Jay Uhlman: Los Angeles, Uptown, everywhere in-between

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

jay Uhlman
Uhlman oversaw his first fall camp as Tulane’s head coach. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

Tulane hired its new head baseball coach, Jay Uhlman, just this summer on June 7. After taking over the team on an interim basis following the departure of Travis Jewett, Uhlman is now taking the first Division I head coaching job of his career. His hiring is the culmination of over two decades of coaching experience, mostly on the West Coast. 

Uhlman is from Redondo Beach, California — in the greater Los Angeles area — and he grew up a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He played soccer, basketball and baseball in his youth but gravitated most towards the diamond. In little league, Uhlman played shortstop but spent three years as a center fielder in high school. His senior year, he returned to shortstop and played well enough for the Toronto Blue Jays to select him in the 48th round of the 1992 MLB draft.

However, Uhlman declined to go into the minor league system and chose to go play at a local junior college — Los Angeles Harbor College. Speaking about that decision, Uhlman said, “Of course, like everybody else, I want to make it to the big leagues. It was an honor to get drafted. Because not everybody does … But physically, I wasn’t ready. Mentally, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t mature enough … So I just moved on to the local junior college. And it was probably the best decision of my life for sure.”

After spending two successful seasons at LAHC where he won all-conference honors both years, Uhlman transferred to the University of Nevada and started at shortstop for another two years. He played well for the Wolf Pack, especially in his senior season where he had a batting average of .358, hit eight home runs and drove in 52 runs. He was also defensively solid with the Wolf Pack leading the NCAA in double plays. As a whole, the team broke 16 different team records, and five of Uhlman’s teammates would eventually play in the MLB.

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Uhlman grew up idolizing players like Darryl Strawberry and Cal Ripken Jr. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

Despite all this team success and the great individual numbers, Uhlman was not drafted. Instead, he joined a summer league waiting to see how free agency would play out. But, a tragedy struck that would end Uhlman’s playing career. With a base runner at first base, the batter hit the ball towards the second baseman. The play was slow to develop, but the fielder got the ball and threw to Uhlman covering second base, trying to convert the double play. The baserunner then slid over the bag and into Uhlman’s leg as he was trying to throw. Uhlman broke his leg in four places. The baserunner went to the hospital to apologize, but Uhlman’s playing days were over. 

Following this hurdle, Uhlman decided to return to Nevada to finish his degree and serve as a graduate assistant on the baseball team. After one season, he went back to Los Angeles to serve as an assistant coach at LAHC. After just one season as assistant coach, Uhlman was hired as the head coach where he remained for two years.

“You know, that’s a tradition rich program … I had a lot of pride in the program. A lot of pride in the tradition of it. And I just demanded a lot of things out of the players that were demanded out of me,” Uhlman said. “I went into it not thinking I was going to get a job somewhere else.”

Uhlman posted a winning record in both years at LAHC, including going 36-8 in his second season and making the super regional round of the playoffs. However, Nevada came calling again to try and recruit him as an assistant coach. “It was hard to go back because I was the boss [at LAHC]. And I turned that job down twice. And finally he came back to me a third time and I just wanted to ultimately be a Division I head coach. So I figured I better get in there while I can,” Ulhman said.

Uhlman spent eight seasons as an assistant coach for the Wolf Pack between 2002 and 2009. The team saw moderate success as a good — but never great — team. Uhlman said about those teams that, “The irony of that is, I coached a lot of kids that ended up being in the big leagues while I was there. So we had it wasn’t a talent issue. It was just that we couldn’t get over the hump kind of issue.”

Another consistent issue Uhlman mentioned was a lack of depth and problems with the pitching staff. One of the biggest obstacles between Nevada and greater success, though, was their conference itself and how tough it was. Their conference, the Western Athletic Conference, only had one bid to postseason play. Nevada had to deal with baseball powerhouses such as the Fresno State Bulldogs and the Rice Owls, both of whom won national championships during Uhlman’s tenure.

On a more personal level, Uhlman looks back at his Nevada years fondly. His appreciation for the game increased with everything from connecting to players to his first experiences in the recruitment game to the simple act of preparing the field for practice or a game. He was married in Nevada and two of his children were born during this time.

