Joe Urso plans to keep U Tampa winning for years to come

Produced and edited by: Brett Honeysett

Joe Urso has an unprecedented list of achievements as a Spartan

Since becoming head coach in 2001, he has made the University of Tampa’s baseball program synonymous with success.

Urso took less than seven full seasons to become the Spartans’ all-time winningest manager, and his record stands at a dazzling 847-250-1. In his 20-year span as manager, Urso has collected five national championships and was fastest in team history to 500, 600, and 800 wins. 

Despite his achievements, the expectations of the nine-time South Region Coach of the Year have not changed.

“The goals stay the same, it’s to win a national title,” said Urso. “Second place is not acceptable.”

For Urso, his coaching career is just another chapter in his winning history with Tampa.

His earliest accomplishments go back to his days as a student-athlete, which saw him manning second base for four years. When the Spartans won the national title in his senior year, he was voted team MVP. 

The 1992 business graduate’s reputation precedes him at Tampa, where he is a veritable living legend.

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“It’s pretty cool knowing everything he’s done already… and then you come here and you play under the person,” said Nick Winkelmeyer, a second baseman with the Spartans. “Like, ‘oh wow, that’s Joe Urso.’”

Selected in the 49th round of the 1992 MLB Draft by the California Angels, Urso spent six years in the Angels organization as a player, and four more as a manager. That wealth of experience is invaluable for the young players he mentors.

“I love to soak it all in… not just mechanics-wise, but just the knowledge of the game,” said Spartan third baseman Nick Derr. “He’s made me into a better person.”

The Spartans skipper put Tampa on the map as a force to be reckoned with in Division II in his first season, finishing as national runners-up in 2001. Given his track record, the bar is high for both coach and players.

“We tell them all, the goal is you leave here with a championship,” said Urso. “The Yankees back in the day knew that if they didn’t win it, it wasn’t an acceptable year.”

The comparison would sound hyperbolic from a lesser program, but Urso has the hardware to back up his words.

Tampa Bay Spartans NCAA DII players listening to coach.
Tampa Bay Spartans NCAA D2 team listening attentively as head coach Joe Urso give instructions. They are preparing for their shot at a sixth consecutive championship season.

In addition to their national success, his teams have dominated the Sunshine State Conference, winning 14 of 19 SSC titles during his tenure. One of the rare years the Spartans missed out was 2015, which they compensated for with a Division II title.

Players credit the 50-year-old’s philosophy of straight talk and accountability with instilling a culture of hard work among his players.

“He’ll be straight up — if you’re doing something wrong, he’s going to tell you.” says pitcher Braydon Nelson. “He’s not afraid to yell at us, which I think is awesome.”

Third baseman Sam Freitas says Urso’s presence can be felt by anyone stepping onto the Tampa campus.

“It’s a special place,” Freitas says. “Winning is the only thing that matters here.”

A Tradition of Academic Excellence

The University of Tampa Spartans program is lauded for winning on the field, but it has also produced a number of stars in the classroom.

The men’s baseball team has had four Academic All-Americans under the guidance of manager Joe Urso — Chris Rosenbaum (2007), Preston Packrall (2014) and Vin Cosenzo twice (2016 and 2017).

The guidelines to win the award are very strict. To be eligible, a student/athlete must be in his/her second year of residence at the institution, must be a starter or important substitute, and must maintain a 3.2 cumulative grade point average.

Current players have been recognized for their scholarly achievements, as well. Like pitcher Jordan Leasure, winner of the Division II Academic Achievement Award in 2020.

The Spartans’ right-hander knows the importance of education in his life.

“My mom and my grandpa always told me in high school, and then in college, you have to make sure your education comes first,” said Leasure.

Shortstop Christian Flint prioritizes his academics too, as evidenced by his perfect 4.00 grade point average as a senior.  He also knows that baseball does not last forever, so it is important to be well-rounded.

“You have to have something else lined up, and we always took our grades really seriously,” said Flint, who made the Sunshine State Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll in 2020.

The team had an astounding 17 players named to the Honor Roll in the Spring of 2020, four of whom carried a flawless 4.00 GPA.

Outfielder Jamarcus Lyons credits Urso with helping to push the players to be their best on and off the field.

“He helps you outside, on school work, just any aspect of life,” said Lyons, who majors in communications.

  • Two Tampa Bay Spartans NCAA DII baseball players.
  • Tampa Bay Spartans NCAA DII baseball player sliding into base.
  • Tampa Bay Spartans NCAA DII baseball players listening to a coach at practice.
  • Tampa Bay Spartans NCAA DII baseball player running the bases.
  • Tampa Bay Spartans NCAA DII baseball player at bat.
  • Tampa Bay Spartans NCAA DII baseball pitcher winding up.

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Posted: Mar 31 2021 7:15 pm
Edition: Toronto
Filed under: Special Reports Amateur Baseball NCAA Sports