Feb. 12, 2014

CBI Preview

CBI Feature on CMU's Jordan Foley


Nine Innings with Miami (Ohio)'s Danny Hayden

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


Danny Hayden (left) has returned to Miami as its new head coach. He played for the RedHawks as a freshman in 2004 and was an assistant coach at Miami from 2008-10.


Hayden transferred to Xavier for his final three seasons. The catcher was captain of the 2008 squad that won the Atlantic 10 regular-season title.


For the past three years, Hayden was an assistant coach at Xavier, working with the hitters and overseeing the offense. He was also responsible for travel and academics.


Hayden recently took time to answer our questions.


First Inning – How did your first fall as a head coach go? What are some of the team’s strengths?

I was very pleased with our fall.  I consider myself very lucky to have taken over the team that I did.  These guys embraced me and my philosophy very quickly.  Dan Simonds is a great coach and had these guys used to working very hard, which made my job a lot easier.  There are things that I am sure Coach Simonds and I approach differently, but all of our efforts are rooted in hard work and our guys were prepared for that.  The thing I wanted to bring to this team was to stress how important energy, passion and love are when we think about baseball.  When you bring energy to practice every day, it makes practice fun (even when you do bunt defenses for an hour).  When you’re passionate about what you do, it makes it easier to get out of bed at 5:30 to get to morning lifts.  When you love what you do, it is easy to make sacrifices for what it will take to get you better.  This is the type of culture I want to be present in our baseball program and so far our young men have done a great job embracing it.


We have plenty of strengths on our team right now.  The first thing that jumped out to me this fall is that I think we will really hit.  I think we will be able to put nine hitters in the line up every day that will make life hard for pitchers.  On the mound we will definitely be looking for some guys to step up in our bullpen.  We have plenty of talent in there but it is somewhat unproven.  It will be enjoyable to see which guys grab hold of those fun innings late in games.  With that said, I feel confident that our starters will do a great job making life a little easier on our bullpen because we have three real good ones to run out there on the weekends.  Our biggest strength on this team needs to be our mentality.  We have a lot of guys on this roster who are desperate to win.  As the season unfolds, I consider my biggest job to be allowing these guys to feel confident at any point in the game.  Our mentality is to throw safe baseball out the window and attack teams as fearless, confident competitors.  If we can do this every out, no matter the score or the opponent, then this team is ready to be really good.


Second Inning – You played a season and served as an assistant at Miami. What does it mean to be leading the program?

Miami has always been a special place for me.  Miami gave me my first opportunity to compete in Division I collegiate baseball as well as my first opportunity to coach.  I still have a lot of very good friends from my time as a player here and we are all proud to be a part of the Miami baseball family.  For me to be able to give back in such a direct way is very rewarding.  When I was a player here, Miami was the top dog in the MAC.  We are heading back to that position.  When I think about where I want this program to go, I do it with so many great people in mind.  It is fun to be involved with a program that has so much pride and tradition.  My goals for this program are not just to get it back to where it was, but rather to see it climb to new heights it hasn’t seen before.  For me, leading this program means keeping the pride and tradition that it has always known while seeing it strive for better than it has ever known.  I believe that we are on a crash course with Omaha and I cannot tell you how great it will be for me as well as every single other person in the Miami baseball family to watch us work like crazy to get there. 


Third Inning – Describe what makes Miami such a special place to the Hayden family.

What makes Miami special for anybody is its people.  It is no different for my family.  This institution has always operated with class.  The people that Miami produces are special and the friendships you make while you are at Miami are even more special.  I would say that my family has given a lot back to Miami because of how much Miami gave to them.  A lot of people in my family have graduated from this place and if you ask them what they admire most about Miami, it is the people they met while they were here and the relationships that have lasted since.  That is what Miami does. 


Fourth Inning – What are some of the most important things you’ve learned about being a head coach from Tracy Smith and Scott Googins?

I’m not sure I have enough time to answer this question.  Those two men have done more for me over the last decade than I would have previously thought possible.  Tracy Smith, or “Skip” as I know him, had a major impact on me from the second I met him.  First off, he is just the kind of person that you want to impress.  He is a competitive, cocky, fun- loving guy who is good at everything he does.  He could have beaten me in just about any competition.  I think I could have made up a game, gotten really good at it, then poorly explained the game to Skip and he would have destroyed me in it.  There is a lesson here I promise.  What I took away from playing for Skip was how far expecting to win goes.  He would tell you that he was simply more talented than everyone else (and a lot of times he was) but what was really happening was that he was more competitive than everyone else and he expected to win at everything he has ever done.  I learned to be a much better competitor while I played for Skip.  If something is really important to you, then it is okay to be unapologetically competitive in order to get it.  After all, that is kind of what makes competition fun.  Another lesson I learned from Skip is how to communicate with players.  Like I said, I was not the most talented player on our roster.  In fact, I was the third most talented player at my position my freshman year.  Skip let me know that very often.   While he was brutally honest with me, I never took it as anything other than motivation because of how he communicated it.  He knew when he needed to yell at me, he knew when he needed to challenge me, and every once in a great while he knew when he needed to show me the light at the end of the tunnel; that all this work would pay off somewhere down the road.  He was a great coach to play for.


