John McCormack completed his 10th year as head coach at Florida Atlantic, winning the most games since 2004 (43) and earning its fourth regional bid in the last six years...
Inside Pitch: What’s the story of how you got into coaching?
I went to camp with the Expos after my senior year at Lynn University and I didn’t make the team. I was hanging out at my buddy’s house one day that summer and in walks the head coach at FAU, Kevin Cooney, who had two sons that were friends with my buddy’s little brother.
I told Coach Cooney that I was planning on getting my MBA at FAU and he said that they’d pay for it if I was willing to come throw BP and work with the infielders. It was Fourth of July weekend at the time, so he asked me to think about it and come into the office on Tuesday or Wednesday. Now, Coach Cooney would tell you that he never thought I would come by, but I did. I started coaching and in year two, I got to do some recruiting and I caught the fever. Never finished my MBA and have been coaching ever since!
IP: What were the biggest challenges along the way?
I always found coaching fun. I worked here for nine years before I was a full-time employee, so that part of it was tough. I was an academic advisor, I did game operations, marketing, everything possible to make myself invaluable and make a few extra bucks. My wife, who was a full-time employee at FAU, was the reason I was able to have insurance, and Coach Cooney was just great with camp money and constant encouragement.
It was tough, when you’re relying on your wife to pay the bills and you’re just scrapping trying to make it as a coach and provide for your family, it’s a check on your manhood and your passion for what you’re doing. So the wins and losses never really discouraged me from doing this job, it was more the finances and being let down from time to time. As a player, you could work really hard and kind of see some rewards. When you’re a coach, you can be at the mercy of an administration that might have a different agenda than what you think it should be.
IP: What are some ways that being an assistant prepared you to become a head coach?
To be a good head coach, you have to be attentive to all of your assistant coaches’ needs. I make sure that I’m always asking my assistants if everything is okay, and what else I can get them to help them do their jobs. I recruited by myself for fifteen years, so I know the toll it takes on guys. I make sure that I give guys days off, tell them to go home and be with family. You have to watch that because young guys want to impress, they want to be out there, but it can be counterproductive when you’re exhausted, when you’re just out to be out. It’s much more beneficial in those instances to spend time at home and make sure your family is okay, because this job can take a toll on family. The younger guys can get into the highs and lows in terms of results. They take it personal, but you can’t look at it that way.
IP: How do you manage getting reps for your guys that aren’t everyday players?
We try to do a little bit of intrasquad stuff during the week where our bench guys can get some live at-bats. It’s really tough, because there are no gimmies. I’ve always told our players that the NCAA tournament starts on opening day, that the regular season is the first round and you’re trying to get a spot in the conference tournament or a regional.
You recruit good players that have played their whole lives, but they have to earn it on the field. Everybody wants to play, but you have to be able to fill a need the team has.
IP: How do you continue to make recruiting connections with so many quality high schools and junior colleges in and around the area?
A lot of the current head coaches were assistants or players from the area that you get to know. It comes down to the ability to be out, be friendly and have conversations. Introduce yourself to everyone, because you just never know who’s going to land where and how we can all help each other. I spend a lot of time in the summer recruiting, I like to talk and meet people. And being a head coach, people will always give you a little bit of extra time. People like seeing and hearing from the head coach, and I understand that.
IP: What are you looking for at FAU?
What we are looking for has evolved. When I first started out, we were a Division II school looking for guys that had fallen through the cracks, who might have a blemish on their transcript. When we were the new kids on the block in Division I, you’re looking for one tool that can help. Now that we have gotten better, we are really looking for multiple tools, for guys that can play the game.
I think that because I’ve been involved with the recruiting for 28 years, there is a model for what we are looking for at FAU. No one is perfect, so getting to know guys is really important. If kids make mistakes because of immaturity, that’s different than making mistakes because of malicious intent, for example. You have to do your homework, and that has changed a lot!
IP: How has communication with recruits changed?
Back when I started, it was 8-10 phone calls with the kid and his family before you even offered, and you were calling the house phone and talking to the little brother or the mother for a few minutes first. You could really get a feel for the family that way. Now because of cell phones, parents are cut out a lot of times, and kids nowadays are really well coached up on what to say, which can be good and bad.
IP: How do you handle the timing of making offers?
You have kids committing on what can seem like an hourly basis, so it feels like you have some pressure to offer just to get your hat in the ring. If you’re willing to do that, you’ve got to be willing to get rid of kids, you have to be willing to dump them before they sign the Letter of Intent. We do it the other way, we don’t get in too early. I’m not going to talk to a ninth grader who can barely function in a daily life setting and ask him about one of the biggest decisions of their lives. It’s forced a lot of good, ethical coaches to sway a little bit, and that’s not good.
No one talks much about how kids de-commit or don’t tell the truth about how much they’d be willing to sign professionally for, people just hear about how schools are de-committing kids, or how kids de-commit from schools. The solution to everything would be to sign that Letter of Intent immediately. It would be good on both sides, honestly. If someone thinks you’re good enough when you’re 14, go ahead and sign. You don’t live in an apartment or drive around a car for a few years and then sign the lease. It doesn’t work that way in real life, so when you’re making decisions, put your name on the dotted line.
It’s time to evolve. We don’t churn butter anymore, we don’t all have to milk cows. We just pick those things up at the store.