Rancho Santiago Community College District has named Tom Nilles as assistant professor, kinesiology and Head Baseball Coach. A former California Community College baseball player at Laney College, Nilles has spent the past 12 years coaching baseball in the California Community College Athletic Association.
"I've worked behind some really good people and now have the opportunity to take what I've learned, good and bad, and make a program of my own," Nilles said. "From here, I look to guide a group and compete at the highest level in the Orange Empire Conference.
Nilles went on to say that his team's success wouldn't just be measured on the field. He's looking to guide student-athletes in the classroom and in life as well.
"So when they matriculate, because they're all going to, they represent Santa Ana College right and four-year schools want to keep coming back to get our guys," Nilles said.
Coming to SAC, Nilles is aware of the level of competition in the Orange Empire Conference as he has spent the last six seasons at Fullerton College, with the last two as the Associate Head Coach. During his tenure at Fullerton, Nilles helped guide the Hornets to the 2013 Orange Empire Conference championship as well as a trip to the 2013 CCCAA State Championships.
"Winning conference championships, if we're lucky enough to, is great" Nilles said. "But, if an Orange Empire team gets into the playoffs, they have a strong chance to win a state title every year."
While Nilles hasn't set initial goals for the team, he does have expectations as he takes over the program following its first losing season in 40 years.
"I haven't said 'I want to get to .500' or 'I want to make the playoffs'" Nilles said. "Every year, of course I expect those things. I expect to win every game we play. Ultimately, I expect us to play quality baseball and really build off a solid first year."
Despite this season's losing record, the Dons were just one year removed from the program's 22nd conference championship. Santa Ana has been considered one of the top programs over the past 35 years as the Dons rarely finished lower than third place in conference while qualifying for at least the second round of the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons from 1988-2012.
"There's no doubt I have big shoes to fill," Nilles said. "This is what is expected of this baseball program, and it's what I expect out of myself. I think that my desires and goals are directly in line with the history that's been here."
Nilles started his coaching career at his alma mater, Laney, after playing one season at UC Davis. From Laney, he coached at Diablo Valley College before winning a State Championship during his three-year stint at Sierra College.