Feb. 10, 2014

CBI Ivy League Preview


Nine Innings with Penn's John Yurkow

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


John Yurkow spent seven seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania before being promoted to the W. Joseph Blood Head Coach of Baseball at Penn.


As an assistant with the Quakers, Yurkow oversaw recruiting, worked with the hitters as well as the infielders, and coached third base.


Yurkow was a four-year starter at second base for Rowan, earning All-America honors. He was an assistant at Rowan for two seasons before heading to Duke as an assistant from 2001-05.


Yurkow recently took time to answer our questions about his path to becoming head coach at Penn.


First Inning – How does it feel to be a D-I head baseball coach for the first time?

It’s exciting and it’s a great opportunity, Penn is a special place. I couldn’t think of a better place than the University of Pennsylvania to be a head coach.


Second Inning – How did the fall go? What did you learn about your team?

The fall season went very well. I thought our coaching staff did a great job with the transition and teaching of our new system. We made steady improvement from start to finish. The main thing that stood out was our pitching depth. I’m hoping that it will be one of our strengths this spring.


Third Inning – When Penn decided to make a move with its head coach last year, what did you feel you had to show to prove you were the right person for the job?

I didn’t feel I had to prove anything. I just thought I had to continue to run the day-to-day operations and keep recruiting. It was a challenge at times with the uncertainty surrounding the coaching search.  It was unique being an internal candidate, but I felt that I had a good perspective on the university and the baseball program after being here for seven years as an assistant. I couldn’t have been any happier with how it worked out.


Fourth Inning – What did you learn under John Cole that helped prepare you for the head job?

I learned a tremendous amount from John both on and off the field. John was organized and detailed in everything he did. He was always prepared. He taught me a great deal about the administrative duties of being a head coach. I was very fortunate to work for him, and he made me a better coach.


Fifth Inning – Now that you’ve gone through the fall, what are the biggest differences from being an assistant coach?

For me, it’s realizing how many more people you interact with throughout the week. Whether it is working with alumni, fundraising, or facility management, more of my time now has been dedicated to the administrative side of coaching.


Sixth Inning – Describe what it’s like to recruit players to an Ivy League school?

We really have to be thorough with our initial recruiting phase of acquiring information on players. With our academic requirements we have to make sure we’re pursuing student-athletes who will be a fit at Penn. Luckily for us, our admissions department does a great job of communicating throughout the year of what the expectations are.


Seventh Inning – Speaking of recruiting, what are three things you look for in a hitter?

Number one, bat speed, it’s hard to teach. Second is approach, it gets overlooked more than any other characteristic at the high school level. If a hitter has a plan at the plate, chances are he will contribute early in his college career. Lastly, mental toughness. It can be a bit tougher to judge this in the recruiting process but it separates a good college hitter from an average college hitter.


Eighth Inning – What are your favorite memories about being an assistant at Duke?

Two things stand out; one was watching our players develop and have success at the pro level, and two, having an opportunity to work for Bill Hillier.  He gave me an opportunity early in my coaching career. Bill was a good coach and more importantly a tremendous human being. He did a great job connecting with his players and staff.


Ninth Inning – Temple, a program you know well, announced it is eliminating baseball. What’s your reaction to that news?

I think it’s a terrible situation for everyone involved. It’s bad for college baseball in general. Coach Wheeler and his assistants are personal friends and great coaches. I really feel for them. They were doing a great job at Temple and the program was headed in the right direction. I wouldn’t count them out just yet. I’m still hoping they’ll have the opportunity to have alums step up, and help him save Temple baseball.