Feb. 1, 2011

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Nine Innings with Loren Hibbs

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


Ask college baseball fans to name some of the top programs by winning percentage over the past four years, and Rice, North Carolina and Arizona likely would come to mind. Powers like Florida State and Virginia, and stand bys like Oral Roberts also crack the top 10.


The ninth-best winning percentage since 2006 could come as a surprise. That belongs to Charlotte, which at 160-70 (.696) is right behind TCU and UC Irvine and just ahead of Cal State Fullerton.


The 49ers again are the preseason pick by the Atlantic 10 coaches to capture a conference crown. Charlotte coach Loren Hibbs played and coached in the College World Series while with Wichita State, winning a ring as an assistant for the Shockers in 1989. Since arriving in Charlotte in 1993, all Hibbs has done is guide the 49ers to more than 30 wins a season.


Hibbs took a few minutes to discuss this year’s 49ers and look back on his time with Gene Stephenson and Wichita State.


First Inning – The 49ers are shooting for their fourth A-10 crown in five years (2007, 2008, 2010) and are the coaches’ preseason pick. Any pressure, or do you enjoy being the team with the bulls-eye?
Our league continues to improve. The overall talent level is better now than when we entered in 2006. Winning is never easy and winning when you are expected to win is even more difficult.  Honestly, we know we have a target on us every weekend, and we embrace it.  Our guys understand that preseason predictions mean nothing….we must earn it on the field.


Second Inning – Your teams have been among the best in the country in recent years in winning percentage. How important is it to take the next step and win a regional?
Winning a regional is an overall program goal but we attempt to stay focused on the daily process. We must remain diligent in our recruiting efforts, and we must develop the guys in our program….period.  If both are done at a high level, then we have a chance to win a regular season championship, a conference tournament championship and eventually a regional championship.


Third Inning – Your squad returns all three weekend starters and all three starting outfielders. How important is it to have that experience?
We have a solid group of returning pitchers and position players…..guys who have played in just about every environment.  Experience is important because we are not going to overwhelm our opponents with raw physical ability. 


Fourth Inning – What was the key to Corey Shaylor’s transformation from a .239 hitter to one of the A-10’s best? And the emergence of Bryan Hamilton?
Shaylor just needed to get back to his base swing and repeat it every day.  He is limited physically but has developed a good understanding of what he can and can’t do in the box.  He has made himself into a good player.  Hamilton has always had arm strength and is a great competitor.  The effort he put in to his arm rehab was outstanding and it has allowed him to get consistent reps in practice.

Fifth Inning – You’ve had a lot of great pitchers at Charlotte. If you had to name one, who’s at the top: Tim Collie, John Maine or Adam Mills? (Or is there someone else?)

Maine, Mills and Steedley were all out at practice the other day and boy, it would have been great to have all of them together on the same pitching staff!  I don’t know that I can name one guy…..Collie, McWilliams, Walker, Baker, Treadway, Stanford…..all were special guys.  Lawson was really good for us last year and we will have others as time goes on.  [Assistant coach] Brandon [Hall] does a great job with our pitching staff, and we have a solid base of talent.


Sixth Inning – You’ve played and coached in the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium. What are your feelings about the old park and the decision to move the CWS downtown to a new park?
I don’t know how anyone can duplicate the atmosphere of Rosenblatt Stadium.  It is the best place I ever played or coached, and we won a national championship on that field in 1989.  The CWS belongs in Omaha and I am glad they made the decision to keep it there.


Seventh Inning – What was it like to play under Gene Stephenson at Wichita State? And how about coaching alongside him?
I would not be coaching at Charlotte without the guidance Gene has provided over the years.  He allowed me the freedom to work and provide input from the first day I started coaching.  The two things that come immediately to mind when I think of Gene are his intense desire to compete and staff continuity.  No one has accomplished what he has in our profession….building a nationally competitive program, from scratch, at a non-BCS school, in a cold-weather climate while raising millions of dollars and developing multiple guys who have gone on to play in the Major Leagues.  Most people don’t realize that Gene has only had four full-time assistant coaches in 30-plus years at Wichita State and only one pitching coach (Brent Kemnitz).  Brent has been the anchor, the organizer and a tremendous complement to Gene over the years.


Eighth Inning – Why did you decide to get into coaching after a short professional playing career?
I wasn’t good enough to play at the Major League level, and Gene offered me a chance to get in to college coaching. It was a pretty simple decision.


Ninth Inning – What’s your reaction to the new bats this season? Does your philosophy change at all?

I think the jury is still out on the new bats.  We are under contract with Louisville Slugger, and I like what they have done.  Our product seems to be competitive. We will make slight adjustments to our philosophy, but we won’t completely overhaul how we recruit or play.


(photos courtesy of Charlotte Media Relations Office)