Now entering his second decade at the helm of the Arkansas baseball program, head coach Dave Van Horn has elevated the Razorbacks to one of the nation’s premier teams year in and year out. Over his first 10 seasons, Van Horn has led Arkansas to three College World Series appearances, 10 NCAA Tournament berths, one Southeastern Conference overall title, three SEC Western Division championships and a total of 405 wins, averaging more than 40 wins a season.
For the third time in his Arkansas tenure, Van Horn guided the Razorbacks to Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series in 2012. Arkansas used a dominant pitching staff, timely hitting and strong defense to win the Houston Regional and Waco Super Regional to advance to the seventh College World Series in program history. The Razorbacks won their first two games of the College World Series and finished in a tie for third, equaling the second-best finish to a season in school history. Arkansas finished the season with a 46-22 record, the most wins for UA under Van Horn and the sixth-highest single-season win total in school history. The Razorbacks also won 40 games for the fourth straight season and for the 18th time in program history. Arkansas finished the season ranked in the top six in all four of the major college baseball polls, including a No. 3 national ranking in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, the NCBWA poll and the Collegiate Baseball poll.
Arkansas had a knack for winning the close games in 2012. The Razorbacks played 32 games decided by one or two runs and went 19-13 in those games. Arkansas was 14-9 in one-run games during the 2012 season and had a streak of seven straight one-run victories late in the season. Six of the Razorbacks’ seven wins in the NCAA Tournament were by one run, including a pair of 1-0 victories.
Van Horn reached a milestone as the Razorback head coach in 2012 as he earned his 400th win at Arkansas during UA’s NCAA Tournament run. Van Horn’s 400th win was a significant one as it came against Rice in the Houston Regional. The 1-0 victory over the eighth-ranked Owls put the Razorbacks in the driver’s seat of the regional, which they would eventually win with a 5-1 win over Sam Houston State. Van Horn is sure to reach another career milestone during 2013 as he enters the season just 10 victories away from 1,000 in his illustrious coaching career. In his 24 years of coaching, Van Horn has amassed a 990-463 (.681) record and is 405-223 (.645) at Arkansas. Entering the 2013 season, Van Horn ranks 17th among active coaches in winning percentage and 30th among active coaches in career victories.
In what many people saw as a rebuilding season in 2011, Van Horn guided the Razorbacks to the program’s fourth SEC Western Division championship and to the NCAA Tournament. After posting a 38-20 overall record through the SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks were sent to the NCAA Tempe Regional hosted by Arizona State. After dropping its opening game of the regional, Arkansas rallied to reach the regional championship game before eventually falling to the Sun Devils. Arkansas finished the season with a 40-22 record and closed the season ranked in the top 25 of every major poll and had an RPI of 14.
Following the 2011 season, Van Horn had an opportunity that many coaches dream of, serving on the coaching staff of Team USA. Van Horn, along with DJ Baxendale, Dominic Ficociello, Matt Reynolds and Ryne Stanek spent their summer with Team USA’s Collegiate National Team and helped the squad to an 11-2-1 record, including beating Team Japan in a best-of-five series to end the summer.
Van Horn led Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament for the ninth consecutive year in 2010. The Razorbacks also reached the Super Regional round in back-to-back years for the first time in program history. On the strength of a 40-18 record after the SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks were selected to host an NCAA Regional for the fifth time in school history. Arkansas advanced to the Super Regionals with a 7-2 victory over Washington State in a winner-take-all regional championship game. In the Super Regionals, the Razorbacks went toe-to-toe with the tournament’s top seed, Arizona State, on its home field. Arkansas lost a pair of 12-inning heartbreakers to finish the season with a 43-21 record.
Van Horn also achieved three coaching milestones during the 2010 regular season. The Razorback skipper picked up his 300th win at Arkansas on April 9 in an 8-3 win over Mississippi State. On February 27 in a 10-8 win over Troy, Van Horn earned his 600th win as a Division I head coach. He recorded career win No. 900 on May 21 in a 4-3 victory at Vanderbilt.
Arkansas also set a new school record for attendance in 2010 as 292,734 fans saw a game at Baum Stadium, besting the previous record of 266,270 set during the 2007 season. The Razorbacks finished second in the country in both total attendance and average attendance (7,704 average).
For the second time in his Razorback coaching career, Van Horn and his team made the ultimate postseason push and collected the program’s sixth trip to Omaha for the 2009 College World Series. Rebounding from a late-season slump, Arkansas advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Baseball Tournament before earning its eighth-consecutive berth into an NCAA Regional. Supported by their fans, the Razorbacks hit the road and swept their way through the Norman Regional and Tallahassee Super Regional, besting Washington State and national seeds Oklahoma and Florida State along the way. In Omaha, Arkansas won two games and tied for a third-place national finish, equaling the 1985 team for the second-best finish in program history.
