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‘He Is In The Trenches’: Tony Vitello Takes Tennessee To The Mountaintop

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

OMAHA, Neb. — Tony Vitello sprinted onto the field looking for anyone to hug. He cussed in his postgame interview on ESPN. He ran and jumped into the crowd to celebrate the first National Championship in Tennessee baseball history.

Vitello showed the emotion and brashness that have made so many hate him. But that mindset helped him turn a laughing stock into a power that stands alone atop college baseball. He doesn’t care what others think about it and nor do his players.

“He is so fiery and other teams may not like it but it fires us up and it gets us passionate,” Tennessee junior pitcher Drew Beam said postgame. “He has so much passion for us and it makes us want to play hard. Other teams, other fans can say what they want but when you have a coach that puts everything on the line for you and willing to fight a war for you it just makes you play that much harder and want it that much more.”

Tennessee’s seventh year head coach’s fire helped him resurrect the Vols program, but it wasn’t the only way he did it.

Vitello jumped into a hug with his assistant coaches when Aaron Combs struck out Ted Burton for the final out of the season.

It’s a coaching staff that has stayed mostly intact during Vitello’s tenure. Pitching coach Frank Anderson and associate head coach Josh Elander were on Vitello’s original staff. Strength coach Quentin Eberhardt was too before leaving for a job in Major League Baseball for just six months before returning to Knoxville. Assistant coach Richard Jackson played on Vitello’s first two teams at Tennessee.

“He’s loyal,” Jackson told RTI postgame “He is in the trenches with you. As a player, he is in the trenches with you everyday and you never feel like he’s a CEO barking orders at you, nothing like that. He’s in the trenches with you.”

Kavares Tears picked Vitello up into the air while giving him a hug following the game. The star right fielder is a shining example of Tennessee’s player development and he swears that Vitello is not a player’s coach because he’s young and cool but because of the way he treats everyone inside his program.

More From RTI: Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Won The National Championship

Catcher Cal Stark, who showed Vitello loyalty and earned it back in turn, echoed the same sentiments after delivering a title for his home town team.

“He means so much to each and every one of us. He’s just lovable,” Stark said. “He’s easy to play for. He loves everyone on this team whether it’s Blake Burke or a kid that’s in the eighth grade and is committed here. He is always the same.”

Where foes see arrogance, pride and selfishness, those closest to Vitello see selflessness, humility and the ultimate teammate.

“He isn’t above everybody,” Eberhardt said. “If there’s a piece of gum on the ground he is picking it up. If it’s throwing BP, hitting fungo, he don’t care. If it’s talking life to you, if it’s going to eat with you. I think that humility of him, everyone wants to seem like it’s something more than it is but it’s not.

“The players love it because they get to be themselves and they get to be genuine versions of themselves. No matter what race, religion or creed you have. They can do whatever they are and be comfortable. That’s what we like to do, make every player comfortable here because we’re a family.”

It’s hard to argue with the results. In six full seasons, Vitello’s taken Tennessee to the College World Series three times and now has a National Championship. He’s built a program where assistant coaches stay and players wait their turn instead of running off to the transfer portal.

He sits atop the college baseball world.

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