Brent Yarina, Senior Editor, June 30, 2015

BTN analyst Danan Hughes knows the importance of Northwestern hiring Spencer Allen, the Big Ten's first African American baseball coach.

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"The door has been kicked open," Hughes said, "and I'm very confident NU won't regret paving through this uncharted territory."

Allen is well aware of the significance, too, and admits it's "cool" being the sport's first black head coach at a Power 5 school since 1983. However, he doesn't want it to describe who he is.

"I want to make it real clear that I don't want to be known for that," Allen said. "I want to be known for developing players and creating a winning culture, whether (I'm) black, white, whatever."

The first-time head coach and Seattle Mariners fan prides himself on being a teacher and communicator, and he's stressed those qualities since entering the coaching profession following his playing career at Iowa State (1999-2001). He's made several stops to this point, including time at Iowa as a volunteer assistant (2004) and at Purdue as the recruiting coordinator (2008 & 2009).

"Spencer Allen has shown himself extremely worthy of the opportunity to lead the NU Wildcats into the next era," Hughes said. "He's a great person who benefited incredibly by Dan Hartleb and other great coaches he's been with along the way, and vice versa. He's extremely knowledgeable about the game of baseball, but I think his biggest attribute is how personable he is."

Regardless of how Allen fares in Evanston, there's no denying this is an historic and breakthrough hire. For Northwestern. For the Big Ten. And for college baseball.

"I'm sure it will open the eyes of other programs," Hughes said.

Allen gets it — even if he isn't entirely comfortable with the attention.

"What I am conscious of is that maybe it does open the door for somebody or motivates someone at a young age that I can do this, those are the things that's exciting to me," Allen said.


Allen didn't see it in 2004. Not even in 2009.

Nowadays, every time he looks out from a Big Ten dugout, he sees impressive facilities and state-of-the art playing surfaces.

His home stadium is no exception. As part of a $15 million renovation, the school will start construction on the clubhouse, press box and concessions Thursday. It added FieldTurf in April.

"It's unbelievable," said Allen, who returned to the Big Ten this past season after five seasons away. "There is such a difference being back. Every facility I go into now is Power 5 conference-worthy."

When Allen left Purdue following the 2009 season, Big Ten baseball facilities didn't rival those of other Power 5 conferences. Far too often, the product on the field didn't compare either.

Not anymore.

"It has come a tremendously long way," Allen said

"I'm not just saying this because I'm talking with you guys, it all has to do with resources from the Big Ten Network. Also, the athletic directors saying, 'Hey, there's an opportunity here for baseball. We can put resources into our baseball program and get a return.'"

The return, as far as on-field results, has been great.

The Big Ten just put the wraps on its most successful season, placing a conference-best five teams in the NCAA tournament. The quintet held their own, too, as four reached their respective regional final, and two (Illinois and Maryland) advanced to the Super Regionals, giving the conference at least one Super Regional representative for the third consecutive season.

Perspective: Before Indiana's journey to the 2013 Super Regionals, which it won en route to its memorable College World Series run, no Big Ten had won a regional championship since 2007 (Michigan).

"That right there just says everything, as far as how far we've come," Allen said

And then, there's the MLB draft. The Big Ten had a conference-record 53 players selected in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, which bested its total from the previous two drafts combined. Illinois closer Tyler Jay went No. 6, one year after Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber was the No. 4 pick, meaning the conference has had a first-round pick in three of the last four drafts.

"Step by step, year by year, the Big Ten is climbing & growing," Hughes said. "It's going to be exciting to be part of it in the coming years. The sky's the limit."

The rest of the nation seems to be taking notice. Allen said he's heard from Power 5 conference coaches inquiring about joining the Northwestern staff, something that he said wouldn't have happened five, six, seven years ago.

"I think we're seeing that this is a conference that's very desirable to be in," Allen said.