The 2009 regular season had its share of highlights, too. The Razorbacks jumped out to an 8-0 start in SEC play for the first time in program history. The club achieved another first when Collegiate Baseball released its April 6 poll with Arkansas ranked No. 1, the first top ranking by any publication in program history. The Razorbacks faced Arizona State in a midweek series that same week, the first No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup at Baum Stadium. Arkansas solidified its top billing by knocking off the Sun Devils in both games.
In the finale against Arizona State, the Razorbacks had the support of a then-Baum Stadium-record 11,014 fans. That number is a significant reminder of the traditionally strong attendance figures for the Arkansas baseball team. In 2009, the Razorbacks finished No. 2 in national attendance with an average of 7,906 fans per game.
The highly decorated coach has both individual and team honors throughout his 24-year coaching resume beginning at Texarkana (Texas) Community College all the way through the present. Individually, he has been named national coach of the year twice, regional coach of the year twice and conference coach of the year four times. His teams have made five College World Series appearances, won five outright conference championships, a Division II National Championship and made 14 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Van Horn is one of only 11 coaches in NCAA history to lead two programs to the College World Series.
Since joining the Razorbacks as head coach, Van Horn has led his teams to a SEC Championship, three SEC Western Division titles, 10 NCAA Tournament berths and three College World Series appearances. His players have earned 15 All-America honors, 17 All-SEC nods, 82 SEC Academic Honor Roll spots and 10 Capital One Academic All-District accolades. Not resting on his laurels, Van Horn has kept his competitive juices flowing as he seeks to bring a national championship to his alma mater.
Not only have his players flourished in collegiate baseball, but several have gone on to solid professional baseball careers. More than 100 former players have signed professional contracts, including former Razorback standouts Zack Cox, Brett Eibner, Logan Forsythe, Craig Gentry, Dallas Keuchel, James McCann, Drew Smyly and Jess Todd. At the end of the 2012 season, Forsythe (Padres), Gentry (Rangers), Keuchel (Astros) and Smyly (Tigers) were all playing at the big league level. Other past stars for Van Horn include Ken Harvey (Kansas City Royals), Jamal Strong (Seattle Mariners) and Dan Johnson (Oakland Athletics).
When Van Horn took over the Razorback program prior to the 2003 season, he inherited a team that lacked depth and was thought of as weak within the SEC. Changing the culture of the team immediately, Van Horn guided his inaugural squad to both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. His team was ranked in all four major baseball polls throughout the year and picked up series wins at No. 6 South Carolina and No. 5 Auburn.
The success of the program and Van Horn’s no-nonsense approach to his team has endeared him to the Razorback faithful. The Arkansas fan base has grown steadily since Van Horn was given the reins of the program and three renovations have been completed at Baum Stadium since his arrival to accommodate the growing numbers. Baum Stadium, already one of the nicest collegiate baseball parks in the nation, has grown with the addition of nearly 5,000 chair back seats, 32 luxury boxes and now has a capacity of 10,737.
One of the things that Van Horn is known for is recruiting fundamental players and molding them into the stars of tomorrow. In his first season with Arkansas, only two Razorbacks were taken in the Major League Baseball first year player draft. That number has grown significantly over the years with a high water mark of nine taken after the 2007 season. Three of Arkansas’ stars, Nick Schmidt (2007), Logan Forsythe (2008) and Zack Cox (2010) were selected in the first round of the draft and 21 have been picked in the first 10 rounds since he took over, with Matt Reynolds (2nd round, New York Mets), Nolan Sanburn (2nd round, Oakland Athletics) and DJ Baxendale (10th round, Minnesota Twins) all being taken in the first 10 rounds of the 2012 MLB Draft.
The Razorbacks have been successful in every facet of the game over the past 10 seasons. Hitting was the focal point in some seasons while pitching dominated in others, but Van Horn knows that to accomplish his ultimate goal it takes a total team effort.
In 2007, Arkansas won the Razorbacks’ third SEC Western Division title when they went 18-12 in league play. The Razorbacks were 43-21 overall, hosted their fourth NCAA Regional and finished the season No. 18 in the final Collegiate Baseball rankings.
That team was one of Van Horn’s best in terms of individual pitching prospects. Two-time first-team All-American Nick Schmidt was taken by the San Diego Padres in the first round of the MLB Draft (No. 23 overall). Right-handers Jess Todd and Duke Welker were each taken in the second round by St. Louis and Pittsburgh, respectively. Todd also earned second-team All-America honors.
The excitement around Baum Stadium that season also brought the Razorback nation out in record numbers. Arkansas fans set the school record for average attendance while also setting the then-NCAA mark for average attendance in a season with 8,089 tickets sold per game.
