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Reggie Willits to depart Yankees coaching staff for Oklahoma

The first-base coach joins Phil Nevin, Marcus Thames, and P.J. Pilittere among those who won’t return to Aaron Boone’s staff.

MLB: JUL 28 Yankees at Rays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week, the Yankees announced that a trio of 2021 coaches would not be back on the staff next year: third-base coach Phil Nevin and hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere. The hitting coach swap was understandable given the underachieving ways of a once-potent Yankees lineup, as was letting Nevin go after a number of bad sends home in 2021, most notably in the season-ending Wild Card Game loss to Boston.

However, it was a little odd that one other member of returning manager Aaron Boone’s corps seemingly escaped scot-free: Reggie Willits. The first-base coach and former Angels outfielder had been with the Yankees since 2015 and on the MLB staff since 2018. He was also responsible for overseeing the team’s baserunning (and its outfield defense), and not all of the team’s 50 outs on the bases were questionable sends by Nevin from third. For much of the season, there was a TOOTBLAN epidemic that can probably be mostly attributed to bad instincts in the moment, but given Willits’ role and that Nevin lost his job, it was strange that the former appeared to be on track to return.

Well, that’s not happening now. Willits’ contract was due to expire in December, and he will take on a volunteer coaching position at his alma mater, The University of Oklahoma:

Willits always seemed like a nice guy who was well-liked by his players, so we only wish the best for his future. Nonetheless, it was far from a must to retain him, and that question has been answered for the Yankees. I’m sure that Willits was a fine coach, but perhaps a different voice will reach the Yankees more in those split-second moments on the basepaths. One possible internal candidate is Matt Talarico, a baserunning coordinator in the system who Dan has interviewed in the past.

Honestly, New York may very well have nudged him out the door and encouraged him to accept this job to save face. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. As noted by Sung Min Kim on Twitter though, Willits’ sons are committed to play at Oklahoma, so it could have just been as simple as a sensible time for a parting of ways between the team and coach.

It ultimately doesn’t really matter how Willits departed. The Yankees will need a fourth new coach in 2022 under Boone’s new contract. They have much bigger questions to answer in the offseason, but the quartet of openings will at least be an intriguing minor storyline to follow.