When the Stephen F. Austin athletic department decided to bring back baseball in 2004 it began a rigorous search for the right man to be at the helm of a fledgling program, and on Sept. 24, 2004, SFA announced the hiring of Donnie Watson as head coach of the Lumberjacks.
It did not take long for SFA to burst back into the middle of the Southland Conference baseball scene as in only SFA's second season back, Watson led the `Jacks to the SLC Tournament for the first time in the school's history. The `Jacks put up a 31-28 and claimed the No. 6 seed in the SLC tournament by taking two of three games in the season's final series over rival Sam Houston.
After a tough opening-round loss to the overall No. 1 seed, UT-San Antonio, the `Jacks rebounded for a record-setting performance in the tournament's second round. Against McNeese State it was SFA that exploded out of the gate with seven runs in the first inning on their way to taking the school's first-ever postseason victory. The seven first inning runs and total 21 hits in the game were both SLC records. Watson also watched as one of his pupils, David Jeans, tied an SLC Tournament record with a five-hit game against the Cowboys. Jeans would go on to earn All-SLC Tournament honors.
Watson also had a slew of his players that took home postseason awards in the program's sophomore season, most notably Steven Hill. Hill would be named a Louisville Slugger first team All-American and second team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association. He would also be named SLC Hitter of the Year and Player of the Year.
The `Jacks would go on to place another pair on the All-SLC third team: Jared Pitts and Erich Lehmann. Overall, Watson would see four of his players taken in the Major League Baseball draft with Hill being the highest in the 13th round by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Houston Astros would also raid the `Jacks ranks by taking Pitts along with pitchers David Miller and Jake Leonhardt.
The 2006 season marked SFA's return to the diamond after an 11 year absence with Watson leading his squad to a 15-41 overall record.
Despite the record and under the circumstances, it is safe to say Watson led his team to a successful campaign. The Lumberjacks opened the season and conference openers with wins over Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas State, and ended 2006 on a hot streak. The `Jacks won nine of their last 12 games, including a four-game win streak and a sweep of East Texas rival - Sam Houston State - in Huntsville to close out the year.
To seal the `Jacks' season, Steven Hill, David Jeans, Kevin Croft, Kyle Freeman, Erich Lehmann, and Brian Steinocher, were just a few of Watson's players who added their names to SFA's season record book. Hill and Jeans were given SLC Third-Team honors and Lehmann was named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. Steinocher, who finished the season the season as the school record holder for strikeouts with 75, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 20th round of the Major League Draft.
After his hiring in 2004, Watson came to Nacogdoches with a perfect understanding of the scope of baseball not only in East Texas, but also in this region. He has spent the last 11 years as a coach with the National Pitching Association and is the coordinator for camps and clinics in Texas. Before his time at SFA he spent 11 seasons on the coaching staff at TCU in Fort Worth where he served as an assistant and associate head coach.
During his time with the Horned Frogs, TCU recorded a 343-295 (.538) overall record and won the 1994 Southwest Conference Championship. Watson also coached 38 All-Conference USA players, 10 All-Americans, a Conference USA Player and Pitcher of the Year and a conference Freshman of the Year. He also coached 29 players who were selected in the Major League Baseball draft, including Lumberjack assistant coaches, Johnny Cardenas and Chris Connally.
Prior to joining the staff at TCU, Watson spent one season as a graduate assistant at Texas-Pan American after a successful stint as a head coach in the high school ranks. Watson was an assistant coach at Southlake Carroll to the 1982 state championship before leaving to take over the head-coaching role at Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, where he compiled a 30-18 overall record in two seasons.
Watson was inducted into the University of Dallas Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992 after a career that saw him record a 23-12 (.657) record on the mound and post a .340 batting average at the plate at Dallas Baptist and UD. Watson was also a two-time all-conference selection who led the nation in doubles with 23 on his way to district MVP honors in 1978. Watson graduated with his bachelor's degree from the University of Dallas in 1978.