Saturday, July 16, 2011

Heart and Backbone

Earlier this week, one of the truly great baseball coaches to ever put on a uniform called it quits. Massillon Washington head coach for the past two seasons, Joe Gilhousen, announced his retirement from coaching. Most people who know Joe, remember Joe from his days at Canton GlenOak where he recorded 575 of his 601 career wins along with back-to-back Ohio state titles and a plethora of league and district titles. But I remember him most from the four years he spent coaching college baseball at Mount Union from 2005-09.

For three of those years (05-08), we worked together as assistants for Paul Hesse. Working with Joe were three of the most important years of my career. I was only in the second year of my coaching career and at this point and didn't really have any definitive plans to make coaching a career. But working side-by-side with Joe and watching him work on a daily basis was the best thing I could have been exposed to at that point in my career. That experience may have kept me in coaching. Unlike Stuart Smalley, I never needed daily affirmation to do my job and Joe was very chary of compliments, but he was always good at dropping a few subtle hints, in his own way, letting you know he felt you were doing a good job. Those hints went a long way.

A hint you didn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to notice was when he recommended to the GM of the Stark County Terriers that I be brought aboard the coaching staff in the summer of 2006. Two summers later, I was the skipper of a team that would eventually break a franchise record for wins that was established by none other than Gilhousen himself.

I have worked with some great coaches in my seven years of coaching college baseball, but none had a stronger influence on the development of my coaching beliefs. He always preached the fundamentals. Whether it was in teaching a hitter the mechanics of his swing, a fielder the mechanics of his throwing motion, or the steps in getting a field ready for play, few had showed the dedication to the absolutes of the game the way Joe did.

I never wanted to be exactly like Joe. I never want to be exactly like anyone. And that was the final lesson I learned from him before I said goodbye to Mount Union and said hello to North Central. Days before I began my first season as head coach of the Terriers, he gave me one last piece of advice. Be yourself. There are always going to be people with their own agendas who want you to things a certain way, but the only agenda you need to follow is your own.

The coaching world won't be the same next spring, and thankfully because of Joe, I won't either.

I wish Joe the best of luck as he prepares for life after baseball. To read more on Gilhousen, read this article from Canton Repository writer (and a former classmate of mine) Josh Weir.