Scott Googins is simply one of the best people I have ever met in my life.  The greatest lesson I have learned from “Googs” is how to treat people.  Scott Googins treats everybody the right way all the time.  It is not the easiest thing to do when you are in a competitive environment and wins are so important but he always treats people right.  He is an easy man to look up to because he absolutely leads by example.  His players respect him as much as any coach’s players in the country do.  From a baseball perspective the biggest thing I learned from “Googs” is to be able to relax in the dugout.  It is easy to get anxious during a big moment in a game but if the coach is anxious how do you think that is going to affect the players?  He has a great ability to be calm no matter how high the stakes are…it’s incredible to be around.  Because he is the way he is in the dugout, Xavier has enjoyed so many great late game heroics because his players aren’t nervous.  They are just playing baseball.


Coach Googins and Coach Smith will always be people I admire a great deal.  They tried to make me a good player (they were fighting an uphill battle there) but the lessons I have learned from them make me feel very comfortable that I am ready to be a very good coach.


Fifth Inning – How does your age help you as a head coach? How does it make things tough?

I have not noticed my age being a huge benefit or hindrance.  Our players have bought in to what I want from them but I do not feel like it is because I am closer to their age.  I think it is because there is substance to what our staff is trying to accomplish.  The message we preach every day is to bring energy with you everywhere you go, be passionate about what you do and love baseball. I think that message will be as well received when I’m 60 as it has been this year.  As far as being too young… Well I look at it this way, for any first-time head coach there are going to be things that are new.  How I deal with those things will define how well equipped I am to be a coach right now, but what I learn from them is what will define my career.  Any first time head coach will be put in situations that are unfamiliar to them and that is regardless of age.  My age will not help me or hurt me as I make decisions during a game or with roster management or with how I treat people.  I will learn from each new experience I encounter like any first time head coach would.  I am lucky to have an easy person to look to for guidance being a young coach.  Tracy Smith was a huge reason I felt prepared to take on this job at the age of 29.  He had a lot of great advice for me but in addition to that, he reminded me that he was my age when he took over as the head coach of Miami. 


Sixth Inning – As a former catcher, what makes a great college catcher? What are three things you look for in recruiting catchers?

First off I know how good I was at the position and I know any catcher I recruit has got to be a lot better than I was.  The great part about the position is that catching requires skills that can be learned.  Catchers do not have to be the greatest athletes, they just have to be tough.  So that is where I start when breaking down a catcher.  Do I think this kid is tough?  Tough guys are confident and pitchers like to throw to confident guys.  Indecision is the worst thing that can happen between those two people that touch the ball every play.  Our catchers will be confident and our pitchers will feed off of them.         The next two things I look for are quick feet and a strong arm.  Feet are very important for those guys behind the plate.  Slow twitch feet cannot play catcher.  If a catcher is not tough or he does not have quick feet we will not recruit him.  Arm strength is the big bonus.  The stronger a catchers arm is the better I will feel about him.  It is a great feeling to know that you can shut down a running game when the other team watches your catcher throw during infield/outfield. 


Seventh Inning – What makes former catchers good coaches?

I think that catchers end up being good coaches because they get to see the entire field all day long.  The catcher is always looking to make sure his teammates are positioned correctly.  He is always checking in with the coach in the dugout.  He has to be able to get his pitcher on board with how they want to attack a hitter.  There are always all these things going through catcher’s heads and, because of that, I think they view baseball a little differently than everybody else.  As I mentioned earlier, I think catchers are the tough guys on the field and I think that serves us well as coaches. 


Eighth Inning – What does Miami have to do to overcome Kent State and the always competitive MAC to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 2005?

We need to expect to beat every team on our schedule.  Like I said earlier, there is a lot to be said for people expecting to win every time they take the field.  Winners don’t spend all day wondering if they’re good enough, they prepare all day to beat you.  Preparation leads to confidence.  It’s like studying for a test; if you don’t study, you spend the entire time worrying about the things you wish you would have done differently.  On the other hand, when you do study there is nothing going through your head besides the answers.  That is how winners feel all the time, they don’t have doubt because they know they are prepared and they expect to do great.  I think our team played safe last year, afraid to make a mistake.  When we become fearless, we will be the best team in our conference.  I think we have enough talent on our team to do that this year.  As for fearless, we will see how we react when we’re down a run in the ninth.  Those are the really fun situations for fearless competitors or the anxiety filled ones for reluctant victims.  


Ninth Inning – How has baseball in the Midwest changed since you started college in 2004?

I think the biggest thing that has changed is the expectations.  The last two years we have seen teams from our region make the College World Series.  That is something that I think a lot of schools viewed as too tall a mountain to climb 10 years ago.  People think they can do what they see and having seen teams from our region playing in a College World Series has a lot more teams thinking that they can do it.  It is a great thing and I am certainly one of those coaches who believe his program can compete at that level.  Miami is a great place.  I have an unbelievable coaching staff.  We have everything we would want to be able to recruit the best players in the country.  We expect to get there.


(photo courtesy of Miami Media Relations Office)