Q&A with Jim Schlossnagle

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on December 9th, 2009 in Uncategorized
 

Word of warning: when it comes to TCU for 2010… all hell can’t stop ‘em now.

Yes, quoting the Rage Against The Machine song, these guys are going to be an even stronger force in college baseball this season than they were last year when they finished a game away from Omaha. And Coach Jim Schlossnagle knows it.

Umps be damned, 2010 will be a good year for Jim Schlossnagle.

Umps be damned, 2010 will be a good year for Jim Schlossnagle.

While in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to cover the Big 12 title game at Cowboys Stadium this past weekend, I took a quick side trek to the home of the school that should be playing for the national championship in football and talked with the man that hopes to emulate the pigskin success on the baseball diamond this coming spring.

So I stepped into Coach Schlossnage’s office/permanent luxury suite overlooking the field in the relatively new Lupton Stadium, a sparkling facility in the renaissance boom that is college baseball. Even on this battleship gray, 38-degree afternoon, the place looks immaculate. And I also got the sense that Coach Schlossnagle was pretty fired up about all the contagious success of the athletic programs from every corner of the TCU campus.

Me:
To get things started, lets get the subject of TCU football out of the way first. What do you feel about the season they had and where they’re going for their bowl game?

Coach Schlossnagle:
It’s really been phenomenal. Gary Patterson and I are close friends and I think it’s good to see hard work rewarded. And it’s campus-wide too. We have 20 sports and 16 of them went on to NCAA post-season play last school year. For a school this size to have that kind of success, it’s pretty phenomenal. And we were one of only three schools to have a team in the top 10 in football and a baseball team in the Super Regionals; Texas, Florida and TCU.

Me:
Well tell me how you feel about the bowl game… as a fan.

Coach Schlossnagle:
As a fan? Well, I’m disappointed, of course. I know I’m looking through purple-tinted glasses, but I get to see these guys play ever week and well… they’re pretty good. I would’ve liked to have seen us get the chance to further crack that perception against whoever. I mean, I think they deserve to play for the national championship.

Me:
Well, I may be looking at things through red-colored lenses, but I worked that Big 12 title game on Saturday night and I kept thinking, “You know, Texas is talented beyond belief, but they’re just not playing very well.” And it seemed like they were like that all year. I left that stadium Saturday night thinking it was time we give a TCU a shot at the title ‘coz this team (Texas) didn’t deserve it.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Absolutely. Absolutely. I know that Coach Patterson is kind of on the fence about a playoff over having bowl games, but I can’t think of any legitimate, concrete reason anybody could be against it. They always bring up academics, but it’s amazing that baseball players can play straight through exams week but football players apparently can’t. I know some people like that whole bowl experience and whatnot, but it’s the competitor in me that would want to play for the national title in a playoff.

Me:
You’re preachin’ to the choir here coach, so don’t get me started on that… let’s get to some baseball stuff.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Good.

Me:
Let’s talk about the 800-pound gorilla in the room… your phenom pitcher Matt Purke, coming to TCU after getting drafted in the 1st round of the MLB draft. Obviously, there’s been a lot written about him. But I’d like to know, how did you pull that off? How did you get him to come to TCU to begin with?

Coach Schlossnagle:
What’s amazing about it is, when you recruit at a high-level – a Division I level – you always keep the draft in mind. We have a complete sales pitch/presentation-type of thing to send to recruits in which we try to just sell college baseball. We’re not trying to put down professional baseball…

Me:
So you’re just selling the experience of college and all that?

Coach Schlossnagle:
Yeah. Yeah. A little thing they watch that says ‘This is why you should come to college’. But with Purke we didn’t even do any of that. His family had done a lot of research and they knew the value of going to school, but they were still gonna let the draft dictate what happened. Basically, what it came down to was we just said, “Hey Matt, you know how we feel about you at TCU. We certainly understand where you stand in the draft, but if this is what you decide to do, you know you’re going to be well taken-care of at TCU.” And beyond that, we really had no conversation with him.

Me:
Really? Nothing more?

