by Norm Miller
CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMCSports)--Truett-McConnell College tapped Mike Croley as new head coach of the Bears' baseball team.
Croley -- whose most recent baseball coaching position was at Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Ga. -- succeeds Jim Waits, who departed Truett-McConnell after 19 years of service.
"I'm really excited and blessed to be a part of Truett-McConnell's mission and vision," Croley said. "I just can't put into words what that means to me. I have a passion for baseball, but I'm much more excited about the ministry opportunity I have with the young men on our team."
While winning is an important aspect of any sports program, it's not topmost on Croley's priority list, he said. "I know that sounds strange coming from a coach, but my number one goal is to help my guys mature in their faith and grow in their walk with Jesus Christ."
Croley's second goal is for the Bears to perform "at their highest academic abilities, and that they know what it takes to live successfully on and off the field," he said. "Third, I want our athletes to reach their full potential, and to compete in the upper ranges of the abilities God has given them."
One look at Croley's credentials indicates that the expectations he has for the Bears reflect standards he has set for himself.
In his first season at Savannah, the baseball team set a school record for fielding percentage and reduced errors significantly. The team also set a school record for homeruns while reducing strikeouts by more than 20 percent.
Croley previously was assistant baseball coach at Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Ga. In 2008, that team was ranked as high as 11th in the nation and broke the school record with a .968 fielding percentage in Croley's first year. The team also won the Gulf South East regular season title. The team later set a school record with 113 homeruns in one season.
At Embry-Riddle University in Daytona, Fla., where Croley served as assistant baseball coach, the team made three College World Series appearances and was ranked as high as number one in the country.
"I am thrilled about the track record that Coach Croley brings to Truett-McConnell, and I look forward to the direction he will lead our Bears baseball team," said Chris Eppling, TMC's athletic director.
Croley said he is "thankful to the Lord, first and foremost" for the head coaching position. "I'm also grateful to Dr. Caner, Athletic Director Eppling, Dr. Reynolds and the entire search committee for this opportunity."
Dr. Emir Caner is TMC's president and Dr. Brad Reynolds serves as vice president for academic services.
Regarding Waits' departure, Eppling said, "We love Coach Waits and are grateful for his service to God among us and for all the good he brought to our program. We pray God's best on Jim's future endeavors. We know he will do well."
Norm Miller is director of communications for Truett-McConnell College.