Justin Haire, a three-time Big South Coach of the Year, is in his ninth year at the helm of Campbell University baseball, his 16th total with the program. Haire took over in 2015 and has since helped the Camels reach four NCAA Regionals, win four Big South regular season titles and three Big South tournament titles. He earned his 268th win in the spring of 2023, becoming the program’s all-time wins leader.
Inside Pitch: There are many unique things about Campbell; how do you go about highlighting that in your recruiting pitch?
Justin Haire: We are not bright lights, big city. We are not an 80,000-seat football stadium and a big-time tailgate on Saturdays. Who we are is development without distraction. We are trying to turn out the best human beings and baseball players that we possibly can. We want people that are interested in getting a world-class degree who want to develop as young men and as baseball players. And we’re looking for people that are highly competitive and want to win at the absolute highest level without the distraction of a downtown or the prototypical college town atmosphere. We want guys who want to spend their Friday nights in the cages and not on Main Street.
When we lead with that, we start to make sure that those are the type of guys that we’re talking to. It’s a natural filter for our recruiting process.
IP: That’s great stuff, but you also have a weight room on wheels…
JH: So as challenging as that COVID period was for all of us, just like any tough time in human history, something good and productive and creative comes out of what is seemingly the most challenging times that the we’ve ever known. I’m not saying that our beloved weight room on wheels is one of the greatest inventions of all time, but for us it is, right?
I was sitting on my back porch watching my kids play, scrolling through social media and came across this company called BeaverFit USA. They repurpose storage containers into weight room facilities where squat racks would pop out and they’re loaded up with dumbbells and plates. They’ll build these out custom-made, and then they’ll drop ship them all over the world. Their number one contract is the U.S. military, wherever we have soldiers at bases.
So I was going through this brochure and on the last two pages they’ve got trailers and I thought “That would be cool. We could take it everywhere and even park it at the facility and so when we’re not traveling, we’ve got it right there.”
When you go on the road, you’re trying to get your pitchers to stay on track with the lifting schedule. Can you get into their weight room? Is anyone going to be there? You’re trying to find a Gold’s Gym, Planet Fitness, whatever’s at the hotel. It’s a disaster.
So long story short, we reach out, raise the money, and they’re dropping off the “meat wagon.”
I think it’s really important—one—to try to have creative solutions to problems and—two—to put our money where our mouth is. If we are talking about trying to develop players into being bigger, faster, and stronger, and having the weight room be a huge piece of our identity, how much more can we possibly do than to literally travel with the weight room wherever we go?
IP: What were your early days at Campbell like?
JH: I walked in the door in the fall of 2007 after I was hired as an assistant by Greg Goff (current head coach at Purdue). Campbell was 11-45 the year before and was just not in a good spot in a lot of different respects. But we were Division II guys, I was coming from Ouachita Baptist Arkansas and Coach Goff had been at Montevallo, so we saw a situation that had lights and a nine-inning scoreboard and brick walls down the sides of our field and even a metal fence, so we were like, “Man, this place is awesome.” It didn’t take long though before we looked around at Boshamer Stadium at North Carolina; NC State was redoing their field, UNC Wilmington’s on the beach, App State’s in the mountains and getting a new setup. There were 19 Division I schools in our state at the time, and we were nowhere close to the top half.
IP: How did you go about building the program from there?
JH: We just went to work on trying to figure out what our type of student-athlete was going to be. Coach Goff and I had recruited a lot of junior college players when we were at the Division II level, so that was where we started. We weren’t at a place where we could sign a ton of impact freshmen after all. And we just started inching our way toward a .500 record, getting above .500, making our first conference tournament and so on.
We built the vision for expanding the stadium and our resources. And a huge step for us was before the 2011 season when we hired Rick McCarty (current head coach at Abilene Christian). Rick helped expand our recruiting reach and get on track with developing some arms, which is the key to any successful team.
IP: What’s it like going from assistant to head coach?
JH: I had been an assistant for 11 years before and man, I had all the answers! And then all of a sudden you’re the dumbest guy in the room now that you have to make all the decisions. Well, one that I got right was my first call, which went to Chris Marx, who now works for Coach Goff at Purdue actually. Chris played for me at Ouachita Baptist, and we recruited together a lot when he was at Southern Indiana and Little Rock. Our first season together was 2015, when we had a guy named Cedric Mullins hitting leadoff for us every day.
IP: What’s his story the story with Mullins as far as recruitment?
JH: Cedric came to us from Louisburg Junior College right up the road. Rick had seen him the previous fall and we had him on a visit right before Christmas break and Cedric liked it, but he’s from the Atlanta area and had plans to visit Kennesaw State during break as well. And as bad as we wanted to force him to make a decision before that, Rick said “Let’s just let him go. It’s either going to be us or them. If we tell him that he has to make a decision, it’s not going to be us, so let’s just see what happens.” So Cedric went to Kennesaw and it just didn’t work out for him on that visit. He called us right after the first of the year and committed.
So when I got the head job, my first call was to Cedric, who was playing in the New York Summer Collegiate League and hearing from everyone about what he should do and where he should go, “you don’t need to go there, they’re going to fall off, yada yada.” And I went into my pitch and he just said, “Coach, I’m getting a lot of pressure. Give me a day or two. I just need to get my thoughts together.”
And that’s Cedric to a “T”—super professional, highly intelligent. He called two days later and said, “Coach, I’m going to keep my commitment as long as we keep running the same kind of offense.” And I was like, “That's who we are. We're going to get on and go and we want to bang and steal bases and do all that stuff.” And now he’s a Major League Baseball All-Star and in the 30/30 club, for goodness sakes.
IP: What are the staples of your practice plans?
JH: I think that it’s important to value the development of each position separately. Ten years ago, practices revolved around that team time, bunt defense, pitchers shagging in the outfield and running poles. We like to start with what is best for each positional unit, starting with pitchers, because we can’t win if we can’t pitch.
On the offensive and position-player side, it’s going to be a combination of four things: we’re going to see velo, we’re going to see spin, we’re going to run bases, and we’re going to do some combo of our pressure offense, whether that’s short game, two-strike approach or some combination of those things from a pressure offense standpoint.
And defensively, we need to make sure that our guys understand the importance of defending the field. Everybody likes to hit. And I like to hit, I love being on offense. But the defensive side wins and loses you more games than the offensive side.