Coach Schlossnagle:
Well, we knew it was going to come down to the final hour – as they all do. Matt and his family were incredibly up-front in the fact that he’ll sign for THIS set amount and not a penny less. And I can’t speak for the Rangers situation but that’s what happened.

Me:
They didn’t come through.

Coach Schlossnagle:
That’s right. We were a little anxious ‘coz we thought “wow, this guy might actually come to school!” And he was actually here for the last day of orientation on August 17th, ‘coz you have to go through orientation to go to school here. So the final 24 hours of negotiating with the Rangers actually happened on campus here and in a hotel room.

Me:
Great. But weren’t you a little nervous about it all?

Coach Schlossnagle:
It really wasn’t much of a “nervous” thing. Usually we get kids that are drafted in the 7th or 8th round and are getting signing bonuses of 500 to 600-thousand dollars and some of those are the ones we think it would really be a better decision to come to school. Those are the ones that we are always really sweating over. But with a kid like Matt that is drafted THAT high, I mean, how do you try to talk a kid out of $2.5 to $6 million dollars? I don’t really have an argument against a kid turning down that kind of money.

Me:
But beyond Matt, the rest of your recruiting class was really good. I think Baseball America had it ranked in the top five. Talk a little bit about that. I mean even if you didn’t get Purke to campus, you still had a lot of good players signed, right?

Coach Schlossnagle:
Yeah, we had 13 pitchers on last year’s team and we’ve got 12 of them coming back this year. So we knew we wanted to get some position players that could be impact players in the program. And we feel that Josh Elander, a catcher-slash-outfielder and a center fielder named Kyle Von Tungeln, we feel those two are legit Division I guys, even as freshmen. Those two guys along with a couple of junior college players that we think are really impact guys, and for what we needed, with losing four or five every day players off of last year’s team, it will be nice to plug those guys in. Plus we had a couple of guys that we redshirted and didn’t get to play last year because we had so many seniors that we’re going to bring back.

Me:
So I was also going to ask you about your pitching staff. I was here at a game two seasons ago and saw Tyler Lockwood pitch a really good game against Air Force and I know he’s back again. Tell me about him and some of the other guys you have coming back like Paul Gerrish and Kyle Winkler.

Coach Schlossnagle:
The easiest way to put it is, if the season started today, there’s a good chance that Lockwood and Gerrish would probably start the season in some sort of bullpen role. And we’re talking about Lockwood, two years ago – if it weren’t for Strasburg – would’ve been the pitcher of the year in the Mountain West after going 9-2 with a great ERA and Gerrish, who ended up being our No. 1 starter at the end of last year and beat Texas in the Super Regionals. That’s two-thirds of our starters from last year’s team.

Me:
Geez. I guess that’s pretty good. (laughs)

Tyler Lockwood is part of a ridiculously deep TCU arms corps.

Tyler Lockwood is part of a ridiculously deep TCU arms corps.

Coach Schlossnagle:
And the biggest highlight of the fall was a guy named Steven Maxwell, who is about 20 months removed from Tommy John surgery. I mean, he had flashes of brilliance here before. In 2008 he beat Fullerton. He beat Ole Miss. He had Pepperdine beat in the 9th, all that, but then he came down with Tommy John, so we had to shut him down.

Me:
But then he pitched a little last year, right?

Coach Schlossnagle:
He pitched here and there. I mean, he had 10 starts, but with Tommy John Surgery, even if you’re back in a year, it’s really not until your second year that you catch your stride again. And Maxwell’s fall work was off the charts. Just off the charts. I mean, he’s a 4th year junior, but right now he looks like a 3rd or 4th round draft pick to be honest with you. And with Winkler, you know, he’s the guy that started in the Super Regionals and beat Oregon State in the regionals and he was a really highly-touted freshman. So we’re in pretty good shape.

Me:
Understatement.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Right now, the starting rotation would be some kind of combination of Maxwell, Purke and Winkler. And then, we also had a kid named Greg Holle, a big 6’7″ kid who is a junior now but he had 14 starts as a freshman and eight or nine more last year. And he’s really a better starter than reliever to be honest.

