Tigers turn to former Saluki to replace fallen icon

By Thomas Donley, @TdonleyDE

When Herrin High School baseball coach Keith Warren died at the age of 60 on Jan. 19, the program was in search of a head coach for the first time since 1997.

Who better to replace him than someone who grew up a block away from Richard “Itch” Jones, the winningest baseball coach in SIU history?

The Tigers hired Rick Damico, a former Herrin, John A. Logan and SIU baseball player to head up the program for the foreseeable future.


Damico, a 1989 SIU alumnus who played outfield, joined Herrin High School after a stint coaching Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Herrin.

He also coached at Rend Lake College from 1993-1994 and has run baseball camps with former SIU teammate Shane Gooden—one of his assistants at Herrin this year.

Joining Damico and Gooden on the coaching staff are Ryan Holland, Kyle Hudson and Steve Miller.

Damico said he tries to pattern his coaching style after Jones and Jerry Halstead, his coach at JALC, who is in his 32nd season with the University of Tennessee Volunteers.

Although he never played for Warren, Damico has high praise for his predecessor.

“When Keith took over, he brought some new ideas and he built the program,” Damico said. “I always thought Herrin had a solid program from the time I played. It’s one of our stronger sports, and he took it to another level.”

The Tigers won five Illinois High School Association regional titles and advanced to two super sectionals in Warren’s tenure. 


Damico said he plans to eventually take over the Herrin Junior High baseball program in order to maintain the Tigers’ run of success.

Warren’s wife Kathy said the Tiger baseball program has been important to her family. Keith coached the team for 17 of the 31 years they were married.

“He loved the kids,” Kathy said. “He had a passion for it. He gave everything he could to the kids. It’s just a part of our lives. Herrin Tiger baseball is our family.”

That family bond was on display at Keith’s funeral. Kathy said more than 1,000 people showed up to pay their respects, many of them former baseball players.

Two of Keith and Kathy’s nephews are seniors on the Tiger baseball team. John Mark Warren is an outfielder, and Aaron Cheatham is a third baseman. Kathy said she plans to keep attending games to see them play.

John Mark said his uncle taught the Tigers more than just how to hit, field and throw.

“He taught us how to be better people,” he said. “And that includes good grades and helping others.”

Cheatham said his uncle’s influence has not completely left the Tiger baseball team.

“We talk about him every now and then,” he said. “Good memories get brought up. Everybody’s just focused on trying to make this the best season for him.”

The Tigers open their season at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at home against Hardin County.

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269.