The hiring of former Conway Wampus Cat star Chris Curry as the new baseball coach at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock has drawn widespread praise.

UALR Athletic Director Chris Peterson announced the hiring Tuesday. Curry, a former University of Arkansas assistant, has spent the last two years as pitching coach at Northwestern State.

"I’m fired up," said Curry in a radio interview. "I am thankful to UALR Chancellor Dr. Joel E. Anderson and Chris Peterson for the opportunity they’ve given to me and my family. I think UALR baseball has great potential and I’m excited about what we can accomplish. I’m excited to connect with the Central Arkansas community, as well as the rest of the state, and look forward to great things in the future."

A veteran of seven years as a catcher in professional baseball with the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants organizations, Curry recently completed his second year as top assistant and pitching coach at Northwestern State and previously worked on the baseball staffs at the University of Arkansas, Arkansas Tech, Hendrix and Meridian Community College.

"It’s time," he said. "I’m a leader, that’s who I am. It’s time to test my mettle as a head coach at this level."

"UALR could not have made a better choice in the hiring of Chris Curry as their new head baseball coach," said former Meridian CC teammate and Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. "As a former teammate of Chris, I can say that he will bring a fire and passion for the game that will take the program to an elite level. Chris is one of the best baseball minds I’ve ever been associated with and an even better person. We’re excited to have him back home."

In Curry’s second year at Northwestern State, the Demons won 33 games and tied a school record with a 17-win improvement from the previous season, including a Southland Conference record 14-win increase in league play. Centerfielder Bret Underwood, whom Curry recruited, was taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 20th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Off the field, the Demons posted a team GPA of 3.0 or higher in each of the four semesters under Curry and head coach Lane Burroughs.

"Chris fits the profile of what our objective was at the beginning of the national search," said Peterson. "A high-quality individual with strong recruiting ties to the Southeastern region of the United States. The fact he played professionally for seven years and is a native of Central Arkansas is a bonus."

Prior to his stint at Northwestern State, Curry served as head coach of Meridian CC from 2011-12. He went 69-44 in two seasons at Meridian CC, capturing a Miss-Lou Conference Championship and earning Coach of the Year honors in 2012. Curry coached two junior college All-Americans and produced the NJCAA national home run leader in both seasons. Two of his players were selected in the 2012 Major League Baseball Player’s Draft while the team raised its cumulative GPA from 2.62 to 3.30 with Curry at the helm.

Curry worked as an assistant coach under head coach Dave Van Horn at Arkansas from 2009-10. He worked with the catchers and assisted with hitting duties in his time with the Razorbacks, which included a College World Series appearance in 2009 and an NCAA Super Regional in 2010.

"Chris is a tremendous hire," said Van Horn, who previously served as Northwestern State’s head coach from 1995-97. "I had the opportunity to coach with Chris for two years and he proved that he was one of the top up-and-coming young coaches in college baseball. Chris is a tireless worker who will make UALR proud."

In 2009, Arkansas led the Southeastern Conference in runners caught stealing after placing last in the league in that category the year before Curry’s arrival. The Razorbacks led the SEC with just three passed balls in 2010.

"As an alumnus of UALR baseball, I couldn’t be more excited about the hiring of Chris Curry, as I believe he’s the top, up-and-coming baseball coach in the country," said UALR Athletics Hall of Fame member and current sports agent Darek Braunecker. "His playing career speaks for itself and his pedigree is virtually unmatched in the college coaching ranks. I believe he is the perfect person to lead UALR baseball to unprecedented heights. Most importantly, he’s a man of utmost integrity and character who will demand accountability and respect while producing quality baseball players and outstanding young men."

Curry worked as an assistant coach at Arkansas Tech in 2008, helping the Wonder Boys raise their team batting average 26 points (.311) and producing the Gulf South Conference individual batting champion in Jantzen Black (.452). In addition to hitting duties, Curry worked with the Arkansas Tech catchers, coached third base and handled recruiting duties.

"Chris is the perfect guy for the job," said Derin McMains, former UALR baseball All-American and current San Francisco Giants Peak Performance Coordinator.

"He’s an excellent communicator, maintains a high level of integrity and moral authority, and understands how to connect and get the most out of collegiate baseball players. Between his successful collegiate and professional playing experience, it would be difficult to find someone that could match his baseball experience and knowledge. On top of all that, he is a local guy that understands the importance of connecting with a community and can generate excitement for the program."

"I looked at the program carefully," Curry said. "What it needs is leadership. If you look at programs that have gone through hard times that go through changes, the period after that is a very good one.

"We are gonna play hard and get after it."

Curry’s seven-year pro playing career included appearances in major league spring training games from 2002-05 and allowed him to catch big leaguers Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior and Tom Gordon. Curry worked his way up to the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate between 1999-2002. He finished his pro career as an all-star with the independent Northern League’s Gary Southshore Railcats in 2006.

Curry played his high school baseball at Conway and was an All-State pitcher and catcher for the Wampus Cats. He played two seasons at Meridian CC and was Baseball America’s No. 1-rated junior college prospect in the nation in 1998. He was the starting catcher for Team USA’s Junior College All-Star Team that same year.

After two All-Miss-Lou Conference and All-Region 23 seasons at Meridian CC, Curry signed with legendary coach Ron Polk at Mississippi State. He led all SEC catchers in fielding percentage in 1999 before being chosen by the Chicago Cubs in the ninth round of the 1999 MLB Draft.

Curry’s selection by Chicago marked his fourth time being drafted. He was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 26th round as a high school senior in 1996 and twice by the Detroit Tigers, first in the 17th round in 1997 and again in the 52nd round in 1998.

He is married to the former Chassity Cossey of Hamburg, Ark. The couple has one son, Caleb Christopher, and are expecting their second child in October.

"Players want to believe in a person and a system. When you have that, it doesn’t matter where you’re at ...

You’ve got the blueprint when you’ve been in the dugout with Dave Van Horn. He’s consistent. He’s the same every day. He’s confident. That’s what I learned from him."

(UALR Sports Information contributed to this report)