Me:
Man… what are you gonna do with all these arms coach? There’s only one ball.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Yeah, well we’ve got a lot of guys back and a lot of options. We also have a couple of guys that pitched well as freshmen in Kaleb Merck and Erik Miller and of course, Eric Marshall was our closer with nine saves last year and he’s back as a fifth year senior and 23-year old guy. So I love our pitching.

Me:
I think I would refer to that as an embarrassment of riches. (laughs).

Coach Schlossnagle:
Now we just gotta catch it behind them. (rolls the eyes)

Me:
Well I know that last year when I saw you guys play at San Diego State against Strasburg, the player I was most impressed with was your catcher Bryan Holaday. I didn’t know a lot about him before that, but just watching him work that game and his hustle and all, it was really cool to see.

Coach Schlossnagle:
To me, getting Purke was big. Getting Elender and Von Tungeln was big. But the best news was getting Holaday back for his senior year. I mean, he’s the captain of our team and, I tell you what, I’ve been in coaching for 19 years including a summer with Team USA, and he’s the best defensive catcher that I’ve ever been around. And I really think he’s the best in college baseball. If you look at our opponents’ stolen base numbers last year, he threw out well over 50 percent, he managed our team, he’s a leader and also hit 10 home runs.

Me:
One of which was off of Strasburg from that game in San Diego.

Coach Schlossnagle:
He had some teams contact him in the 7th to 10th round last June, asking if he would be willing to sign, but he didn’t. And that’s one of the advantages of a private school is that if you have a kid that is a good student, it’s not easy to sign him for 50-to-60 thousand bucks. So having him come back was huge ‘coz he’s such a leader and handles our pitching staff so well. And Tony Gwynne says he’s his favorite college player.

Bryan Holaday could be the best catcher in the country in 2010.

Bryan Holaday could be the best catcher in the country in 2010.

Me:
Really?

Coach Schlossnagle:
Yeah, he plays so hard and he just epitomizes the way we want to play on our team. And we’re really gonna count on him and Tyler Featherston, our shortstop and Jason Coats and Matt Curry. They’ll have to carry us early on ‘coz they’re our most experienced guys back there.

Me:
And I assume Featherston is going to be your ringleader in the infield, right?

Coach Schlossnagle:
Yeah, he’s our leader there, going from second to short this year. And he really did not play well defensively in the first half of last year, I think he committed 18 errors in our first 24 games. But then he only had seven or eight in the last 34 and then he had a great summer in the New England Collegiate League. And he’s a guy that is pretty vocal and has a big personality, so we’re really gonna count on him offensively and defensively to solidify our infield.

Me:
So you’re going to have to rely on a lot of young guys this year.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Yeah, if we started the season today we’d probably start two redshirt freshmen, Jantzen Witte and Davy Wright, and then the two true freshmen I talked about in Elander and Von Tungeln. And we’d also have a j.c. guy at second in Jerome Pena, who was drafted in the 40th round last year. So we’ll probably have three or four freshman playing everyday and some other new guys too.

Me:
I wanted to touch a little bit on your coaching staff too. I know you had Randy Mazey come here after being the head coach at East Carolina and your associate head coach Todd Whitting just got that promotion a few years ago. Talk a little bit about them.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Well, with Whitting, he’s our top assistant and our recruiting coordinator, and when I was offered this job I told them I wanted the job but I wouldn’t take it without getting the resources to hire Todd Whitting. He was at Houston and he was their recruiting coordinator and at the time they had been to the Super Regionals in three out of four years. And in this state, 80% of the players on these teams are from Texas. So you really need somebody on your staff who has the relationships and knows how to work them. And when I was at Tulane and UNLV, I recruited this state hard and, to me, he was the best guy and we were able to get him. So in the last few years we’ve had four recruiting classes ranked in the top 25 with two of them in the top 10. And not only that, but he’s the best infield instructor I’ve ever been around and a great hitting instructor. I think he’s definitely a head coach in waiting. He can take his time and find the right job for himself.

