Step 3: Bring in the Assistants; Baseball Makes Bold Request at SAAC

The university’s athletic program of the past two years can be summed up in a word – transformation.New facilities have been installed, old ones revamped, and new head coaches are to be instated.At this month’s SAAC meeting, two baseball athletes urged administration to consider making another change.

The Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) consists of two representatives from each team here at Bloomsburg and meets every month with Kevin Wood of Athletic Operations.They discuss team, coaching, equipment, facility and academic issues they encounter as student athletes.Before closing the last meeting of the year, baseball players Tony Donofry and Mike Griggs explained why they felt it was time to hire a coach to support head coach, Mike Collins.They reiterated their thoughts in interviews:

“Coach is forced to divide his attention between pitchers and position players during practice,” said Donofry.“At certain points in practice one of the groups we have is essentially practicing alone.With an assistant, Coach Collins could be helping the hitters during batting practice, while the assistant helps the pitchers.”

“The pitchers and the hitters are split up during practice,” said Griggs, “and both groups should have full hands on instruction with a coach at all times, not just for half the practice.One coach for 27 players just does not work.”

I left the SAAC meeting convinced that the opinion of these two players was totally well grounded.After considering their words, those by Coach Collins, and other coaches of the PSAC, I’ve become even more convinced that a complete coaching staff could be what it takes to pull the team into a winning season – something they haven’t enjoyed since before the year 2000.

Wood took these concerns to a meeting with Bloom coaches, members of the athletic department, the head of student affairs, Dr. Preston Herring, and President Soltz.Wood was not available for comments, but Mary Gardner, athletic director, sat down for an interview.

“This concern is not new,” said Gardner.“We’re taking a real hard look at what baseball needs.”

Collins, who is finishing up his third year as head coach at Bloom, sang praises for his volunteer grad assistant, Vinnie James, but he still explained the struggles of being under staffed: “I have 12 pitchers, three catchers, seven infielders, and five outfielders – 27 players total.Each possesses a diversity of skills,” said Collins.“For this we have one paid Coach and a part-time grad assistantship position. I think a reasonable person can do the math and draw their own conclusions.”

Donofry said that coaching depth is crucial for keeping up with the competition.“After talking to some other players from other schools, I realized that they all have either a part-time or paid assistant.We aren’t asking to be in the greatest situation in the league, we just don’t want to be in the worst.”

Ask a baseball coach anywhere, and chances are they understand the woes of being under staffed.Paul Stover said that they got by okay at Lock Haven when he began coaching there 17 years ago with no assistants, but said it was difficult and, “Today baseball in the PSAC has gotten so competitive you must have two full time coaches, and a volunteer, and a grad assistant would be ideal.”Now Stover, who is part-time, is assisted by a full-time assistant, Heath Stover, his son.

The magic number may be common knowledge, as Jeff Ditch of Indiana University of Pennsylvania agreed with Coach Stover about the ideal coaching depth for a college baseball team.“With 34 athletes and so many different skills needing to be taught and practiced, it is important to have four coaches available as needed by the team.”

Collins said that he has dealt with the lack of coaching to the best of his ability.“Would additional help improve my ability to manage the baseball program? Absolutely.However, staff additions and the resulting costs and benefits are something that our upper administration has to consider.”

As head of student affairs, Dr. Herring handles athletics at the higher level.He explained that he would surely like to grant baseball a part-time assistant coach, but he and Gardner both listed four other teams at Bloom who would benefit from more staffing as well: men’s soccer, women’s soccer, track and field, and tennis.From here, said Dr. Herring, it is a matter of comparing the criteria presented and then prioritizing.

“Next year if I went forward with three part-time positions, I think I’d have a reasonable chance at getting it,” Herring said.

It’s tough to say for sure though.He was lucky enough to be granted both coaching positions he requested for this year – new head swimming and track and field coaches.Dr. Herring said it was clear they would need these positions filled in the near future, as head swimming coach Dave Rider was nearing retirement and the track and field facility was scheduled for completion.

He said that before requesting more assistants, he wanted approval for these two head-coaching positions.“We have a clear plan of where we want to go instead of pecking away.”As of about a month and a half ago, the go-ahead was given for swimming and track, and this meant Dr. Herring would now consider assistants.

