’re going to do our best to keep everybody here that wants to be here.”
The Huskies undoubtedly have room for growth after three straight seasons of losing records in conference play. But Kelly is eager to inherit a developing roster that housed over 20 newcomers in 2022.
“When you look at the youth, your shortstop’s a freshman, your leading hitter was a freshman, those are things that go into wanting to take the job,” Kelly said. “The youth was a huge part of me really being excited about this because I think we can have a good, sustainable run with this class for the next couple of years.”
Kelly knows what it feels like to win at Washington, and has lofty goals for its future, aiming to ultimately bring the program back to Omaha for the College World Series.
“We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think we could do it,” Kelly said. “And we want kids that want those goals too. If we can do that, I’m not going to sit here and guarantee we’re gonna go to Omaha every year because that’s crazy. But we’re gonna compete for championships every year.”
As just the fourth head coach for UW since 1977, Kelly will look for an era of sustained success, much like the Brunell-led football teams he grew up watching.
Reach Sports Editor Ethan Kilbreath at email@example.com. Twitter: @EthanArles
Like what you’re reading? Support high-quality student journalism by donating here.