Notre Dame opens weekend with doubleheader at noon on Saturday
Rooney's primary role centers on instructing the program's highly-regarded pitching staff while also serving as the program's recruiting coordinator, an expanded role that he assumed in the summer of 2005. His earlier eight seasons as a Division I assistant included serving as pitching coach with four programs - George Washington, James Madison, Old Dominion and Stetson - with additional recruiting coordinator responsibilities in four of those seasons.
The 32-year-old native of Fairfax County, Va., spent the '02-'03 seasons at Stetson, with the `03 Hatters ranked in the top 25 for much of the season before beating Georgia Tech in the NCAAs.
Rooney's recruiting skills and guidance as a pitching coach have combined to yield several noteworthy success stories. In each of the past eight seasons, at least one of his former pitchers has gone on to sign a professional contract despite not being drafted out of high school. All told, 13 of his former pitchers have been MLB draft picks, with six selected in the first 10 rounds.
Two pitchers recruited and signed by Rooney - James Madison's Dan Meyer ('02 supplemental-round pick, 34th overall, Atlanta Braves) and Old Dominion ace Justin Verlander (1st-rounder in `04, Detroit Tigers) - recently have been selected before the second round in the MLB draft.
Rooney recently worked with a pair of talented righthanders on Notre Dame's 2004 staff, with Grant Johnson going on to be the 2nd-round selection of the Chicago Cubs while Chris Niesel was the Cleveland Indians' 9th-round pick - the first time two pitchers from the same Notre Dame staff ever had been selected in the first 10 rounds.
He has been involved in seven recruiting classes that have been ranked among the national leaders, including Notre Dame's current group of 2006 freshmen that were rated as the nation's seventh-best recruiting class for 2006.
Upon his arrival, Rooney set about educating the Irish pitchers on the concept of "offensive pitching" that focuses on aspects that the staff can control - being mechanically-sound, working to advantage counts, high first-pitch strike percentages and controlling the running game.
The pitchers quickly bought in to Rooney's plan, yielding a 3.43 ERA in 2004 that ranked ninth in the nation - the program's fifth straight seasons among the nation's top-20 ERA leaders (matched only by Texas and Rice).
An emphasis on limiting free passes yielded just 162 walks allowed in '04 (down from 200 in '03), for an average of 2.63 walks per nine innings that ranks second in the Irish record book behind the '01 staff (2.48) led by seniors Aaron Heilman and Danny Tamayo. The `04 staff also posted the program's second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.69, trailing only the 2.92 in '01) while the .248 opponent batting average ranks fifth-best by an Irish staff since the wood-bat days of the early 1970s.
The impressive numbers posted by the 2004 staff reflected strong performances by a diverse group of pitchers, molded by Rooney to maximize their strengths. He helped nurture Johnson's return from shoulder surgery while overseeing the transformation of lefthander Tom Thornton from a serviceable midweek starter ('03) into a big-game pitcher during '04. Rooney also started working with two-sport standout Jeff Samardzija in early 2004 and helped shape the wide receiver into a Freshman All-American who finished second on the BIG EAST's ERA charts.
The program's 112 previous seasons never had seen multiple pitchers log 28-plus appearances but Rooney's debut season saw senior lefthander Joe Thaman, hard-throwing freshman Dan Kapala and 7-foot-1 closer Ryan Doherty each pitch 28-30 games. That three-pronged relief led the way for a '04 bullpen that compiled a 2.97 ERA, .225 opponent batting avg. and nearly a 3-to-1 K-to-walk ratio. Thaman had not pitched since high school but Rooney transformed the first baseman into a reliable bullpen presence.
Kapala arrived as a raw prospect and progressed faster than any previous pitcher coached by Rooney - while Doherty tackled his first season as a closer with domination, earning All-America honors while threatening longstanding ND records.
Rooney's leadership also was evident as the 2004 staff had to overcome the absence of three injured standouts while coping with Johnson's gradual return. The Irish ranked among the national season ERA leaders and posted impressive numbers (1.92 staff ERA, .230 opp. batting, 3-to-1 K-to-walk ratio) over an 11-game late-season span vs. Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Central Florida, plus the BIG EAST Tournament.
The Irish staff was hampered by injuries in 2005 but Rooney played a large role in the continuing improvements by Thornton and Samardzija while also overseeing Kapala's emergence as a key member of the weekend rotation. Rooney's two years at Stetson (the final season as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) included two NCAA appearances and 40-win seasons, with four pitchers named all-conference. The '03 staff posted a 4.43 ERA and 2-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (391/191). The season highlight came in NCAA Regional action at Georgia Tech, when Adam Blair's 10 strikeouts helped knock off the 7th-ranked Yellow Jackets (4-3). A team-record five Stetson players were selected in the '03 draft, including two pitchers. The '02 staff racked up 422 strikeouts, led by 12-game winner Roger Lincoln.
During Rooney's two seasons at Old Dominion ('00-'01), ODU made a trip to the NCAAs, as a No. 2 regional seed in 2000. He assembled a recruiting class for the '01 season that was nationally-ranked and four of the pitchers he coached at ODU went on to pro baseball. Most notably among that recruiting class is Verlander, who starred with the 2003 USA National Team.
Rooney's two years at James Madison ('98-'99) included a pair of nationally-ranked recruiting classes, with Rooney first assuming the role of pitching coach/recruiting coordinator in '99. Two of his JMU pitchers later were drafted in the first 10 rounds, despite not being drafted out of high school - with six of the '99 JMU freshmen going on to sign pro contracts (three drafted in rounds 1-5).
His coaching career began in 1997 at George Washington, after completing his playing career at Radford (Va.) University. His experience in top wood-bat summer leagues included serving as head coach for the Waynesboro (Va.) Generals 1998 Valley League champs, in addition to being an assistant with Valley League champion Staunton ('96) and with the Cape Cod League's '97 Cotuit Kettlers (`97). He has served as a baseball clinic instructor and authored a video produced by Championship Books and Videos: "30 Minutes to Better Pitching: A Championship Workout."
A 1996 Radford graduate with a degree in social science, Rooney ranks second in Radford history with 79 appearances and posted an 8-2 career record. He played one season at Davis & Elkins (W.Va.) College, compiling a 4-2 record.
The Rooney File
Hometown: Fairfax County, Virginia
Education: 1996 - B.A. in social science (Radford)
- Radford University (1994-96)
- Davis & Elkins (W.Va.) College (1993)
- Notre Dame assistant (2004-present)
- Stetson assistant (2002-03)
- Old Dominion assistant (2000-01)
- James Madison assistant (1998-99)
- George Washington assistant (1997)