Inside Pitch Magazine, May/June 2022

Cover Interview: Link Jarrett, University of Notre Dame

Nose to the Grindstone

by Adam Revelette

Inside Pitch Magazine Cover with Link JarrettLink Jarrett has guided Notre Dame into the conversation as one of the top teams in the ACC in short order. In 2021, the Irish won their first ACC regular season title in program history, leading the league with 25 conference wins. For his efforts, Jarrett was named the 2021 ACC Coach of the Year, the D1 Baseball Coach of the Year and ABCA/ATEC Div. 1 Midwest Regional Coach of the Year. He was named the 21st head coach of Notre Dame baseball in 2019 after seven years as head coach at UNC Greensboro, where he was a two-time Southern Conference Coach of the Year and guided the Spartans to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years.

Prior to UNCG, Jarrett made coaching stops as an assistant at Auburn, East Carolina, Mercer, Florida State and Flagler. As a player, he reached the Double-A level with the Colorado Rockies and was the starting shortstop on three College World Series teams at Florida State, where he earned NCBWA All-America honors as a junior and senior.

Inside Pitch: Things are obviously going very well right now in your coaching career, but tell me about a time where maybe things weren’t going go smoothly?

Link Jarrett: The first time I experienced how competitive and how many people were involved in the coaching side at the DI level was at East Carolina. I was there for two months and had just moved my wife and two kids from Mercer when the head coach was let go. Someone called me and said “Hey, we'll probably let you stay on through the end of the year and then the new head coach can decide what your fate is at East Carolina." That is the reality of athletics at the Division I level. I had never felt like I was coaching for my livelihood until then. Billy Godwin was named the head coach and everything worked out great, but there was a period of time where I couldn't believe what I was feeling or seeing happen right in front of me.  
IP: How were you able to focus on the “controllables” at that time? 
LJ: I think if you can continue to develop a reputation as a hard worker and a good recruiter, when you’re building these things you’re the face of it as a recruiting coordinator and people have to trust you; they have to know that you work very hard. And I think that giving your players and their development your best effort every day goes a long way.
So when other coaches and other programs compete against you, they sense that the players are well-coached, the coaches give them an honest effort, the coaches are involved and active. And I think when people trust you and see those traits, you are going to end up on the good side of it. So that's what I was trying to do. 

IP: So it’s not just “work ethic” in a physical sense, coaching is a lot about working on relationships as well… 
LJ: I think it’s the only way you can go about it. Nose to the grindstone. Work hard for your own kids in your program and work hard in the recruitment of the ones that you feel like you need. You also have to have good relationships with the people that coach the youth league players, the high school players, the travel ball guys. They have to trust you, they have to like you. Same with the people you coach against, they have to trust and respect you because that fraternity and network is probably the most important piece for a college coach. You have to have a support structure amongst other coaches that believe in what you’re doing. Even if they’re not on your staff, or if it’s somebody you never work with, your reputation is going to precede you when you have some of these decisions that have to be made revolving around other job opportunities or movement. 

IP: What have you learned with recruiting that has helped you along the way?  
LJ: As you progress in this career, your recruiting becomes more dynamic. At that time, there was no recruiting “calendar.” It wasn’t like nowadays where you have more extended quiet periods. We were basically on the road 10 months out of the year, and we were going to do camps for the travel teams. And it was very difficult, but it made me better as a coach. 

I really learned how to recruit at a high level at East Carolina. And when we got to Auburn, we were recruiting elite players that were sometimes drafted in the first or second round and not actually making it to campus. That was tough for me because you spend years in some cases recruiting these kids. You sign Mike Trout, Addison Russell, David Dahl and some of the elite talent in the country, and they never arrive on campus and now you’re trying to reshuffle and regroup from that. When those guys were in the 11th grade, sometimes you don’t realize where the talent level is headed. 
IP: You’ve built programs in both Greensboro and now South Bend. Were they both really similar just in terms of the potential and building those programs? 
LJ: I saw a tremendous promise in both programs and both of them stood out to me immediately. Greensboro is a tremendous city, and the facility, field, and administrators at UNCG were all great. You’re in a state that has strong baseball at the high school level—really strong. I saw tremendous potential there and I was comfortable in that area. 
And Notre Dame—it’s a global brand. It’s a phenomenal institution. You're recruiting the elite of the elite student-athletes. That's your option, you have no other choice. So your pool of candidates that can play baseball at this level and are also Notre Dame caliber students is pretty shallow. The recruiting here is from Seattle to Miami—you have to get all over the place, and that’s far different from how it was at Greensboro.
I think the coaching side is a little more relatable in terms of what you’re trying to do on the field, but getting the right players in your program took a vastly different roadmap to what I felt like we needed. So defining the universals, the evaluation, how you’re doing it, where you’re going and what you're actually looking for is very important. And it’s not just a scouting/evaluation thing. I separate evaluation from recruitment because recruitment is convincing these guys to come to your school. So you can be good at one and poor at the other and have a problem on your hands. You have to be a good evaluator and communicator, and be organized. Then you have to convince talented players that have other options that your school is the right one for them. 
I think program development is another big part of what head coaches need to do. It’s your scheduling, it’s your fundraising, it’s facility upgrades. I’m always asking “what helps the players the most? Is the calendar that you set up for the program appropriate for where you are?” 