Schmidt’s success on the mound was a continuation of his 2006 season when the lefty was named the SEC Pitcher of the Year by the league coaches. The Razorbacks went 39-21 that season and hosted another NCAA Regional.
A hot start to the 2005 season had the Razorbacks ranked as high as No. 5 nationally as they opened the year 20-2, but a rash of bad luck sidetracked what was shaping up to be a magical year. Despite the setbacks, the Razorbacks did come just a breath away from pulling one of the nation’s biggest upsets as it won its first two games at the NCAA Austin Regional. Arkansas would go all the way to the final game of the regional before losing to eventual national champion, Texas.
Arkansas’ 2004 season was one for the history books as the Razorbacks won 45 games, shared the SEC regular-season title, hosted NCAA Regional and Super Regional games and made its fifth appearance at the College World Series. The following all came true despite the Razorbacks getting picked to finish last in the SEC’s Western Division by the league coaches. Along the way, Arkansas won 19 SEC games, swept a weekend series in Baton Rouge, La., against No. 2 LSU and dispatched a tough Florida State team in the Super Regional in two games. The Razorback sweep of LSU was the first time since 1988 that the Tigers had been swept at home by a conference opponent. The Razorback accomplishments led to a top 10 finish in all four major collegiate baseball polls, including a No. 6 ranking by Baseball America.
Prior to taking the helm of the Arkansas program on June 21, 2002, Van Horn enjoyed a very successful five-year run as the head coach at the University of Nebraska. In a short period of time, he built a once-fledgling program into a national powerhouse. Prior to his arrival, the Cornhuskers had made just four postseason appearances in 108 years of baseball history. With their new skipper on the bench, Nebraska went to four NCAA Tournaments and two College World Series.
During his stint with Nebraska, Van Horn amassed a 214-92 (.699) record, won three consecutive Big 12 Tournament titles and earned Nebraska’s first regular-season conference title in 51 years. He was twice named the American Baseball Coaches Association’s Midwest Region Coach of the Year and posted back-to-back 50-win seasons in 2000 and 2001. In his second season with Nebraska, Van Horn guided his club to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 18 years after it won the Big 12 Tournament, its first title of any kind in nearly 50 years.
Similar to what he has done at Arkansas, Nebraska’s players shined with Van Horn at the helm. The Cornhuskers had at least one player named finalist for national player of the year honors in three seasons including a pair of Howser Award Finalists. Seven players were named first-team All-America and 26 earned All-Big 12 accolades including a school record nine in 2000. The Cornhuskers also excelled in the classroom with 30 Phillips 66 Academic All-Big 12 selections (21 first-teamers) and seven players named academic all-district.
Prior to his move to Nebraska, Van Horn coached three seasons with Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La., his first foray as a head coach in Division I. He went 106-65 (.620) in those three seasons and won two Southland Conference regular-season titles (1995 and 1997). Each title also earned him Southland Conference Coach of the Year honors.
Van Horn spent one season at the Division II level, coaching Central Missouri State in 1994 and his effects there were awe-inspiring. Taking the reins of the program with just six weeks of preparation before the season, the Mules got off to a quick start by winning 12 of its first 13 games and eventually put together a 21-game winning streak. CMSU won the MIAA Conference Championship and the tournament title before eventually dominating at the NCAA Championships to win the school’s first national championship. In 2000, Central Missouri honored Van Horn and his 1994 team by inducting them into the Central Missouri State Hall of Fame.
The storied career of Van Horn as a head coach began with a humble start at Texarkana (Texas) Community College in 1989. In five seasons with the Bulldogs, Van Horn guided Texarkana to a 214-72 (.748) record. He set records for single season wins in four of his five seasons beginning with his first and guided his 1992 squad to the NJCAA Texas Eastern Conference Championships.
Prior to his first stint as a head coach, Van Horn worked with the man he replaced at Arkansas, Coach Norm DeBriyn, for four seasons as a graduate assistant, assisting the Razorbacks to a pair of College World Series. Arkansas was 184-71-1 (.721) while he was a GA and made the NCAA Regional Tournament in each of his four seasons.
Van Horn’s playing career was spent in the infield where he was a highly touted player. Two seasons at McLennan (Texas) Community College earned him All-America, Region 5 Player of the Year, all-conference and all-region honors. The standout defensive third baseman was drafted by the Chicago White Sox, but instead Van Horn transferred to Arkansas.
In one year with the Razorbacks, Van Horn earned All-Southwest Conference honors as well as the team’s most valuable player and SWC Newcomer of the Year accolades. Following his junior year, the Atlanta Braves selected Van Horn in the 10th round of the 1982 draft. Van Horn would spend three seasons with the Braves organization before returning to Fayetteville to begin his coaching career.
Van Horn is married to the former Karen Lee. The couple has two daughters, Hollan (19) and Mariel (15).