Leap Frog- how Jim Schlossnagle, TCU jumped to the front of the line in college baseball

TCU photo

TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle talks to Inside Pitch about no. 1 rankings, hiring an elite staff, motivational videos, and the first things he’d do if he had to build a program from scratch.

 

What are some of the memorable stepping stones your program has taken over the years?

“The beauty of baseball is that if you play well at the right time, you can bypass a lot of steps pretty quickly. For instance, maybe there’s an upset in the opposite side of the Regional you’re paired with for a Super Regional. But in general, there’s a process that you have to go through. Once you get into the NCAA Tournament, all bets are off. One tipping point for us was in 2009 when we hosted a Regional for the first time, we’d been in six straight before that.

“When you’re playing at home you get a big advantage so from a program standpoint, things really change when you host a Regional. You attract the novice fan that may get excited about college baseball and have a blast, and that can help raise your season tickets, which is exactly what happened [in 2009]. We won that Regional and advanced to the Super in Austin and played well, but Texas played better, they beat us in game three. The very next year, the exact same thing happened, except we won game three and advanced into the World Series.

TCU photo

“The more Regionals and Super Regionals you’re in, the more accustomed you get to playing in them. In 2012, we were back in a Super Regional at UCLA and won, and in 2014, ’15 and ’16 we just played our very best baseball at the best time. The more times you get the Omaha, your players get less and less affected by the distractions, so to speak. It’s just so tough to win a Super Regional, especially on the road. The teams are good, the crowds are amazing, and the intensity is so high on every pitch. No disrespect to the College World Series- it’s a great place and you get to play in front of 25 or 30,000 fans- but for the most part, they’re there to cheer on good baseball, not necessarily for one team or the other. It’s certainly not like playing a Super Regional in College Station, Austin or Baton Rouge.

“I’m really proud of how our program has done it the right way. We’ve gotten a little bit better each year and just taken it from there.”

Do you take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach with the logistics of your program, or are you always tinkering?

“I believe in being a lifelong learner, that’s for sure. I think we’re always looking for ways to better serve our players, whether it’s on a baseball field or off of it- academically, socially, or spiritually. Our culture, our beliefs, our core values, our coaching staff has been able to pull together our support staff, our strength coach, our athletic trainer, and really every support area has been really consistent, with talented people.

“I think we have great structure and a really good culture, certainly the players are at the forefront of everything. Recruiting is the lifeblood of your program, but people can get too caught up in it and forget about player development. Guys come here and get better, on the field and off the field, and we’re really proud of it. We have bad days like everybody else and we have bad days coming, just like everybody else. I do feel like the structure and the culture of our program has been consistent through it all. The players know what is expected of them and they know we’re here to serve them, and I think they’re excited to come be a part of this thing on a day to day basis.”

What kind of impact have your assistant coaches made?

“Kirk Saarloos does a great job with the pitching, and Bill Mosiello is the head coach of our offense. One thing that’s very understated about our program is the effect of Bill Mosiello. For instance, no one ever talks about the fact that we’re number three in the country in stolen bases the past three years. In 2013, we ranked 8th in the Big 12 in runs scored, last in batting average, and we scored 246 runs in 57 games. Last year, we were first in batting average and first in runs scored, with 467 runs. That’s 231 runs in only ten more games. He’s just been phenomenal.

“Kirk is really, really talented in a lot of areas, and he’s just a great person. He’s from Southern California, so his personality is very different than mine, which is good, I think you need that balance on a coaching staff, especially with those pitchers. He’s great about keeping a cool head about him and staying even-keeled, and the kids are really drawn to him.

“As a former pitching coach, it’s not easy for me to turn the pitching over to somebody, but I’ve turned the whole thing over to Kirk. I want to have the freedom as the head coach to have baseball conversations with our coaching staff, keeping an open line of communication. I don’t need to be in the middle of teaching a guy how to throw a better breaking ball, but I’d like to know how we’re going about it.

“[Volunteer Assistant Coach] Zach Etheredge is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, we have that across the board in a lot of our support areas. The folks that work the hardest and are at the ballpark the longest get paid the least a lot of the time. We’re able to compensate him in a lot of different ways outside of the university, but he’s been incredible. He’s done a great job with our catchers and with Bill on our offense, we run one of the largest and most successful baseball camp programs in the state, and he runs that. He’s very much overqualified for the position he’s in, and we learn from him the same way he learns from us.

How do you utilize the volunteer assistant on your staff?

“I was a volunteer coach the first year that position was in existence. I graduated college in 1992 and that was when all of the sweeping changes occurred. Coaching staffs went from being pretty much unlimited to being one head coach, one assistant coach, a restricted earnings coach and a volunteer coach. I was lucky to be the volunteer at Clemson, and I told Coach Wilhelm and Coach Leggett at the time that I didn’t want to be treated any differently, I wanted to be at the office and do everything the rules allowed me to do. I’ve always looked at that role as a full-time position; we give it great responsibility and have high expectations and try to put them in a position where they can learn as much as they can so they have a chance to move on and get a full-time job.

