Inside Pitch Magazine, Fall 2017

Coaches' Corner: Q&A – Top 3 DIII Programs

By Robert Spoelker
John CaseyInside Pitch: Describe the environment of your university… 

Joe Brown: SUNY Cortland has a population of 6,000 undergraduates with three schools of study: Professional Studies, Education and Arts and Sciences, located in the “geographic” center of New York state. We’re a very active campus recreationally and athletically with great facilities in both athletics and academic buildings.

Greg Burnett: Texas Lutheran University is a small (1,300-1,400 students) liberal arts college that is focused on a student-centered learning environment. We offer a wide variety of majors and two graduate degrees, and we’re located in Seguin, Texas, which sits just outside the Texas Hill Country close to San Antonio and Austin.

John Casey: Tufts is a top-notch research 1 institution located just outside of Boston, committed to a transformative student experience. We have 29 varsity sports in the Division III NESCAC Conference. Tufts is a ‘mid-size’ school (5,000 or so students) with a suburban campus and a commitment to excellence both in the classroom and on the playing field.

IP: What are the challenges with recruiting at the DIII level (other than the obvious lack of scholarships)? 

JB: Perception versus reality when it comes to ‘level’ of competition. Some DIII baseball programs are better than DII and DI. Knowledge of baseball and skill acquisition doesn’t discriminate amongst levels.

GB: In Texas, it’s the number of quality of athletic programs throughout the state at every level. For us, the biggest challenge is finding the student-athletes who fit our recruiting profile and that feel TLU is the right fit for them. The changing economic landscape has probably created the biggest challenge to private schools, in general, and we have definitely felt that impact.

JC: The number one challenge is finding talented (academically and athletically) student-athletes. We recruit nationally and have players on our roster from several different states. With that said, it can be a challenge to see them all play on more than one occasion before they get here.

IP: What are the advantages?

JB: We don’t dominate our student-athletes' lives. You have time to enjoy other things on campus/off campus. Our guys love to hunt, fish, ski…that’s part of the college experience. You don’t need to always DO MORE, sometimes less is better.

GB: There is no doubt that the student-athletes we have in our athletic programs love the game. They sacrifice the same amount as student-athletes at all levels without the benefit of an athletic scholarship. I think that creates a special bond among teammates that can last a lifetime.

JC: You are recruiting true student-athletes who are looking to find the right blend of academics and athletics, and who achieve many great things in all areas of the University. You can truly sell your total campus experience.

IP: How do you deal with the limitations on practice and training time? 

JB: I don’t have an issue with the limitations. I have an issue with the rationale for them but I can deal with the limitations. We just try to be as efficient as possible.

GB: We try to maximize all the days that we have. On those days we try to do as much individual work as we can, centered around scrimmaging. It makes for some long days as coaches!

JC: Our players work very hard and have taken great initiative to improve their skills on their own. I tell our guys that ‘I want you to give me everything you have every practice.’ If we do that, we limit our practices to two hours max. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when your players practice with a sense of urgency and focus. Our players also watch a lot of video on their own and interact with each other to improve.

IP: What are some of the things that your former student-athletes are doing now? 

 JB: Medical school, Veterinary school, NYC police officers, Border patrol officers, teachers, coaches, lawyers, strength coaches in pro baseball, owners of training facilities, the US Navy, an MLB umpire it goes on and on.

GB: We have accountants, business professionals, high school and college coaches, a Navy Seal, fitness professionals, and much more.

JC: We have grads who are doctors, lawyers, working in MLB front offices, teachers, on Wall Street. I always tell our guys that if you love what you are doing then you are a success!! We’ve also had a couple guys who have been drafted and a few others sign as free agents to play pro ball.

IP: What is one of your favorite stories (recruitment, development, what they're doing now, etc.) about a former player? 

JB: Recently one of our program’s all-time best players’ mother passed away suddenly. When speaking with his father we reminisced about the players’ move-in day to college. It was pouring rain and his family showed up in an old station wagon loaded to the top. My assistant coaches and I carried everything in all in; it’s part of what our program does every year on move in day.

GB: Hard to name one story, but I really love the ones that involve players who scratched and clawed their way into the lineup; guys that did not get to play right away, but hung around and just kept working. In the end, they had a great career or great senior season, and we never predicted it when they arrived.

IP: What are some of the challenges of being a DIII head coach? 

JB: As a head coach you do the travel arrangements, rake the baselines, coach every position on the field, throw BP, do laundry, drag the field, drive vans to local games, all alumni mailings, and more.

GB: I think the biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining student-athletes. The number of young men we contact is amazing. Then once they’re here, we just hope to keep them. It’s especially difficult when you have young guys who are not playing right away. We try to take a developmental approach to our program, but not every young man is patient enough to see the process through to the end.

JC: You are a jack of all trades: recruiting, fundraising, field maintenance, secondary responsibilities within the athletic department; you usually have a lot on your plate but working with the guys I work with makes it worthwhile!

IP: What are some of the advantages? 

GB: I think the advantage is the amount of contact I get to have with the players. On a small campus, I get to see them throughout the day going to and from class. I feel like I witness so much more of their development and growth off the field coaching at TLU.

JC: You get to mentor some outstanding young men in a positive way and hopefully have a positive effect on their development as a person. I don’t have to wear a tie to work either!

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