Following a remarkable first two seasons leading the Tennessee baseball program, head coach Tony Vitello has agreed to a contract extension through June of 2024, Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer announced Wednesday.
The extension includes salary increases, with Vitello set to earn $580,000 next season. His salary rises to $650,000 by the end of the agreement.
Vitello—a first-time head coach—has rejuvenated the Tennessee program since arriving on Rocky Top in June of 2017. During his first two years as head coach, he has led the Volunteers to 69 victories, including 40 wins in 2019—the first 40-win season for the program since 2005. His 29 victories in 2018 were the most by a first-year head coach in program history.
Most notably, Vitello led UT back to the NCAA Tournament this season for the first time since 2005, ending a 14-year drought for the program. The Vols went 2-2 to finish as runner-up to host and No. 14 national seed North Carolina in the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional.
Vitello in 2019 led the Vols to their best finish in Southeastern Conference play since 2005, as they posted 14 wins to finish third in the Eastern Division. Tennessee won five series in SEC play (its most since 2005) and also finished the year with 26 victories over non-conference teams (its most since 2000).
“Impressive doesn’t begin to describe the job Tony has done with our baseball program these past two seasons,” Fulmer said. “I believe we have in Coach Vitello one of the nation’s brightest young head coaches. From managing the game, to player development, to recruiting and relating to today’s student-athletes—Tony has a firm grasp on all aspect of leading a major program. He’s surrounded himself with an outstanding staff, and we are going to support them as Tennessee baseball continues to climb.”
The Big Orange exploded out of the gates this season with the best start in program history, winning their first 15 games. Tennessee was ranked in the top 25 for 10 weeks and racked up nine wins over ranked teams, the most in a season since 2014. In Vitello’s two seasons at the helm, the Vols have won 16 games against ranked opponents.
Tennessee showed vast improvement in all three phases of the game in 2019, especially on the mound and in the field. The Vols boasted one of the nation’s top pitching staffs and fielding teams this past season, tying the program record with 10 shutouts (second among Division I teams), while also finishing among the national leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratio (ninth), WHIP (10th), walks allowed per nine innings (14th), ERA (19th) and fielding percentage (14th). UT’s .979 fielding percentage was the best in program history.
The Vols’ offensive production also saw an increase under Vitello in 2019. Tennessee scored 378 runs, had 173 extra-base hits, hit 53 home runs and had a slugging percentage of .407, all marks that were the best since 2010. UT was one of the country’s most proficient base stealing teams as well, leading the SEC with 108 stolen bases this season. Junior speedster Jay Charleston finished the year with 41 steals, becoming the first SEC player to steal 40-plus bases in a season since VFLs Chris Burke (49) and Stevie Daniel (46) both accomplished the feat back in 2001.
Vitello and his staff have already had seven players selected in the Major League Baseball Draft over their first two seasons in Knoxville. Tennessee had six players taken in the 2019 MLB Draft. Andre Lipcius (third round), Garrett Stallings (fifth round), Andrew Schultz (sixth round), Zach Linginfelter (ninth round), Ricky Martinez (18th round) and Charleston (26th round) each were selected. This season marked the first time that UT had four or more players taken in the first nine rounds of the draft since 2001 when Burke (first round), Wyatt Allen (first round), Jeff Christensen (fifth round) and Daniel (sixth round) were chosen.