“We’re restricted by the NCAA rules, but I think that college baseball does a very, very poor job of developing young coaches, and that’s simply because the volunteer isn’t allowed to recruit. So when someone is looking to hire a full-time coach, they’re really taking a leap of faith by hiring a volunteer because they don’t have that recruiting experience, and that’s a challenge. Hopefully we can get that changed over time.”

If/when you do have to hire somebody, what are you looking for?

“When do you have to hire somebody, you’re looking at who has left, and what has been their responsibilities on the field. I look for three things. The third-most important is knowledge of the game. The second-most is somebody that’s going to work and really enjoy the profession. And the most important thing is that they’re loyal, I’m looking for good people. We don’t need to have the same opinion, but we need to have the same values. I’m proud of the fact that all four of our coaches attend the same church; every other Tuesday we have a staff Bible/book study.

“In 2014, we were 15-12 in the middle of the season and I remember talking to the guys and telling them that this is the most talented coaching staff I’ve ever been a part of, just keep doing what we need to do and the results will show up on the field. Not to take away anything from the players, because it’s all about them, but the game of baseball will challenge you. Our guys remained consistent, we went on a run and ended up in the College World Series.

How do you balance work life with home life?

“I live right at the end of the baseball parking lot. I walk out of the office, get in my golf cart and drive across the parking lot and into my driveway. For some people that’s not their thing, but it works for my family and me. I’ve always wanted to raise a family on a college campus, and we are literally doing that. We can walk to the basketball games and to the football games, it’s really been an awesome experience.

“I’m not good at decompressing. It’s something that I’ve worked on, but I don’t see it as stress. I enjoy the everyday challenge of trying to make our guys better and make our program better. I just like to be home- I don’t play golf, I don’t hunt or fish very much, I just enjoy being with my family. So if I get a couple hours to kill, I like to be with family, maybe to see a movie, something like that. I guess I’m just different like that.

“We have Brian Cain, who has been our sports performance and mental skills coach for the past eleven years, and he showed us a video of Sisyphus, the guy who was sentenced an eternity of pushing a rock up a hill, and when it got to the top of the hill, it rolled back down and he had to do it all over again. The basis of the video was how much Sisyphus enjoyed pushing the rock; when it gets to the top, that’s the worst part of his day. I relate to that, I enjoy the opportunity to be with our players and our coaches and find ways to serve everybody.”

What is your inspiration behind the motivational videos you put out every year?

““Quiet Confidence” was the first video, and “the Grind” was the second. I got together with a young man that had just graduated from TCU and was starting his own film company, and I told him that I’d always wanted to make a video that I can pop in and say ‘this is what we’re all about’ to someone who’s trying to learn about our program. We wanted to have some highlights in there and make it kind of a recruiting piece. So we’ve done it every year ever since, and it’s just become a part of our program.

“We use an advertising company, my friend owns a really good one here in Fort Worth, and they’re very artistic and creative and we basically sit down with them late in the winter and talk about our team- what our theme is, what our challenges are, and they come back and show us storyboards and script. We go back and forth on that and we show them the video. This year’s is very different from the others, so I’m interested to see how it’s received.

“They’re not cheap, there’s people out there waiting on the edge of their seat to see what the next one is all about, so we’ll keep putting them out there.”

What does a number one preseason ranking mean?

“It’s a statement of the program as much as it is about a particular team. It obviously helps sell tickets and get people excited about the season, but it can’t affect your preparation or the day to day operations of your program. We anticipated it because we knew we were going to return the majority of a team that made it to the College World Series last year. I think anytime you return almost an entire team from Omaha, you’re going to be ranked highly the next year. As we saw in Omaha, it’s never about the best team, it’s about the team that plays the best. The line between winning and losing in college baseball has never been thinner, so we know that we have to prepare like everybody else, stay healthy and play well at the right time. If we do that, we’ll have a chance to get back [to Omaha], but at the end of the day, it means nothing.”

You walk onto the field tomorrow and you have no players. How do you begin to recruit a new team?

“The first thing I’d sign would be pitching. In my opinion, baseball begins and ends with pitching, especially starting pitching. If you can’t match up with the other team on the mound, you’re going to have a hard time winning. After that, we look for athletic players that can play multiple positions, good people that have a desire to get better. The beauty of a place like TCU is that we’re dealing with really good students and families that have a lot of those character traits in their toolbox.”

You walk into the office tomorrow and all of the walls are blank. What are the first couple quotes you’re putting up?

“I have two favorite quotes, one is “excellence is a habit, it’s not an event. You are what you repeatedly do.” It’s important for everybody to realize that your life is the sum of your choices. I try to remind our players of that every single day.

The second quote is from former NFL coach Bill Walsh, who basically said that “champions behave like champions before they’re champions.” There’s a winning standard of performance that’s well before the finish line.

Those would be the two things that go up first, it’s not about the fruit at the end of the tree, it’s about the roots. You have to build yourself up every day and if you do that, you’ll eventually get what you want.”

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