Moves across the country marked the next three years. Uhlman mutually parted ways with Nevada, and the coach decided to take a volunteer coaching position at the newly restarted Oregon Ducks program. The next season, he took a paid assistant coaching job with the Kansas Jayhawks but would return to Eugene, Oregon at the end of the year.

Uhlman states that although there were still boxes unpacked when he returned to Oregon, he would spend the next eight seasons — from 2012 to 2019 — with the Ducks. In 2017, he was promoted to associate head coach, a role he served for three seasons. His tenure with the Ducks was successful, as they made one Super Regional and three other regionals in his eight seasons. Uhlman said that at Oregon, there were, “another 12 or 13 big leaguers that I was fortunate enough to be a part of coaching you know, to a lot of wins.”

Despite the overall success, the last two years in Oregon saw a losing record for the Ducks, and the head coach ended up leaving the program. Uhlman thought he had done enough to get the full-time head coaching job, but the Ducks decided to move in a different direction. At around the same time, Tulane’s head coach Travis Jewett came calling. 

“I needed a job, somebody had a job. So again, the relationship part of the business is really critical. So how you treat people, you know, how you handle your job with, you know, hopefully, with integrity, and goodwill is a good thing,” Uhlman said.

Like everything else in the world, Uhlman’s first season in Uptown New Orleans was disrupted by COVID-19. Tulane jumped to a hot start, 15-2, but the global pandemic canceled the season. 

The Green Wave rebounded with a positive 2021, posting a 31-24 record and entering the 2022 season, there was great optimism and expectations surrounding the team.

The season started incredibly well for Tulane as the team swept Massachusetts-Lowell and won the series against both Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State. Hitting a skid, the team lost five in a row against a talented Southern Mississippi team, being swept against Evansville and losing to LSU in Baton Rouge. 

Despite this, the team quickly turned things around and won their next four series — beating Villanova, Dayton, Memphis and South Florida. The team also captured the Pelican Cup by taking the season series against New Orleans.

Things changed with a series away to the University of Houston. The Cougars took two of three games but Uhlman admits that Tulane should have probably won the series. The Green Wave did win an important series against East Carolina University — probably the high point of the season. 

The fortunes of the Green Wave quickly changed. Five starters ended up injured at the end of the year and one additional player was temporarily suspended from the team for unspecified reasons. The results on the field reflected this change as the team would lose the last four series of the year and went 5-10 in the last 15 games.

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Uhlman emphasizes good defense and pitching, as well as offensive pressure for his teams. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

Following the series where Wichita State swept the team, Tulane announced a change at the head coaching position. Jewett was out and Uhlman would take the reins as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. 

“I was in a dentist’s chair, getting my teeth cleaned, and my phone was ringing off the hook. And I was actually waiting on a recruit call … So you know, I can’t reach my phone, it’s over in the chair … So I finally picked up the phone and it was my wife. She told me that the staff was looking for me and that I needed to call right away,” Uhlman said, recalling the moment he found out.

Losing a coach in the middle of the season is always a blow to player morale, and Uhlman said this time was no different as the players were devastated. Regardless, the new interim coach found it within himself to rally his squad: “I really felt like I was in my wheelhouse in terms of okay, let’s be a pillar of strength at a time that [the players] needed that and I just went in there and, you know, empathized with them, but also told them that we didn’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves, we still had to finish the season.”

Tulane did lose their final series of the year against, but Uhlman said that the team was able to successfully prepare themselves for the coming American Athletic Conference championship. 

The Green Wave, despite the slew of injuries and a tumultuous end to the year, rallied to make the semifinals of the AAC tournament. Ultimately, the team ran out of steam, especially in the pitching staff as they resorted to position players pitching. 

After the end of the year, Tulane made the decision to hire Uhlman as the full-time head coach, a moment he described as, “Emotional. And I’ve been waiting a long time to get that opportunity. My family, we’ve been through a lot, we’ve been through a lot of moves. And it was cool. So very honored and grateful.”

This position is the culmination of a long journey — one where Jay Uhlman, a promising young shortstop whose injury on the diamond ended his career, became head coach Uhlman — about to start his first full season in charge of a tradition-rich and historic program. 

The only thing left to say is an echo of the legendary Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully — “There will be a new day, and eventually a new year. And when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, rest assured it will be time for Tulane baseball.”

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Uhlman is 64-26 all-time as a head coach. (Courtesy of Parker Waters)

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