Coaches Corner: Jeff Whitfield

whitfieldj-head08.jpgDiamond Spotlight-Jeff Whitfield: Furman assistant coach Jeff Whitfield is in his second season with the Paladins and recently spent some time with Diamond Prospects to cover topics ranging from family to cheerleading, and from baseball heroes to imparting his thoughts on the different aspects of coaching. The TL Hanna product and Lander University graduate speaks his mind in a series of great responses. Enjoy!

DP-How many years have you been in coaching? What got you into the business?

JW – I have been a coach for 4 years. Originally, I went to Lander University with the intention of going on to Medical School and becoming a doctor. Later, I decided to teach school and coach baseball. There’s a big difference in pay, but I knew this choice would make me happier in the long run. 

DP-What is the most rewarding thing about being a baseball coach? 

JW – The great reward of coaching is to see these young players grow into men over their four years under your leadership. It is also incredible to see them handle and overcome adversity with the challenges they encounter. 

DP-What does the term "coach" mean to you? 

JW – To me, "Coach" means someone who can both teach a sport and be a leader for the team. A coach needs to be able to guide players in every aspect of the game both on and off the field. Coaches should strive to help their players be their best on the field, in the classroom and as an individual.

DP-What is something you wish everyone knew about your profession? 

JW – Most people don’t realize that this is a year-long profession… it never stops. I leave my house every morning at 6:30 AM and do not get home until 8 or 8:30 at night. There are frequent road trips and that time away from your family is tough. But, the more time and effort you put into it, the more it pays off in the long run.

DP-We all know there is very little money in getting started in coaching at the college level yet the time involved is mind-boggling, why did you do it?

JW – I started coaching for the love of the game and to keep balance in my life between what I have to do and love to do. Baseball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. After many years of playing and training in order to make it into the big leagues, I could not just turn my back on the sport that helped mold me into the individual I am today. I’ve also had many great coaches that I’ve looked up to and who helped me get started in this profession. I teach Elementary PE as my "day job" to supplement my coaching salary. It’s great to have a career that affords me the flexibility to do both.

DP-How do you balance the time demands of coaching and your family?

JW – This is very tough!!! At Furman, Monday is our day off so Mondays are "date night".  When I get home from school my wife and I go out for dinner and a movie, or we do whatever she wants to do. My family knows that baseball is a huge part of my life. My wife is still number one in my heart (with baseball at a close second). I invite my wife to come on as many recruiting trips with me as possible. She is a nurse and has a lot of flexibility and freedom with her schedule. She is able to go on many summer recruiting trips with me so she can understand the sport better and to spend more time with me as well.

DP-When you hear the expression "old school baseball", what does that phrase mean to you? 

JW – "Old School Baseball" means playing the game hard and playing the game right… the way it is supposed to be played. "Old School Baseball" means not worrying about how you look, but being one with baseball and enjoying the game for the love of the game. 

DP-What is the definition of a "student-athlete"? 

JW – A student-athlete is exactly what it implies; a student first and then an athlete. Furman has a tough academic program so we have exceptional student-athletes here who do a wonderful job of making sure they take care of classroom responsibilities before they ever come out to the field. It is tough for our student-athletes because these guys are in labs or classes everyday. This makes scheduling practices everyday quite difficult. We stress getting your degree, first and foremost, and then see where baseball may lead you. A player never knows when it is going to be his last pitch, at bat, or game and it’s important to have a solid education to fall back on.

DP-What is your most memorable experience as a baseball coach? 

JW – It’s tough for me to recall my most memorable experience as a baseball coach. Even as a young coach, I have a lot of great memories that stand out. The most memorable experience so far would have to be the 13-game winning streak we had in conference last year. It started at UNC Greensboro; I remember it started on a crazy play that Jay Jackson made when he was on third with one out in the 8th inning of a tied game. We reviewed everything he was going to do, like we always do with a runner on third, but Jay asked if it goes to the 2nd baseman and he catches it moving, then tag? I told him that if it goes to the 2nd baseman, and he catches it moving away from the plate then tag. What did we have to lose? We won the game by a single run which started the streak. The best thing about the streak was that we played many teams who were more talented than us "on paper," but we always found ways to out play them. Our guys believed in themselves and never gave up. These guys had the mindset that they would win no matter the odds. It was a great experience and I am proud to say I was a part of the 2007 Furman Paladins Baseball Team.              

