By Maurice Patton
Spending parts of three seasons in the major leagues makes for a nice coaching resume, but getting the seal of approval from your predecessor never hurts, either.
With both in hand, Zac Curtis was nearly a shoo-in to take the helm of the Loretto baseball program.
Curtis was announced Friday as the successor to Gary Lamm, who announced his retirement last month after 26 seasons – the most recent four of which each culminated in Murfreesboro, as the Mustangs won the 2017 Class A state championship and finished as state runner-up in 2018, losing a 1-0, 12-inning thriller to Columbia Academy.
“We already knew who he was,” Loretto principal Jennifer Littleton said of Curtis, who wrapped up a six-year professional career last summer with the Nashville Sounds and has since been living in nearby Leoma, with wife Chelsea and children Greyson and Brooks, while doing some substitute teaching at the school.
“When Coach Lamm told us he was interested, we spoke to other people, interviewed him and knew pretty quickly he was going to be the guy for the job. Having him interested was a blessing because of the caliber man he is. He wants to build ‘character’ young men. That’s more important than winning. Coach Lamm obviously did that within his program, and we feel like Zac will be able to continue that.”
The 27-year-old Curtis, a former standout at Hendersonville and at Volunteer State, was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ sixth-round selection in the 2014 Major League Draft out of Middle Tennessee State, where he’d gone 11-6 in two years – completing four of his 11 starts in his final season.
After making his major league debut in 2016 with the D-backs, he was with both the Phillies and Mariners in 2017, and the Rangers and Phillies the following season.
Last year, he went 1-1 with an 8.90 earned run average over 22 appearances out of the bullpen with the Sounds before his July release.
“At first, it wasn’t my thought process to (retire),” said Curtis, whose only opportunities were in independent ball last summer. “I didn’t hear anything, didn’t hear anything. I started to sub. Talking to Coach Lamm, I was telling him ‘if something doesn’t work out, I’d like to talk to you about possibly coaching’.
“When spring training started and I didn’t have any calls, I decided it was time to move into the next phase of my life – make it be known I’d like to coach here, work for Coach Lamm and jump in whenever he decided to retire.”
That decision came quicker than many anticipated.
“When he retired, I think it shocked a lot of people,” Curtis said. “The first thing he said to me was ‘I’m going to endorse you for the next coach’. That meant a lot to me.”
As it stands, Lamm will be the lone departure from the staff, as assistants Toby Dunn and fellow ex-MLB pitcher David Weathers are both expected to continue in their roles.
“I told them, ‘I really need you guys. I understand if you’ve got other obligations’,” Curtis said. “They were both kind enough to stick around and help me with this. I’m trying to add one more coach. I think we’ll have a very good staff with a lot of experience.”
Lamm, who posted 438 of his 525 career victories at the south Lawrence County school, expects the Mustangs to be in good hands going forward.
“He’s the right person for the job,” Lamm said. “I look forward to him, to seeing what he can do with it. I met him three or four years ago, and he was giving lessons down here. When he said he wanted to get into high school baseball, I knew in the back of my mind, this would be a great transition – not that I have any say-so, but I felt he’d be a good fit.
“He’s energized, the kids know him, he’s substituted at our school. He’s an easy choice, with all he’s gone through. He’s a very likeable guy, got a great personality. He’s going to be a great fit for Loretto High School.”
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mopatton_sports.