Jan Weisberg has led the Birmingham Southern baseball program to multiple 35-win seasons a No. 2 national ranking in 2017. Prior to BSC, Weisberg led Transylvania University to a second place regular-season finish in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference— the highest finish ever at the time—and to its first-ever conference tournament in 2006. He spent 1991-2005 as a player and coach at the University of Kentucky. He and his wife Alyssa have two sons, J.T. and Evan. Here’s a look into his program at BSC:
Inside Pitch: What’s a bird’s eye view of what a calendar year looks like at your program?
During the fall, our typical practice time starts at 3:50. For those who are out earlier, we do some individual or group early work from 3-3:45. Three times per week, players lift in small groups, and they probably spend 2-3 hours on schoolwork a day when they’re not at baseball activities.
We generally begin our spring practice in mid to late January. We start games the second weekend in February; for the first few weeks, we only play on weekends. Once we settle into the season a little bit, we usually play one midweek game and three on the weekend. There are 40 regular season games on our schedule, so when you add in the conference tournament and NCAA postseason play, we have averaged about 50 games the past few years.
I love this game and I love my players, but I love my family more. With 40 regular season games as opposed to 56, I get to spend more time with my wife and two sons. The recruiting schedule is not as grueling; I’m not gone 85 out of 90 nights like I might be when I was recruiting at Kentucky.
IP: How do you maximize your team practice time?
That is one of the hardest jobs we have as coaches! On the front end, we place a great amount of emphasis on recruiting players who are passionate about the game, players who want to get in the cage and on the field for extra repetitions. We have great facilities and weather and have been very fortunate to have guys who have not let up on their baseball skill training in the off-season. We concentrate on team concepts during practice, as well as getting them to understand the things they will need to concentrate on in the off season on their own—how to approach their cage work, etc.
IP: What are some of the main challenges with recruiting?
Not offering athletic scholarships may be the hardest thing for prospective students to understand. Beyond that, it does take more to show a prospective student-athlete that he is not giving anything up in terms of player development, baseball atmosphere, coaching, etc. by coming to Birmingham-Southern. Just as in Division I, there are many different levels of programs here.
At a top program like ours, there’s just not much you’re giving up as a student-athlete, regardless of the level you decide to play at. Whether it’s Division I or Division III, the level that you play at does not define you as a player.
While we do compete at a very high level, obviously it is not the SEC or ACC, so there are a greater number of players who fit our program and can help us win on the field. With that, the recruiting grind is not nearly as high here. As an example, if I go to a tournament there may be 10 players who can help us, where there were probably 1 or 2 when I was at UK recruiting. I think that relationships go a longer way here as well; schools and summer programs of former players have been a huge tool for us. We’re more concentrated in our efforts, which makes things much more efficient.
We can’t go into the recruitment of a player that we really like by giving him an athletic scholarship, we have to wait and see what the financial side may look like. Because of that, shaping a team can be difficult. There can be times when high school/summer coaches may not be aware of how good some DIII programs are, and may not help identify the right players for us.
IP: What types of jobs are your recent baseball alumni doing now?
The great majority of our guys are working as professionals and doing extremely well! Several of our graduates go to medical school, earn masters degrees (predominantly MBAs and Engineering).
We also have a lot of baseball alumni across the country who are now in banking and accounting. Two have gone on to student ministry. Bruce Maxwell was a second round pick and is currently in the big leagues with the Oakland Athletics. Miles Nordgren spent three years in the Twins organization and is now playing in the American Association, and 2011 All-American Drew Leachman played in the Twins organization for three years as well.
IP: So what’s the BSC best recruiting story you have?
David Scott is a recent graduate, and was the best defensive shortstop we have ever had. He made no errors last year during conference play, finished second in the country in stolen bases and was our catalyst offensively as the lead-off man. When I saw him play I liked him a little bit, but to be honest, I told him he might want to go somewhere else as I didn’t know if he would ever play here! David had good actions and was a great kid, but he was skinny (6’1, 155 lbs.) and just an average runner.
Our school president General Charles Krulak was the former Commandant of the Marine Corps and took a liking to David. Eventually, General Krulak just told me “you need to take this kid.” I did, and David was one of the hardest workers I have ever coached, from the SEC to DIII. He was tireless in his pursuit to get better. He ran more than anyone I have ever seen, took thousands of ground balls over his four years, and worked his tail off in the weight room. The end result was a 6’2 190 pound shortstop who rain a 6.55 and became one of the best shortstops, at any level, in the country.
IP: What’s it like at Birmingham Southern?
Birmingham-Southern is a top liberal arts school in the South. It is a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for high achievement. BSC has an extremely high graduate school acceptance rate and average starting salaries for BSC grads are among the best in the South. It’s a very special place, and I have developed great relationships with many professors and administrators at our College. This intimate working environment isn’t representative of many large Division I programs. BSC allows me and our players to have great balance in our lives…baseball is very important to me, a big part of what I do, but not who I am.