Gino DiMare has led the Miami Hurricanes back to the top tier of college baseball. Prior to the cancellation of the 2020 season, the ‘Canes were 12-4 with a No. 7 RPI, and in 2019, Miami won 41 games and earned the program’s 46th postseason berth. DiMare, who played at UM and first began coaching at Miami in 1997, was named the program’s ninth head coach prior to the 2019 season.
Inside Pitch: You grew up a fan of the Miami Hurricanes, had a chance to play for them, and now you are their head coach. What’s that like?
You're fortunate if you can find something in life that you really, really love doing, and I’m just lucky to have had that opportunity to become an assistant at UM. Jim Morris hired me in the summer of 1996. He was looking to hire UM guys; guys who understood that way and had been through it. And so I was fortunate that I had played at UM for that reason; that was the best thing I could have put on my resume.
Honestly, when I first got the job more than 20 years ago, I never thought of being the head coach here. But as time went on, it did start becoming something on my mind. There's no doubt about it, to get to do what I love doing at a place that I loved playing for, in my hometown – this is a dream job.
IP: What do you recall about your transition from player to coach?
Growing up, my dream was to play for the ‘Canes. Of course as a kid, you don't think about being a coach. That never really came to my mind until I finished playing pro ball, but my high school coach gave me an opportunity to help out and that first day, I just knew this was what I was going to do.
It's funny because there are guys that come back when they get done playing and they want to ‘try the coaching thing.’ And of course I always say to them, "You’d better take that word out, 'try.' This is something you're all in, or you're not at all. You can't be 'trying' anything. You’d better be passionate. This better be your life. Because it's full throttle...this isn't a nine-to-five job."
IP: How much easier was that move because you had J.D. Arteaga by your side?
The only difference between us is five years in age. He went to the same high school, played for the same coach, played at UM, did the pro ball thing, pretty much the same deal. We’ve been together for a long time. He's my right-hand person, he's our associate head coach, but he's so much more than that. I lean on him a lot, we’ve shared a lot of things together. You're right, having him has made that transition a lot easier.
IP: Your club has become one of the most feared lineups in the country.Have you been able to put a finger on exactly how you’ve done that?
We'd always been very good offensively, we've had as many guys in the big leagues as anybody, and a lot of them are hitters. But during my last two years as an assistant, we weren’t offensive at all. So when I did get the job as the head coach, that was high on my mind. We had to have somebody we could trust working with the hitters, and I had to swallow my pride and open myself and our program to thinking outside the box. I had been the hitting coach for a long time and we had done a lot of things, but a lot of stuff was similar.
When I hired Coach [Norberto] Lopez, who's also our recruiting coordinator, he replaced me in two major responsibilities – our hitting coach, which is obviously very important, and our recruiting coordinator, which is everything; you have to have players. On the hitting side, he brought a lot of new ideas to the table that I thought were excellent. And I've never been a guy much outside the box because things had worked for so long. It's that old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But you also have to keep up with the times, and maybe that caught up with us a little bit.
IP: How have you transitioned out of your role as recruiting coordinator? What are you looking for as far as players go?
Obviously as the head coach, you’d better know what's going on so you are making sure you're on the same page with your assistants; you're communicating, and everyone knows what you’re trying to do and what kind of guys you're looking for.
You try your best to recruit good character guys, but it’s hard. There are also times you think you've got the right guy – high character, tough, works hard, good teammate, all those things – and it backfires. There are also times where you get surprised. Maybe you’re not in love with the talent initially, or the kid's quiet, you can't quite get a read on him, and then all of a sudden it’s, "my goodness."
John Jay is my greatest example of that. When we recruited him, he didn't say two words, he was so quiet. We didn't know a whole lot about him. If you watched him play, he's not standing out in any phase of the game in any way; he's just a good, solid player. You never knew he's going to end up being one of our all time greats. But I can tell you now that his character, his heart, his work ethic, his mental toughness, practice, everything ended up being off the charts.
It's hard to figure that out, you know? You try to ask the coaches and the people that you think can help you. You try to get to know the kids and the families as best you can. By comparison, talent on the field is a much easier thing to evaluate.
IP: What are some of the basics that you recall learning when you first started recruiting?