DP-Who has made the greatest impression on you as a baseball coach and why? 

JW – I have had many good coaches who have helped mold me into the coach I am today. Coach Ron Smith at Furman, Mike McGuire at Winthrop, Rusty Stroupe at Gardner-Webb, Mike Pitts from Lander, Benny Castillo from Yuma Scorpions, Alex Arias from Yuma and many others… but the greatest impression made on me was by my late Grandfather! He was baseball to me! He was my first tee ball coach at the age of 4 and our relationship revolved around baseball. He gave me the baseball number that I wore from 4 years old until the end of pro ball and a very special bible verse. He is dearly missed but I know he is proud of me for what I am doing in the game.

DP-Who are the best three players you have coached against? 

JW – 1) Justin Smoak– USC, 2) Steven Hensley – Elon, 3) Bryan Morgado – Tennessee

DP-What does it mean to be a good teammate and is that important? 

JW – A good teammate is someone who is always there for his teammates, whether they need him or not. A good teammate is a friend on and off the field and accepts his role on the team. A good teammate recognizes his contributions to the team are valuable whether he is a started or one who rarely sees the field. A good teammate is always there for his teammates and always gives it everything he has. Great teammates make up great teams. It is very important to have guys that are good teammates and have good team chemistry. I think having great senior leadership combined with excellent teammates and chemistry is what allowed Furman to win 13 consecutive conference games and set a school record for wins last season. 

DP-Do you have any superstitions? If so, what?

JW – I don’t have many superstitions as a coach, but I sure did as a player. I might have even been worse than Nomar Garciaparra at the plate. As a coach, I enjoy seeing our rally hawk fly at Furman because we tend to score more runs or hit more walk-offs every time the hawk comes around. Since I no longer play, I leave the superstitions to my guys. I just have to coach them and help build their confidence. I don’t need a superstition for that… just a good attitude and an eye for how to strengthen the strengths and improve the weaknesses.

DP-What do you see as the biggest difference in high school-aged players today versus when you played? 

JW – High School players today have so many more opportunities. These opportunities include travel ball, developing their speed or skills with indoor training facilities, or developing size and strength with the new technology and equipment used for weight training. They also have more opportunities to be bigger, faster and stronger than we did when I was in high school. The only bad thing I’ve noticed is that most players don’t use these opportunities to their advantage.

DP-Now switching gears, think back to your days as a baseball player, please list any notable accolades: 

JW – All-region catcher, Pre-season honorable mention All-American (Easton Bats), Tied DII record for HBP in career (45), Four-year Peach Belt Academic Team member, Two years of Independent Professional Baseball

DP-What is your greatest high school thrill? 

JW – My greatest High School thrill was beating Arte Cato from Lexington in the playoffs 1 – 0 when he was ranked as the number one pitcher in state. We eliminated that team and moved on to upper state semifinals.

whitfieldj-catching.jpgDP-What is your greatest thrill, or two, beyond high school?

JW – 1) Signing to play Independent Baseball in the Golden Baseball League for the Yuma Scorpions (right, #36). 2) Getting married to the love of my life Kristen McLeod Whitfield!!!!!!!

DP-Who were the three best players you played against? 

JW – 1) David Marchbanks – USC, 2) Scott Barber – USC, 3) Larry Pittman – Columbus State

DP-Who has made the greatest impression on you as a person and why?

JW – My parents made the greatest impression on my by teaching me valuable life lessons and supporting me along the way whether or not I made the best decisions. They are my biggest fans, as I am theirs; they mean the world to me. Even as a coach they have continued to support me by coming to many of the home Furman games.

DP-What MLB feat in history do you wish you’d been inside the stadium to witness and why? 

