Canisius College baseball coach Mike McRae, who led the school to its first two NCAA Tournament appearances, resigned Monday to pursue other coaching opportunities. Assistant coach Matt Mazurek will take over in the interim.
McRae was entering his 14th year in charge of the program. He led Canisius to MAAC championships in 2013 and 2015 and was a four-time MAAC Coach of the Year.
"We couldn’t agree on some things that I wanted to make the program better and with that being the case I just thought it would be better to move in a different direction," McRae said in a phone interview.
McRae is rumored to be headed to VCU to join coach Shawn Stiffler's staff. McRae said that's "in the works," adding, "there’s going to be an opportunity there, but to be honest with you, I'm trying to let the dust settle here. That’s certainly an enticing move for me."
Canisius went 405-336 under McRae and 298-200 in conference. The Griffs had 13 players selected in the MLB Draft in the past 10 years, which is the most in the conference over that period, according to the school.
But disagreements over the direction of the program and the financials involved led to their breakup.
"I guess what I would say is my vision for the program, I think, was far greater than what the school’s and the athletic department’s vision was, if that makes sense," McRae said. "I think they were happy just being a playoff team and I wanted a chance to win a regional [at the NCAA Tournament]. I think we were on that path. From a budget and contract and all that things standpoint, I just don’t think we were in the same place.
"There’s no hard feelings," he said. "I busted my [butt] for this place and I care very much for the program and I’ve done my best to make sure that it’s in a great place moving forward. I think it’s the best team in the league right now and I feel good about that. That’s kind of how I’ve got to approach it. The stress and anxiety I've felt with some things here, that’s just not the environment I wanted to be in anymore."
McRae said he hadn't had a contract for the last two years.
"Two years ago we talked about it, we couldn’t agree on it," he said. "We tried to visit it three weeks ago and we weren’t on the same page. I found it to be insulting to be honest with you. I expressed my concern there, and here we are today."
Canisius' spending on baseball was in the middle of the pack in the conference, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, as it is in most sports (Canisius is thick line in the chart below). Athletic Director Bill Maher said in an interview that McRae was offered multiple contracts but elected to go without a new one.
"Mike did a great job building our baseball program and the success he led us to was great," Maher said. "We’re committed to having a competitive baseball program in our conference, we have in the past, and we always look at what that’s going to take. So our decisions and how we fund our baseball program are to try and be competitive in our conference. We've done that in the past and we will continue to do that in the future."
The timing of McRae's departure is strange given that Monday was the first day of classes, but he said he wanted it that way to be able to address the team in person after making the decision to leave a week ago. All athletes on the team will remain on scholarship this year.
Maher said his ideal coaching candidate has experience at the Division I level. He expects to move the search along quickly given the timeframe.
Mazurek, the interim coach, has been with the program for more than a decade, serving as an assistant coach and hitting instructor for the last eight years. According to Canisius, he was the longest-tenured assistant coach in the conference.
"Matt Mazurek will do a great job with them and I expect it to be business as usual," McRae said. "He’s a very good leader, a great role model for these young men and he’s going to work hard."
McRae, of Niagara Falls, Ontario, is a regular on the Canadian Baseball Network's list of most influential Canadians in baseball. He ranked 40th in 2016 after finishing 32nd in 2015.
At VCU, McRae would be united with former Niagara athletic director Ed McLaughlin. McRae came to Canisius from Niagara, but he missed McLaughlin by a year.