BYU head baseball coach Mike Littlewood abruptly resigned Monday, but the Cougars’ longtime leader says he is only taking a “short break” before finding his next stop.
“Coaching Division I baseball pulls you in a lot of different directions,” Littlewood told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It was time for me to take a step back and find some balance in my life. I love every one of my players like my own sons, and the coaching staff like my own brothers.
“I will be watching them closely and hoping for their success. For me, I will start a new chapter of my life after a short break and see where that takes me.”
Littlewood had been the Cougars’ coach since 2012. His decision to walk away from a 17-12 team after a decade on the job shocked many with ties to BYU baseball.
BYU and Littlewood elected not to comment on the reason of his departure, other than saying “personal reasons.” The timing and vagueness prompted concern and disbelief among some of Littlewood’s former players.
Former BYU pitcher, and current Chicago Cub, Michael Rucker was in a team hotel in Pittsburgh when his father texted him out of the blue with the news of Littlewood’s resignation.
“It didn’t take long for Twitter to pump the news out there,” Rucker said. “But hearing it was shocking to say the least. He was an incredible coach.”
Rucker reached out to Littlewood in the hours after the announcement. He was concerned on some level, noting that “personal reasons” could have meant anything.
“You hope that it’s not bad news,” Rucker said.
Riley Gates, another BYU pitcher from 2015-19, also exchanged messages with his former coach. Neither Rucker nor Gates said they know exactly why Littlewood stepped away. But they are also trying to sift through their own feelings.
“He meant so much to me,” said Gates, who made 56 appearances for the Cougars. “We support him through this. I appreciate [him] believing in me. ... He loves baseball. So whatever is going on internally with him and his family, for him to leave baseball, I’m sure it’s not easy. My heart goes out to his family and anyone that is dealing with his situation.”
Littlewood took over at BYU in 2012, winning three regular-season conference championships. When he started, the Cougars had just entered the West Coast Conference and were near the bottom of the standings. By 2017, Littlewood guided the program to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002.
In just over nine seasons, he went 255-199.
Many players have equated Littlewood’s legacy with building the cultural foundation of BYU as it heads into the Big 12. Culture was often a buzzword during Littlewood’s tenure. So much so that in 2018, after a losing season, Littlewood cleaned house by lopping off 30% of his roster.
He was rewarded in 2019 with a regular-season conference title, but had two losing seasons since.
“It has nothing to do with on-the-field stuff,” Littlewood said last month on BYUtv. “We have talked about culture. Nobody can really define what culture is, but you can feel it. This team has it.”
For the players, this news has been difficult for reasons beyond baseball. Adam Law, a shortstop on Littlewood’s first team, talked about the relationship he built with Littlewood.
Law is the son of Vance Law, BYU’s baseball coach before Littlewood. When the new coaching staff came in, Littlewood had Law batting third in the lineup and shepherding the middle infield.
When Law played professionally, Littlewood often sent him equipment when necessary and watched film of his at-bats. It wasn’t uncommon for Law to get a text from his former coach with tips well after he ended his career in 2013.
“It would have been really easy for [him] to write me off and just be like, ‘I’m starting fresh. We don’t need any more Law’s in the program,’” Law said. “But he gave me a fair shot. He became a semi-father figure to me. He also put the program back on the map.”
But before diving deeper into his legacy, players are waiting to hear what happened and what comes next for Littlewood. And right now, Littlewood does not have a firm answer.
“I really haven’t thought that far ahead,” Littlewood said. “But I would assume I’ll be in athletics in some capacity.”
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.