Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



Aug. 12, 2004

"ARE THEY GOING TO REHIRE YOU?" This has been a busy season for the coming and going of people in the coaching profession. In the ranks of Division I baseball, 23 head coaches have left their jobs. That usually means a trickle down effect on the baseball staff as well. Many assistant coaches and their families have had an abrupt change in their lives. In the case of some, the move was made to advance a career by taking a position at a larger school, for some others, it was time to retire after a long successful career. But for a few, it was a case of being fired or not having a contract renewed. Those are the tough ones. People like to say that coaches are hired to be fired. That's a sentiment that works at the professional level, and for some time has been a part of major college football and basketball. College baseball has been somewhat immune to this philosophy over the years, but times have changed. The landscape of college baseball has been affected by the arms race of new facilities, televised regionals, and the general explosion of popularity of the college game. The baseball championship is the second most profitable tournament sponsored by the NCAA. As a result, college baseball coaches are increasingly being held to a higher standard than in the past. The NCAA has also changed many of their eligibility rules, putting added pressure on coaches to ensure progress of their players toward graduation. Some of these changes will result in programs being penalized by scholarship reductions if players fail to graduate. This legislation will hit baseball hard because so many of our players leave school early to play professional baseball. Most of these athletes will not return to finish school until they complete their minor league careers. This often puts them beyond the six year limit which constitutes a graduate in the eyes of the NCAA. But the bottom line is that coaches need to win. The stakes are higher for the reasons mentioned, and the expectations have increased proportionally. Despite what Vince Lombardi said, winning isn't the only thing, but it's pretty darn important. The coaching profession is a noble one. We spend so much time with young people that we can't help but have a big influence on their lives. In the past, that responsibility was paramount to coaches. I think it is still, but the business side of a changing game can really get in the way. I had two great coaches. Joe Garvey coached me at Essex Catholic High School in New Jersey. We affectionately called him "the little fat man". Joe knew the game, had a great personality, and was a fierce competitor. He also had eight children and was a tremendous example as a father and a man. His first season was my junior year, and he was dealt a tough job. I was in the junior class just up from the JV team, and we had some great players. Joe wound up cutting four seniors to make room for us. The remaining seniors were on the verge of revolt but Joe showed them he knew what he was doing. The juniors also played great which made Coach Garvey look good. Near the end of the year, Joe had to steer us through a tragedy. Our senior catcher, Charlie Dowd was hit in the temple with a throw from short as he crossed first base. In those days there were no ear flaps on our helmets. Charlie went down like he'd been shot, but recovered and remained on base. When he went out to resume catching, he felt dizzy. The ambulance came and took him to the hospital. It was the last time we saw Charlie alive. Joe Garvey was an inspiration to a group of scared and devastated young men. He got us through something terrible by the demonstration of his faith in God and strength as a man. We learned more from that than any practice he ran. Clary Anderson was my college coach at Montclair State. I later was the first college assistant he ever had. Clary (he told us all to call him that) was a genius. I have never been around a more intelligent person. He taught me things that go well beyond the playing field. My penchant for correcting the English of my players is something I took from him. I know it can be annoying, but these athletes will have to someday go on job interviews. If they communicate properly, and sound reasonably intelligent, they are a leg up in today's job market. Clary gave me my first coaching job. I was interviewing for the position of pitching coach at Jersey City State, and asked him for a reference. Clary asked why I wanted to drive all the way to Jersey City every day. He asked if I would like to be his assistant instead. He basically created a position and paid me $150 out of his pocket. I lost $350 by turning down Jersey City State, but it changed my life forever. After two years, Clary retired and with his help I got my first high school job. Seven years later, I was back at Montclair as the head coach. One day Clary had me work out the grandson of the owner of the Houston Astros. He was a pitcher and his Dad wanted some idea of his future potential. When we finished Clary gave the kid and his Dad some more insight and advice. The father was real impressed. He told Clary that he needed to make a videotape of the things he had told him. Clary put his hand on my shoulder and said "Here's my videotape." I would hate to see good men like Joe Garvey and Clary Anderson get run out the profession as it is today. I doubt that they would have any trouble. They both won games and inspired young men. They would last in any era. After every season I ever coached, my Mother would ask me the same question- "Are they going to rehire you?" My boss at Florida Atlantic is Craig Angelos. This has been his first year on the job. When a new boss comes in anywhere, job security becomes a concern. In athletics, the fear is that the new boss might have a friend looking for a job. At the end of this season, Craig called me in and offered me a raise and a four-year contract extension. This was a far different approach than anything in the past. The money is nice because I have a family. But the fact that Florida Atlantic appreciates the job done by me and my staff is more meaningful. Today is the first time I won't be able to hear my Mom say Happy Birthday. It is also the first time she won't ask "Are they going to rehire you?" I wish she was here so I could tell her the answer is yes. KC

 

 

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