IP: How about building your individual teams?  
LJ: It’s all about player development. Obviously I have been fortunate to have talented assistants that work really hard around me. Rich Wallace, Chuck Ristano and Brad Vanderglas here at Notre Dame, and Jerry Edwards, Joey Holcomb and Matt Boykin at Greensboro—they’re talented. We all work tirelessly in player development; can you move the individual skillset of the kids along? We all have a hand in it. Evaluation is important, recruiting is important, like I said. But player development is really the grassroots part of coaching. 
Game management is another big piece. There are things that come up when you're actually playing the games that require the right buttons to be pushed. Do you know your personnel? Are you aware of the game situation? Do you have the right people in the right roles in the program? That has a big impact. 
I’ve always tried to break down program needs in those five areas. Are we evaluating properly? Are we able to recruit? Are we developing our players? Am I developing the program the correct way? And are we managing things that come up in the competitive game setting in the best interest of putting the guys in position to win? 

IP: How have you handled weather issues in South Bend, Indiana? 
LJ: When I got here, one of the first things I did was talk about the weather with Chuck (Ristano), who had been at Notre Dame for more than a decade.  Fall here is absolutely beautiful. September, October, just gorgeous. You get into November and the first week  seems to be okay, and Chuck said “wait when you get to mid-November, you don’t know day-to-day what you’re going to get.”
So that first fall here, it was me, Chuck, Rich (Wallace) who was new, Scott Wingo was our volunteer at the time, and none of us had ever coached together. As I thought through this, I said, “We have to be ready to play a game on November 1st. I mean really ready to play. They have to understand our language, our signs, all of our systems, our offensive stuff, pitcher catcher communication, bullpen prep.” I wanted to be ready to play on November 1, because that calendar of time that we had was what I was most accustomed to. I had never done the pre-season indoors.
So I said, “If I can have this team and our coaches ready to play a game on November 1st, then from January 10th to February 15th we can fine tune this thing and we’ll be alright.” I knew I was going to have to learn how to do this indoor stuff. What I found is that on November 1, we were probably 90 percent ready to play. There were some things I knew we didn’t quite have an understanding of; understanding it and being really good at it are two different things. So 10 percent of it, I didn’t think we quite understood, but I did then step back and said, “Well, wait a minute, I have five weeks in the preseason. Maybe we’ll be alright.” 
But I’ll tell you what happened. This is the first place ever where I don’t feel like I miss one minute of what goes on during those preseason practices. I never missed a thing because we knew we were going to be inside, in a controlled environment. I never had to worry about getting the field ready or if the field is too wet or if it’s too cold. Those thoughts never crossed your mind. And with the proximity of where we are in relation to the action when you’re in that setting, I’ve never felt so up close and personal to the guys when they're actually scrimmaging, and I love it. It’s awesome. I think we actually coach better because we aren’t out on the field. 

IP: What are some things you do that may be unique when you have to go indoors? 
LJ: All your attention goes to how creative and competitive you make what you’re doing when you practice indoors. We have a football field, so that’s great. We can put two infields on it, and there’s a barrier net that drops down at the 50 yard line. So we can have a full infield, pitcher, catcher, hitter types of scrimmages. The outfield stuff we have to use tees and machines to kind of shoot balls in the higher part of the center of the field, but we don't use outfielders on defense for our scrimmages.
But finding creative, competitive ways to maximize time and space is key. For example, we use our machines to shoot ground balls to guys in between innings to help us get more work in when we have to be inside. They’re getting more work than I think we normally would. It’s just harder when you’re at your field, I’m always wondering if we can be more creative and more demanding of the time we have. But for me, the reality of being inside is the opposite of what most people think in terms of the limitations. I really find it to be the most hands-on, intimate coaching that I’ve ever done, because you’re right there in their face.

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