JW – The greatest MLB feat has to be Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive starts. Being a catcher, I have a real appreciation for what Cal did. I can hardly imagine what Cal accomplished when I compare it to my 56 games a year. Cal Ripken Jr. set an impressive record that says a lot about his love and respect for the game as well as his team. I don’t think this record will be broken in my lifetime… but I’d love to see every player try. 

DP-Who is you favorite athlete outside of baseball?

JW – My favorite athlete outside of baseball is Joe Montana because he was an amazing quarterback and growing up at a young age I had a big passion for football and the 49ers were my team.

DP-Who is your favorite MLB pitcher and position player to watch and why? 

JW – Greg Maddux (In his prime) is my favorite MLB pitcher. He was like a surgeon on the mound without being overpowering. He won countless gold gloves which made him one of the best complete pitchers ever. Pudge Rodriguez is one of the best catchers in MLB and possibly the best of all-time. He is without a doubt the best catch/throw catcher ever.

DP-Who is your favorite MLB team? 

JW – Don’t have one

DP-What is your favorite sport to play other than baseball? 

JW – Golf

DP-What is your favorite sport to watch other than baseball? 

JW – I enjoy watching any college sports, with football being my favorite. I am not a big fan of professional sports.

DP-What are some of your hobbies? 

JW – If I have spare time, I like to golf, workout, spend time with my wife and our two dogs, play ultimate Frisbee and work on our new home.

DP-What is your favorite movie? 

JW – Meet Joe Black… don’t ask why

DP-Who is your favorite actor? Actress?

JW – Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds

DP-What is your favorite meal?

JW – Meatloaf and mashed potatoes

DP-What is something people don’t know about you? 

JW – There are so many things I could put down here. Some of my very close friends would say that I am a hopeless romantic, wear Under Armour for all under shirts, that I love large breed dogs, etc… There are so many different things I could put in this section but I think the funniest thing I could tell you is that I was a cheerleader in college for one year. It was my red shirt freshman year and the long and short of it is I met this girl… She talked me into cheering and even though it wasn’t for me, I enjoyed learning something new and benefited from the conditioning. It didn’t work out with the girl, but that is how I came to meet the beautiful girl who later became my wife. Everything does happen for a reason even if it doesn’t make sense at the time.

DP-If you could have dinner with three people in history, who would they be and why?     

JW – 1) Tony LaRussa– I’d like to learn from one of the best MLB managers on how to be a great coach and how he manages the game. I’d also love to learn from him how he sees the game so far ahead of when it is actually happening. 2) Tony Gwynn – I’d like to pick his brain about hitting and how he was so successful when he was playing. I’d also like to learn his hitting philosophy as a hitting coach on the DI college level compared to his professional hitting philosophy. 3) Hank Aaron – I’d like to learn more about old school baseball and to see how much tougher it was back then to "make it" in baseball. Also, I’d like to be able to compare baseball then, to baseball now, and see how much it has changed and evolved over the past 30 years or so.

DP-Where do you see yourself in ten years? 

JW – My goal is to become a major Division I recruiting coordinator and assistant coach, associate head coach, or Head Coach

DP-What is your opinion on the new rules that the NCAA recently adopted in regards to roster limitations, the APR and the 25% scholarship rule?

JW – I think the new NCAA rule is great. It holds recruiters accountable to the guys they are bringing in so that big schools can no longer have 40 to 50 guys in the fall and then have to make cuts at the end of the fall. It also helps programs like ours get top tier players which helps even out the playing field a little bit between all DI programs. 

DP-Give a high school player who is reading this article one piece of advice.

JW – Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Have dreams and set goals. Strive to get closer to reaching your dream and achieving your goals everyday. The harder you work and the more you put into something, the more likely you are to succeed at it. Play the game hard because you never know who is watching you and it doesn’t take talent to hustle. Treat every game like it’s you last because you never know when your last game will be. Finally, never be a "what if" person. Go with your heart, where it leads you in life, and everything will be fine. Play the game because you enjoy the game. Have fun playing it and not for any other reasons. Best of luck this spring and I hope I will have the opportunity to see you on the diamond.

DP-Awesome stuff, thank you so much Coach. Good luck this spring!