Brian Green was named the head coach at his alma mater, New Mexico State University, this past summer. Serving six years as offensive coordinator and infield defensive coach at the University of Kentucky, Green helped develop the Wildcats into one of the top offenses in the country, leading the SEC in eight offensive categories in 2014. He has developed the reputation as a top recruiter and elite hitting instructor.
Green spent four years at UCLA before Kentucky, having also coached at the University of Hawaii, Oregon State University, University of San Diego, Chapman University, Cal Poly-Pomona, Riverside Community College and New Mexico State. Inside Pitch caught up with Green during his busy summer to talk about what’s made his teams so successful:
Inside Pitch: First things first...what do you look for when recruiting?
We look for hitters to have rhythm, we look for them to have the ability to recognize pitches, we look for balance, and we look for bat speed. Those are the big ones; how does a guy commit out of the pitcher’s hand? Does he appear to have the ability to recognize a pitch? How much does he swing and miss in recruiting, or does he swing and miss at all? Those are things we can take and project for the next level.
Another thing is just like you try to stay away from arm issues when you’re recruiting a pitcher, it’s the same recruiting hitters, you want to make sure they have a clean hand path. I think you can always assist a hitter getting into a good launch position or getting into balance, but if you have a hand path issue I think it’s really hard for a guy to make a jump at the next level.
IP: How do you “lay the foundation” with your hitters?
With as early as recruiting is these days, there are so many conversations that you have prior to your guys getting to campus. You talk some about adjustments they need to make in high school, and you talk a lot about the adjustments that you’re potentially going to make with them when they get to the college level. So by the time they get to campus, there’s really not going to be anything new.
We think it’s really important once they get to campus to let them go out there and let them compete. You brought them in for a reason. If you bring a kid in and automatically make changes and he doesn’t have success, you really open yourself up as a hitting coach to losing the biggest thing you have to have with a hitter, and that’s trust. If you make immediate changes to them without letting them compete, now they’re looking at you as the reason why it’s not going how they want it to.
In the fall, I try to let our hitters compete, talk to them about approach, and give them at-bats. When that’s over, they can come to you if they didn’t have success because of that trust you develop. Then you can begin to really go to work with them.
IP: What are the main reasons that your teams haven’t seen the letdown that most others have with the bats changing?
BG: I think our guys have been able to maintain the offensive output through the years because they’re strong and because they do a great job in batting practice.
The biggest thing is that you don’t want to get beat in the weight room. Guys have got to get after it, they’ve got to get strong, especially with the new bats. It’s a strong man’s game; strength can do things for you.
With the bats the way they are it really makes you become technically sound and drill approach; dominate the middle of the field, keep the ball out of the air. A lot of balls hit with these new bats are getting caught by the center fielder; five years ago, they were getting into the alleys and going over the fence.
We also do a lot of charting. We give our guys a lot of statistical feedback in terms of pull, middle, opposite field, line drive, ground ball, fly ball. We show them the success they’re having – or not having – based on those simple keys.
I think for the most part, you’re going to have a pretty good idea of how the opposing team is going to pitch based on their personnel and how their pitching coach is going to do things. We have a team offensive approach; we go into the game with it and try to dominate three simple keys. By doing that, we can review everything at the end of the game and find out how close we were to hitting our three keys. That starts with the leadership of the older guys demonstrating it in batting practice and in games, which gives the younger guys a role model and someone to follow.
When we go into a game, our offensive approach is going to be pretty much the same because the pitcher, for the most part, is going to be one of three types: a power guy, a mixer, or a specialist. When you talk about a specialist, you talk about a late-game matchup guy, so in terms of a starting pitcher you’re either going to have a power guy or a mixer. With both of those guys, we’re really trying to attack with the same approach. There were only a couple times throughout the season when our approach was adjusted prior to the game. We try to keep it simple and dominate our three keys.
IP: What are your three keys?
We want to be aggressive, we want to look away and react in, and we want to have a good two-strike approach. There are a few very specific things we look at, some exact numbers we keep track of and try to reach during the game, but those are our main objectives. What is exciting is that we found a way to take our game goals and turn them into statistical measures. When we hit those numbers, the percentage of success offensively was staggering!
IP: What are your thoughts on video?
We video a ton. In the fall, we video BP every day. We put a camera in center field for BP and give kids a chance to watch it at the end of the day. We take notes; I’ll put a round or a swing down on “clip number 54, check out your posture” or “on clip 56, look where you make contact.”
In the spring I try to video our BP once a week. I’m always pulling my camera out of my back pocket and
showing our guys their swings. My goal is that when we get to the spring, we’ve done such a good job educating our guys about what they’re looking for, that they can make their own fixes.
IP: What would you say your personality is as a coach?
You’re going to get punched in the mouth. Your players are going to have a down time individually. You’re going to have a down time with the whole group. If you’re not positive, if you’re not upbeat, if you’re not always supportive, then it’s easy to bring everyone down. I think being the best friend you can be, being the most supportive guy you can be, is everything. I don’t think there is another key to being a hitting coach. It’s going to get tough, you’ve got to be in their corner, you’ve got to be supportive, and you’ve got to be tough enough to tell the kids what they really need to hear, good or bad…and you’ve got to constantly educate and re-educate yourself on what the major league swings are telling us...I love to watch the rhythm and timing keys in particular and share that with our kids, as this is sometimes a different approach.
IP: How do you gauge success as a coach?
Seeing kids get better from year to year. What A.J. Reed did from year to year is amazing; he’s a completely different hitter than he was when he got to Kentuckey.
Getting our kids to buy in to the approach and sticking to it, especially when it’s going against them, is just awesome. Another one is finding that relationship with a player where they really trust you, you really trust them, and you’re on the same page together. That’s the key to coaching and it’s something that makes it so great.