Gardner agreed that this time of great transformation is ideal for hiring more coaches.As far as baseball goes, she said there was another factor which determined timing; the number of seasons Collins spent here at Bloom affected how soon the department would consider hiring.She said that in his two years here so far, he has proven that he is building the program successfully.She pointed out that he is doing well with recruiting, as most of the roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores.“It’s a process, and he’s building it in the right way.He’s recruiting talent then coaching them to get as a competitive unit.That’s why it feels like we’re on the cusp of becoming one of the most competitive schools in the East-PSAC.”

Over the past years, several athletic teams have made huge steps forward in order to keep up with the other schools of the conference.The soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey teams all benefited from a new turf facility in fall 2006, the tennis team was practicing and competing on new courts by spring 2007, and Redman Stadium and the track are in the midst of renovations.Gardner said that changes like these are propelling the department toward hiring more.“A year ago, I’m not sure it’d be the same, but now I feel we’re positioned to move forward,” she said.

Track and field is one of these programs that is progressing by leaps a bounds, a team that I am proud to say I am a part of.In the mid-‘90s, the team was cut to a distance-based program, and it’s remained the same since.In the past three years that I’ve been here, just a handful of sprinters and a jumper have passed through.Bloomsburg is unable to recruit other events because we don’t have the facilities or the coaching.While the track was resurfaced five years ago, jumping runways and pits and throwing circles were not installed, and the track is also missing a steeple barrier.When non-distance oriented athletes join the team, Coaches Karen and Jim Brandt, a wife and husband pair, educate themselves on their event and coach them to the best of their ability.

The program is expected to grow once the facility is completed, and naturally more coaches will be needed for the specific events.While my initial assumption was that several part-time coaches would be hired specific to sprinting, hurdling, jumping, and throwing events, the department has instead begun a nation-wide search for a new head coach who is knowledgeable of several track events.

“Moving in this direction is so exciting,” said Gardner.“With support from the administration for a brand new position, we can meet the needs of a multi-faceted team.”

Even with a new head coach who knows several events, time provides limits.A track coach backed by weak assistance will battle the same obstacle as Collins does, who is forced to divide his time between athletes to cover each skill at practice.Dr. Herring has expressed intentions to apply for more assistant track coaches down the road, and he said that it’s not out of the realm of possibilities to have one by next spring to accompany the new head.

Track and field coach at Kutztown University, Ray Hoffman, said that their program has two full-time coaches and three part-time coaches to handle 90 athletes, but he would like to have three full-time coaches.“You will find that with office work and academic monitoring your day is taken up.I often leave the office to go to practice with much left to do.I think overall you need five coaches to be dedicated to your program,” and then he listed the areas that would need to be covered: distance/mid-distance, throws, sprints/hurdles, pole vault, and jumps.

It is true – A coach’s job is never finished on the field.It is required for any coaching staff at an effectively run program to split time between coaching, paperwork, and recruiting new athletes.

“College coaches at every level and in every sport are almost completely defined by their ability to identify and attract talent,” said Collins. “The most talented teams are the most successful,” he said.“It’s tough to sell a top prospect on a one-person coaching staff.”

There are several teams here at Bloomsburg that have no assistant coaches, and the only team with more than one this past year was football.Even they rank last in the conference for coaching depth with three assistants, compared to the more typical six to ten.Yet, Gardner feels that the university falls within the top half of the PSAC as far as coaching depth goes.I am in the midst of a research project to be completed this summer to verify this.

I have no doubt that every team here at Bloomsburg would benefit from an increase in coaching staff, and this is across the board.At this time, I am not particularly impressed by the numbers of assistants here.The lack of depth would make me uneasy about the future of our programs, but the recent renovations to the facilities indicate the university’s dedication to developing the programs here. Why would so much money be spent if there was no intention to move forward?

Regardless, there remains a lack of coaching staff here.Of this Gardner said the administration is “very aware.”Dr. Herring has made their vision clear to me:the goal was to get the big projects out of the way first, like facility renovations and head coaching positions filled, and now it’s time to hire the assistants.While the success of several programs may have been delayed for a short while, I feel the chosen plan is ideal for effectively building the 18 athletic programs.

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