And then Randy Mazey, when I was a volunteer coach back at Clemson, he was a restricted earnings coach and we were roommates in 1992-93. So we’ve known each other a long time and he is one of the top one or two best purely-baseball people that I’ve ever met. Just to let you know, I’m a pitching guy, and Randy is the only guy in the country that I would allow to handle my pitchers instead of me. He was a two-way player in pro ball, an outfielder-pitcher. So he’s got a great feel for all parts of the game. He was the Conference USA coach of the year one year at ECU and when he was at Charleston Southern, he led that school to its first NCAA tournament appearance in any sport.

So I’ve got what I consider to be two super-star coaches.

Me:
Well that brings up two things. One, is Raynor Noble pissed at you for hiring coach Whitting away from him?

Coach Schlossnagle:
(chuckling) Well, you know, I don’t think he is. But he did try to hire him back since then.

Me:
Secondly, I guess you’re going to have to assume you’re gonna lose these guys eventually, right? Maybe even soon?

Coach Schlossnagle:
Yeah. Yeah. No question. But you know, that’s what you want. At least that’s what I want, I want upwardly mobile guys that want to go sign great classes. So it helps the program and helps them advance too. You want guys that want to coach the pitchers to finish in the top five ERAs in the country so that can help them get the next job. I’m fine with that. I want what they want. But that’s the one thing about TCU is that it’s a special place. People want to stay here because of the lifestyle. So as much as I want them to leave, TCU administration and the lifestyle make it become a hard decision.

Me:
I’m assuming you’re really happy with what they’ve done here at TCU with the facilities, especially this stadium and all. You’ve gotta be happy with the commitment they’ve made.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Absolutely. The best piece of advice I ever got was from Kevin White, who is now the A.D. at Duke, but was at Arizona State and Notre Dame before that. He told me that if you’re working with an administration that wants the same thing that you do, always try to make the job you want to be the job you have. And that’s what’s been phenomenal about when I came here. I inherited the ballpark, but every year since I’ve been here they’ve done something to make this place even better.

Me:
Yeah, I see they’re working on the outfield fence right now.

Coach Schlossnagle:
They’re just doing some maintenance on that right now. But before that we put up the new scoreboard and videoboard you see, and we did those four party patios before last season and they’re already sold out for this coming season. We got 400,000 dollars worth of new drainage for the field. A new warning track was installed when I first got here. Every year, it’s something new. And now we’ve hired Chris Del Conte from Rice, so you know he knows what a good baseball program can do for the athletic department. And it’s really that way in all our sports across the board. It’s great.

Me:
I wanted to touch on the post-season from last year. I assume the atmosphere here for the Regionals was great.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Oh yeah. It was.

Me:
But when the brackets came out and you saw that you guys were looking at a possible match-up with Texas, what went through your mind? Was it more of “uh-oh!” or “oh boy!”?

Coach Schlossnagle:
Well it was both actually. Ever since I’ve been here, if you’ve watched all the schools with more tradition than us, well, you’re probably gonna have to go through Texas, or Rice, or Baylor, or A&M to get to Omaha, that’s just how it works. And the same thing goes for California teams, any of them will have to go through Fullerton or Stanford or even Arizona State. They try to bunch everybody up everywhere, which I think is a travesty.

Me:
Don’t get me started coach.

Coach Schlossnagle:
So yeah, we had to go through the No. 1 national seed and I thought we had a chance at a national seed too. We were No. 6 or No. 7 in the RPI, so I thought we were deserving of a national seed too. Maybe if we had won our conference tournament we would’ve done that. So part of you is just knowing that it’s coming – you’re gonna have to go through Rice or Texas. But at the same time, if you could ever write a storybook post-season… (laughs). If you could ever draw it up and have TCU go to the College World Series for the first time, that’s the way you’d want to do it, beating Texas. You know, when I was at Tulane and we went to Omaha for the first time, we had to beat LSU in Skip Bertman’s last year. But you couldn’t draw it up any better. It was great.

Me:
I saw on your bio that you just signed a contract through 2016 not long ago. But if a program like Texas came calling or somebody like that, would you go? Or are you entrenched here forever? I mean I know you’re a young dude and all, so…

Coach Schlossnagle:
Me and Gary Patterson talk about this all the time. It seems if you’re successful at a program and are under 50, that subject always comes up. But it’s a compliment on the school and the program. You know, I guess you never say never, but baseball’s different than football because we have a tournament. Look at places like Rice or Wichita State or Fullerton or even Fresno, when they got hot. You can win national championships at those kind of schools. And I think here, as long as everybody else has the same goals about getting better and getting better, it makes it difficult to leave. I’ve had some opportunities that last two or three years, but it’s also the city.

