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Turns to ‘Mac’
By Christina De Nicola
coaches don’t usually get their start while hanging out at a
friend’s house. But then again, first-year Florida Atlantic head
coach John McCormack’s journey is anything but typical.
hired John initially to babysit a disgruntled senior, and I was
afraid he was going to be moping around,” longtime Owls head
coach Kevin Cooney said. “I put his best friend on the staff to
keep his spirits up. I figured John needed some help.”
year was 1991 and McCormack had just graduated from nearby Lynn
University, where he often played fall ball against his future
Eighteen years later, “Mac” leaves the ranks of assistant and
takes over for Cooney, who retired after 21 years with the
never really thought about the time until people asked me about
it this year,” McCormack said. “The way coach had things set up,
it was more we were in it together. I had a lot of
responsibility. I never really kind of sat down and said, ‘Jeez,
I’ve been an assistant for 18 years.’ He had always been very
good to me to make me feel an integral part of it on an everyday
first season, McCormack and Cooney took a road trip to visit a
recruit in southern Georgia while the team was playing in
northern Florida. On the ride home, both were silent.
Neither thought the kid fit the program and realized the
recruiting method wasn’t efficient. It was here that the
newcomer proposed focusing on in-state recruits.
was insistent and persistent,” Cooney said. “The first 15 to 20
minutes of a game [in the stands with a recruit], he was
explaining what was going on at FAU, sticking up for me, telling
people I wasn’t a jerk, trying to build bridges.”
Florida Atlantic is on a streak of 10 consecutive winning
seasons and six NCAA Regional tournament appearances since 1999.
The Owls have won 658 games under the two men, and 73 former
ballplayers have been drafted or signed by professional teams.
the success of the program, Cooney looked for ways to keep his
assistant – from giving him a car when his broke down to making
up jobs that would get him some extra money.
never asked for a raise for myself until 2002, and it’s because
I was constantly trying to get money for John and my other
assistants,” Cooney said. “There were a number of times when pro
baseball guys were trying to get John to become a scout.”
said that although he had a number of opportunities, he was
always content at FAU.
had spent so much time together to develop this place,”
McCormack said. “It wasn’t like a coach-assistant relationship.
For the longest time it was just me and him.
was always home to me, and I’m a very loyal and stable guy. I
grew up in Boca, and I met my wife at FAU. I went to high school
eight years ago, when Cooney’s first son finished his baseball
career with the Owls, he began to consider retirement.
knew that at some point I could walk away after that,” he said.
“John was included in that all the way. I owed it to John. He
really helped solidify my job at a very shaky time and we were a
real good team.”
McCormack soon focused on coaching skills and was rewarded with
the title of associate head coach and the third base coaching
Despite their different personalities, both men claim it made
the team better. At the helm, Coach Mac expects to follow the
same basics that were instilled by his mentor.
core ethics and morality of the program are going to stay the
same,” he said. “It’s about the players and us creating a good
atmosphere for them in terms academically, athletically and
Strategically, the recruiting guru would like to focus more on
going to put some guys in motion and put the other team on the
defensive a little bit when they have to worry about more than
just pitching to our guys,” McCormack said. “Our main focus
every day at practice and recruiting is pitching. We’re going to
develop a pitching first mentality.”
left-hander Alex Pepe (pictured left), who was taken by the
Texas Rangers in last year’s draft, hopes to get a large chunk
of the bullpen’s work.
feel like a lot of it is the same, Coach Mac is just more on
team chemistry: He wants our team to be one,” Pepe said. “I
think we’ll be a lot better pitching team than hitting team this
season, and I think a lot of people don’t think that.”
new assistant coaches – pitching coach and recruiting
coordinator Jason Jackson, infield and outfield coach Brad Frick
and hitting and outfield coach Ben Sanderson – all are under the
age of 30.
“Pretty much all of our new assistants are around that same age
and they’re really in tuned to us and the times,” senior second
baseman William Block said. “They’re pretty much like friends on
the baseball field, but they’re also our coaches.”
himself, McCormack hasn’t struggled with the transition.
been relatively easy,” he said. “It’s a lot of the same things
that I’ve been doing in the past. Coach Cooney was always good
about broadening our horizons as assistants. Now Friday night
when the first pitch is thrown, I’m sure it will be a little bit
added that McCormack’s approach hasn’t changed with his new
a very personal guy,” Block (pictured right) said. “He’s real in
contact with the players in the way times are today. He’s the
same way as when he was an assistant, he’s very serious, but he
also has that joking side.”
McCormack heads to home plate with the lineup card before Friday
night’s season opener against Fordham, he acknowledged he will
be feeling various emotions.
think every new head coach around the country is going to feel
the same thing, but for me there’s a little difference because
I’ve been here for 18 years, and so many people were rooting for
me throughout the years to get the job.
know all of the fans and the season ticket holders. It’s kind of
special because I grew up here and I grew up in front of them so
I’m almost one of them who is out there.”
(photos courtesy of FAU Media Relations