Kevin Cooney is
in his 17th season as head coach at Florida Atlantic University
and 21st overall. Each week, he’ll share some of the highs and lows
of running a college baseball program - one that continues to grow as a national
power. Cooney, who starred as a pitcher before taking Montclair State to a
Division III national title, has guided the Blue Wave to a 226-89 record and four NCAA Regionals the past five years. His 1999 squad won 34 straight games, tying
the NCAA mark set by Texas in 1977.
Aug. 12, 2004
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
In the case of some, the move was made to advance a career by taking a position
at a larger school. For 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 its 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 that 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
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 still is, 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
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 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.
The Summer's Here and the Time is Right (8/5/04)
So, You Want to be a Baseball Player (7/9/04)
Fathers' Day (6/22/04)
The Draft, and Hard Working Assistants (6/11/04)
Ebb Tide in the Seventh (6/7/04)
The Mann of the Moment (6/6/04)
The Wolf at the Door (6/5/04)
Land of Hope and Dreams (6/2/04)
Glory Days (5/30/04)
Blue Wave Crashes on Two to Reach A-Sun Final (5/28/04)
Seniors Rule the Day (5/27/04)
A Lefty Lift (5/26/04)
Missing the Fons (5/26/04)
Who'll Stop the Rain? (5/23/04)
The 'Badlands' of Miami (5/19/04)
A Bad Part of a Good Job (5/14/04)
Sweep Home Alabama (5/12/04)
Winless at Winthrop, but Victorious in Friendship (5/3/04)
To Bunt or Not to Bunt - That is the Question (4/27/04)
The Promised Land (4/21/04)
A Little Rusty (4/17/04)
Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Heaven's Door (4/15/04)
OB Gets CG for FAU vs. UCF (4/13/04)
The Present and the Past (4/8/04)
Held Up Without a Gun (4/5/04)
Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword (3/27/04)
Bye Bye Buckeyes...Hello Dolphins (3/26/04)
A Festive Week Ends in a Wreck (3/22/04)
Break No Day at the Beach (3/16/04)
Baseball is Boring? What are They Smoking? (3/9/04)
Hanging with LaRussa was in the Cards (3/6/04)
Winds of Change (3/1/04)
Washington's Birthday (2/23/04)
Dugout Talks and Scouting Reports (2/21/04)
Not a Happy Valentine's Day (2/16/04)
Opening Weekend (2/9/04)
Almost FAMUs (2/2/04)
FAU Living in Land of Hope and Dreams (1/28/04)
(photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations Office)