When I first learned recruiting, it was through Coach Morris. He took me out my first year and we spent the entire summer recruiting. I mean the entire summer. And we wouldn't sit right next to each other at games, we'd kind of separate ourselves, I'd go to the side to watch hitters, and he would stay behind and get the gun on the pitchers.
At the end of the day, we would compare notes, and it was crazy how often our notes were very similar. We were grading out just like the pro guys; we used a different number system, but you're grading the speed, the arm, the actions, the defense, the hit tool. But he’d always point to another thing and say, "This is the one that means the most, it’s the last part of the equation: CHP.” And I was like, "What does that stand for?" And he goes, "Can he play?"
And that's what you're trying to figure out. You get caught up on all these tools and that's great, but we don’t have the luxury of five or six years in minor league ball. They need to perform right away.
IP: So you had a successful first season as head coach and were off to a great start with a young team in 2020. How do you evaluate yourself as a head coach so far?
We’ve certainly had some bumps in the road. We're not perfect, nobody is. You always have to deal with things on and off the field, and I felt like we had a little bit more of that this past year than we did in 2019. J.D. kept telling me, "Your first year was kind of an enigma," and he’s right, I didn’t have to deal with a lot because everything fell into place. Last year was more of the norm, where you have to deal with stuff, and that's the way it is. But I was really looking forward to . Our pitching staff was as good as we've ever had, it was exciting to watch those guys. Our offense was also outstanding last year, and we're a very young team.
IP: When it comes to establishing a “culture” or setting that “tone,” so to speak, how do you go about it?
That's definitely coming from me in terms of how I want the tone of the team to be in every aspect. That's my job. I think once you set it, and it's a culture really is what you're setting, it's got a life of its own and it builds into its own thing. That’s the best part about coaching, when your young players start to get it, when the team comes together, and you have a moment to sit back and watch it running on all cylinders.
IP: Describe what it’s like having such unique support that you have from alumni and fans.
We have a lot of people who are very invested in our program, a lot of former players like Ryan Braun, who doesn't come back much because he's in California, but he's spoken at our banquet...he’s given a lot of money for our facilities. I love our alumni, I love their passion. I've got no problem with them getting upset if we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing. They've got every right to say it, and I know exactly where they're coming from, because I'm probably saying the same thing if we're not doing the things we need to do.
We also have a lot of supporters who didn’t even play baseball, or didn’t play here, at least. A-Rod, he didn't play at Miami. Alex has given a ton of money for our program. He's a huge ‘Canes fan. Manny Machado is a big fan of our program. He didn’t play at UM, but he works out here sometimes, along with his brother-in-law Yonder Alonso, who played for us and in the big leagues.
IP: What’s it like having players like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Machado – in addition to such an impressive list of former players – around your program?
I love seeing Manny Machado around. He's very professional. I know he's probably got a certain reputation from his first couple seasons when he was 20 years old, but I'll tell you what, I’ve met a lot of big leaguers and there's not a guy I've met that handles himself as good as he does. I just love the guy. It’s unbelievable how professional he is, how humble he is, how well he interacts with our players. He never ‘big leagues’ guys...that’s the worst thing you can say about a player, I think..."he big leagued me." That's such an insult to hear that, actual big leaguers should be embarrassed when they hear that.
IP: I think a lot of people would say, and maybe you'd agree, that there's a different type of culture at Miami, that it’s where ‘swagger’ was invented. What say you?
Well, I can relate as an alum, but I never was a big fan of that word. I know that came out with football and that "30 for 30." And I'm friends with a lot of those guys; Alonzo Highsmith played football with my brother. But you know, the swagger thing comes across as arrogant. I don't believe in talking, I believe in backing it up. I'm a big, big believer in that. Some other coaches teach different ways, butI'm not that way. I don't think you need to talk, but if you do, you’d better back it up. I know that.
IP: That was a great "30 for 30," though.
I get it. All-time favorite. I love watching it. You’re right though, our alumni have that, and I love that. They have that swagger. I always thought of baseball as a sort of mini-version, a microcosm, of football. And don't take me the wrong way. I love all that stuff, baseball is just a little different. I don't think you should show people up in baseball.
There is a word, I won't use it, but there's a word that a player has to have when they play at Miami. And I always felt like that when I played at Miami. And basically it's a word, "being tough" and I'm sure your readers can figure it out...there are just certain things you’ve got to have.