Three-time national coach of the year Andy Lopez enters his 12th season as the head coach at the University of Arizona in 2013, fresh off the heels of a 2012 national championship. He is one of just two NCAA Division I head coaches to win a national title at two different schools, and is one of three to take three different institutions to Omaha.
During his illustrious coaching
career that began in 1983 at Cal State Dominguez Hills, Lopez has tutored 37 All-Americans, 82 All- Conference performers, and 119 MLB draft picks. Eleven of his former players have made it to the big leagues.
Lopez is also involved in the Fellowship
of Christian Athletes,
with Athletes in Action in 1982 and `83. He and his wife Linda are the proud parents of daughters Kristi and Kerri and sons Michael and David.
Inside Pitch: A lot of people are driven by winning, by championships. You are no stranger to either; how do you and your team stay motivated after the fact?
Recently, we had our ring ceremony and the 2012 team was inducted into the University of Arizona Hall of Fame. That next Monday, (the 2013 team) got together and I told the guys, "it's all over now.”
We had great memories, but like all things in life, it's a moment. It's not who you are, it's not your identity. It's a great moment that we can relive for the rest of our lives, but it's not our identity. That's what I press on our guys as athletes and as men—if you let winning become your identity, you become falsified from an individual standpoint. We have to concentrate on being better players, coaches, and people today and guess what? Our 2013 team has work to do to claim an identity for this year as well.
IP: What would you say to people that criticize high pitch counts in college baseball?
First and foremost, I've never known the “magic number” when it comes to pitch counts; I'm not a surgeon, I'm a history major that's been coaching for 36 years. I've seen some of the most stressful 45 pitches in the world and I've seen guys breeze into the seventh inning with 90 pitches and it looks like they can throw 150.
It's not a crude or archaic method; we see the visual signs with radar guns and I keep it simple—if a pitcher is maintaining velocity and throwing low strikes and we have good communication, we let him keep going. If we see a drop in velocity or location or something physically, we're gonna go get 'em.
IP: What are some of the goals that your teams seem to have year in and year out; what do Andy Lopez-coached teams do well?
I know our goals, they're very simple and our players hear them every day:
What do you think we're looking for? What do you think we want you do be?
We like players that are real tough mentally and play real good baseball—not spectacular, but real good—we want you to become a man. In order to excel mentally, you have to be able to
bounce back from
adversity. To play
good baseball, we
need to throw low
on both sides of the
and we can't strike
out. To be a man, you have to be accountable. It's pretty simple.
Our intentions have to mature into commitments. Everyone has intentions, every play has inten- tions of being good, but many times they don't mature enough to be committed to it.
We also have two rules in our program: be on time, and do things right.
IP: How do you teach your players not to strike out? How are your pitchers so successful in terms of their strikeout totals? (Arizona pitching staffs have earned the three highest single-season strikeout totals under Lopez.)
We are not happy with a strikeout, so with two strikes, our hitters have to commit to sacrificing and just making contact. They have to be committed to our two-strike plan. Everyone has a (two-strike plan), but are they committed to it? You may say you're committed, but your body language might tell me that you're trying to hit a home run. I just want contact.
With pitching, it's basically working on the skills and amplifying them. Locate the fastball, have an off-speed pitch for a strike, and the "line in the sand," throw an off- speed pitch for a strikeout. I can get a hitter to an 0-2 count tomorrow, but I can't get 'em out. That's what separates a good pitcher from a great one.
IP: What advice would you give to young coaches?
I'm gonna be real honest, and my wife of 29 years would attest to this. I don't know where I got this—I believe it's from the Lord—but I've always believed that wherever God put me, that's where I was sup- posed to be. I believed with all my heart that the "big time" is right where I am.
My first job was at Cal State Dominguez Hills, where I had no money for assistant coaches, dragged the field with my own car, watered it by hand, put the equipment in back of my trunk every night, and I taught three classes as an associate professor. And I did it for six years! Through it all, the frustration and the tears—and there were some tears—I truly believed that I was getting up and I had a great job and I was going to make it a great program.
We also had a little league-style scoreboard (at Dominguez Hills)— we had to hang numbers on hooks down the right field line. Since we were in the third base dugout, we had to have a player run down there in between innings and run back— imagine the verbal abuse they took! I used to time them on a stopwatch and see who could be the fastest, and I would reward that guy at the end of the day.
We all have challenges in life, but you can't let it consume you. I would tell myself, "This is where the Lord has me, this is what God has given me, and I've gotta do a good job with this thing. This is the best place you could possibly be."