Me:
Oh, the lifestyle thing you were talking about a little while ago.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Yeah. I mean, I literally live right at the end of this parking lot out back. I walk here. It’s like 200 yards.

Me:
Tough commute.

Coach Schlossnagle:
I know. And my children are in 3rd and 4th grade, so picking up and leaving would be difficult anyway. I mean, again, you never say never, but I’ve signed a seven year contract because I fully intend to be here – and that’s not just coach-speak, I really mean that.

Me:
So no interest in pro ball, coaching at that level?

Coach Schlossnagle:
No, I’m a college guy through and through.

Me:
Pfft. Then forget about it coach, that’s what I wanna hear. Tell you what, talk a little bit about the Mountain West, and what I mean is, it seems like things are slowly getting better, but I’ve always been a little frustrated by the fact that the facilities are so good, but the play hasn’t matched it yet. Last year seemed like a step in the right direction, getting three teams into the NCAA tournament.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Eric, I feel the same way as you. I’ve been in this league three or four years here and two at UNLV and I feel like our league has off-the-chart potential. You have three schools, TCU, San Diego State and UNLV that have facilities, weather and access to a recruiting base. And they’re able to play a really good schedule – and that’s a huge thing to me. In my opinion, those three schools should be the anchor teams to our league. And then you have BYU, who has a niche. They’ve got great facilities, they have plenty of resources financially and can recruit nationally. Then you’ve got two “University of’s” in New Mexico and Utah. I haven’t filled out my ranking yet but Utah is going to be in the top three somewhere this year. They’ve got a great team coming back. I think (Bill) Kinneberg is a great coach and so is Ray Birmingham at UNM. And Air Force is really the only one that is restricted by who they are and what they’re about and also the weather. So we’ve only got seven schools, but if the three I started with, TCU, San Diego State and UNLV are what they should be, that’s almost half of your league. I think our league is coming around, we went from 14 to seven in the RPI and at one point last year we had three teams in the top 25. But what you hope for is that the other teams in our league continue to be as committed as we are to the sport. I’m like you, I think we can be a top seven or eight conference every year.

Me:
I like to refer to it as a sleeping giant of a conference.

Coach Schlossnagle:
That’s exactly right.

Me:
Let’s talk for just a bit about Fullerton. I get to see them from time to time out there and I saw you’re playing them again this season. I know you beat them two of three last year to start the season. What did that weekend do for you guys and your confidence?

Coach Schlossnagle:
Well it was the first weekend of the season, so you just don’t know what you have really. We had a lot of new pitchers and didn’t have a closer. But when you play Fullerton, it’s the ultimate measuring stick because they play the game so well and are so well coached. When you finish playing Fullerton, you know exactly what your strengths are and exactly what your weaknesses are. They will be a threat to whatever weaknesses there are with your team. Even if you lose two or even lose all three, you come out of it saying, “Okay, these are the areas we need to work on.”

But the thing is, we were up 4-2 in the 7th in the game we lost. (Tyler) Pill ended up hitting a walk-off. We won on Saturday and then we were down 6-1 on Sunday and came back to win. And so when you have success like that against a team like Fullerton, it gives you so much confidence the rest of the year. You can hang your hat on, “Hey man, we just beat one of the most-storied programs in the country.” That doesn’t guarantee you anything, but it’s something you can build on. That’s why we try to play as good of a schedule as we can.

That’s why we’ve played Fullerton, Ole Miss, Wichita State and Minnesota – you may be surprised but Minnesota was as good of a team as any we played all last year. So those are the kinds of schedules we try to put together every year.

Me:
So that kind of schedule, that kind of competition, that’s a goal for you every year regardless of how good or bad you guys might be?

