Contract extension? Tony Vitello more interested in Tennessee baseball facility upgrades

Mike Wilson

Tony Vitello has a dream stadium in mind for Tennessee baseball.

And after orchestrating the Vols’ best season in more than a decade, taking steps toward that facility is on the second-year coach’s mind more than a potential contract extension.

“Talks are coming for us to improve the program,” Vitello said Thursday. “I just want to focus on what I can do to get us better. This was exciting, but we need to feed off it. We don’t need to sit on it.”

Vitello and UT started the conversations quickly after its 40-win season concluded with a loss to North Carolina in the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005. The conversations so far have centered on the excitement around the program after snapping its postseason drought and the future of Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Vitello said he doesn’t have expectations regarding a contract extension for his current deal, which expires after the 2022 season. He is welcome to discussion, seeing an extension as an opportunity to take care of his staff and players with a sense of security.

“An extension would make sense and please us,” said Vitello, who is slated to make $500,000 before incentives next season. “It is not anything I will demand.”

Vitello has talked with members of the administration over the phone because of a frantic schedule with exit interviews, the MLB Draft and recruiting. He and his staff also had a meeting focused on facilities with UT facility decision-makers.

“The administration has been great,” Vitello said. “They have sat down with us in recent days. It has been a while since they got to sit and watch a regional and notice some things going on. (We talked) facility stuff. They want this program to move forward just as much as we do.”

UT Baseball Head Coach Tony Vitello before a UT baseball game at Lindsey-Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Colton Underwood of the Bachelor television show is working with his Legacy Foundation to give vests to children with cystic fibrosis in each state.

UT athletic director Phillip Fulmer did not offer comment, but indications from a UT spokesperson Friday are that productive discussions are ongoing.

Tennessee checked the first major upgrade off the list last offseason by installing a turf playing surface. The project cost $1.25 million and was UT baseball’s first dramatic upgrade since 2010.

The Vols also updated the clubhouse and weight room, getting the ball rolling on the “lots of little things” that Vitello sees next. His dream stadium is “on paper” at this point, and UT may involve an architect to draw up renderings of Vitello’s vision.

“We don’t need extravagant,” Vitello said. “But we do want everything to look nice and tidy. We want the park to play warm, and if you are an opposing team, everything is on top of you.”

Vitello would like to see the aesthetics of Tennessee’s locker room improved after it was expanded last offseason. He said the current locker room is cold and lacks character.

“That needs to get done this summer,” Vitello said. “That is one of many little things that need to be completed with the changes we have been able to make.”

Beyond that first small adjustment, Vitello rattled off “some really cool ideas” that he has for Tennessee baseball's facility. 

He sees the left-field area, which has porches for fans to grill and watch the game, as a big opportunity to enhance an “outfield experience.”

“We want to put the porches on steroids out there,” Vitello said. “That left field area is a rough draft or a blank canvas that we could do a lot of things with.”

Vitello also wants to make changes to the press box, which sits high above home plate. He said it feels like it is “almost in outer space” and is so offset from the facility that it does not enclose the stadium.

“When I get back in town, there will be a lot of things that need to get done in Knoxville,” said Vitello, who was out recruiting Thursday. “For now, players are the most important thing.”