Coach Schlossnagle:
It is now, yeah. We originally went to playing tougher schedules because our league was struggling, so it was our only chance to put ourselves in position to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. But with last year, our league got really, really good, so it boosted our RPI into the top 10. But it wasn’t always that way for me. We didn’t play too good of a schedule at UNLV and we definitely didn’t play a very good schedule when I was at Tulane, because Conference USA was a pretty good league. But now I like it either way. Our kids like playing good teams. And when you’re trying to raise the number of season tickets and people are buying suites and those patio seats, they want to come out and see good games against good teams. And I can tell recruits, we may not play in the Big 12, but we’re playing all those teams like Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma… plus Fullerton, Ole Miss, Minnesota, etc.

Me:
Well that was about all I was going to ask today, but it seems to me like you can’t wait to get goin’ this year, especially with those arms you’ve got.

Coach Schlossnagle:
No doubt. I know our pitching is going to have to carry us until we get our younger position players brought up to speed. But I can’t wait.

Me:
Thanks for takin’ the time to have me here coach.

Coach Schlossnagle:
Thanks for makin’ it by. Travel safe.

.
SIDE NOTE:

Before we got to talking about his baseball team, coach Schlossnagle told me about being in the Frog Dome with all the fans and the band and the football team for the “live” shots during the BCS announcement show on Sunday night. Funny thing is, he told me that even though it looked live at the time of the show, most of it was actually pre-recorded about a half-hour before the show.

So the team is there, coach Gary Patterson is there, the Fox camera crew is there and Fox reporter Charissa Thompson is there. According to coach Schlossnagle, the producers were there pumping their fists and getting the crowd jazzed with applause signs and all. He said they didn’t know which bowl game they were going to play in at the beginning of the taping and even when it did go live, Thompson only told the fans gathered there that they were going to the Fiesta Bowl and not who they would play.

I kept wondering why these Frogs fans were so excited during the BCS selection show. Then I found out that they didn't know that they were headed to the Fiesta Bowl and playing Boise State.

I kept wondering why these Frogs fans were so excited during the BCS selection show. Then I found out that they didn't know that they were headed to the Fiesta Bowl and playing Boise State.

Coach Patterson was finally told it would be against Boise State right before Thompson stuck a mic in his face.

It was when people started filing out of Daniel-Meyer Coliseum that the fans realized it was a rematch with Boise State that their Frogs got and not the chance to play a team like Florida. The crowd walked away disappointed. No chance to prove themselves against the snobby big-money players in the good ole boys network.

 

COMMENTS:

December 9, 2009 at 8:09 am
NECBLfan says:

Coach is right about Featherston. Although it was definitely a down year for shortstops in the NECBL, he put together a solid season. I was only able to see him live once at the league All-Star Game. He did make an error but also had an RBI single.


December 9, 2009 at 11:08 am
James says:

Great article Eric. I have seen the Frogs in person and can tell everyone that Coach Schlossnagle is very impressive with how he coaches his team. Cant wait to see how TCU measures up this year. Looks like they may give UT a run for the best pitching staff in the nation. Hopefully they will be Omaha bound this year where College Baseball settles it the right way… On the field!


December 9, 2009 at 6:20 pm
jc says:

yep, they didn’t tell us during the FOX thing. i was fully planning on booing, but they never said it out loud to the crowd.

So smart, so smart.


December 9, 2009 at 6:29 pm

J.C., that’s frickin’ awful. ‘Coz from the look of it on TV, it just seemed like the Frog fans COULDN’T WAIT to get down to Glendale and play Boise State. Way to put the screws to the fans there FOX. I would’ve booed my ass off too if I were you. That’s what makes people so gullible… they see a producer behind the camera telling them to cheer wildly – not knowing what for – and they do it. Damn.


December 10, 2009 at 2:41 pm

[...] the enthusiastic crowd shots were whipped up and canned well before the show began, of fans who had no idea where they were going or who they were going to play (emphasis added): So the team is there, coach Gary Patterson is [...]


December 10, 2009 at 9:03 pm

[...] the enthusiastic crowd shots were whipped up and canned well before the show began, of fans who had no idea where they were going or who they were going to play (emphasis added): So the team is there, coach Gary Patterson is [...]