USC Upstate assistant coach Russell Triplett had a strong track record as a very successful player at Brookland-Cayce HS, then later at Clemson and in the Mets farm system. After a stint coaching at his alma mater in Tigertown, Triplett is quickly gaining respect for his efforts on the evaluating trail as the Spartans recruiting coordinator. Triplett recently gave some of his time to DP for some Q & A’s.
DP-How many years have you been in coaching? What got you into the business?
RT-I’m going into my 4th season. Coaching has been in my family. Both my dad and grandfather were High School Football coaches. I always felt like coaching was something I wanted to do. Sports have always been a major part of my life.
DP-What is the most rewarding thing about being a baseball coach?
RT-The opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. There is no better feeling than to see an individual grow on the field and off. I’m hoping to a make a difference like so many coaches have done for me. It’s also not a bad feeling to see your guys succeed and win as a team.
DP-What does the term "coach" mean to you?
RT- "Coach" to me is a leader, role model and teacher; who can mesh many different backgrounds and personalities to form one unit that works together to accomplish common goals. Great coaches get the most out of each player, making the entire team better.
DP-What is something you wish everyone knew about your profession?
RT-There is very little job security in this profession. A coach is only as good as the 35 guys playing for him. There are new and exciting challenges every day.
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?
RT-Baseball is what I know. There is a lot to be said about waking up each morning and looking forward to going to work. I have always been surrounded by great people, which makes any job more enjoyable.
DP-When you hear the expression "old school baseball", what does that phrase mean to you?
RT- "Old School Baseball" to me is an expression used for people who have made this game what is today. I think we all prosper from the players and coaches before us. "Old School" or "New School," if you’re not playing the game hard, you’re not giving this great game the respect it deserves.
DP-What is the definition of a "student-athlete"?
RT-A "student-athlete" is an individual that must fulfill responsibilities in the order you read it. If you’re not a student first, you don’t get to reap the benefits of being an athlete. A lot of people can do one or the other, but it takes a special person to handle both.
DP-What have been some of the bumps in the road as USC Upstate has transitioned from a Division II to the DI ranks?
RT-This transition has been pretty smooth because of the foundation Coach Fincher and the Athletic Department at USC Upstate have built. Every program has obstacles they must overcome. Bumps in the road to me are just an excuse for lack of success. We feel strongly that this institution and baseball program will continue to move forward. I think USC Upstate is on the verge of becoming something really special!
DP-Prior to Upstate, you spent 2 years as a volunteer assistant at Clemson. How has that experience benefited you?
RT-It was a great start, but I’m still learning every day. The program at Clemson speaks for itself. I got to learn from two great assistants in Kevin O’Sullivan and Tom Riginos. They were great examples for what it takes to be successful in the recruiting game. It was a tremendous opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes of a great program.
DP-What is your most memorable experience as a baseball coach?
RT-Seeing the 2006 Clemson Tigers win the Super regional at home to advance to Omaha. After experiencing that same thing 4 years earlier as a player, I know the emotions and feelings they had. It’s awesome to know that others had the same opportunity.
DP-Who has made the greatest impression on you as a baseball coach and why?
RT-Coach Leggett gave me an opportunity to get into coaching and I will forever be in debt to him. He has made an impact on my life in so many different ways. He has tremendous passion and energy for what he does. Seeing his love for baseball and the people that play for him, made me realize this is what I want to do.
DP-What does it mean to be a good teammate and is that important?
RT-A good teammate is someone that can be counted on. He always puts the team goals ahead of his own.
DP-What do you see as the biggest difference in high school-aged players today versus when you played?
RT-I think they are much more experienced and schooled in the game. Most high school players today have played many more games than I did at that age. You guys do a good job at Diamond Prospects; they are definitely more exposed now than ever before.
DP-What is your greatest high school thrill?
RT-It would have to be winning a state championship. Individual accomplishments are one thing, but having the opportunity to celebrate with a group of guys that worked so hard and genuinely cared about each other is indescribable.
DP-What is your greatest thrill, or two, beyond high school?
RT-OMAHA! I feel very lucky and fortunate to have experienced the unbelievable atmosphere of Omaha as a player in 2002 and as a coach in 2006. I honestly don’t remember every game of my career, but those two things I will never forget.
DP-Your background has allowed you to play for two very good baseball men in Charlie Assey (Brookland-Cayce HS) and Jack Leggett (Clemson), what did you learn from each?
RT-The one thing that separates them from most is their attention to detail. They have the special ability to motivate and get the most out of each player. These two men are certainly great coaches, but I feel like I have been taught so many things from some of the best in the business. I have always had great assistant coaches as well: Tim Corbin, Kevin O’Sullivan, Tom Riginos, Bradley LeCroy, Erik Bakich, Stuart Lake, Paul Free, John Rhodes, and I even had the opportunity to play for DP’s own Austin Alexander for a summer.
DP-You had reached Double-A with the Mets before heading into coaching. Take us through that decision-making process?
RT-Walking away from professional baseball was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I was looking long term when I made that decision. The game of baseball has been very good to me but realistically I was not going to make a living playing major league baseball. I didn’t have the best tools in the world, but I felt like I received great instruction along the way to help me keep up with the better players. I want to pass that information along to as many players as I can. My heart and soul is in college baseball. My goal is to help players experience some of the things I had the opportunity to experience.
DP-Who were the three best players you played against?
RT-Stephen Drew (FSU), Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia), Justin Verlander (Old Dominion)
DP-Who has made the greatest impression on you as a person and why?
RT-My dad. He is a man I truly respect and still admire. He has always kept me grounded, while pushing me to be the best I can be. He is a blue-collar guy that has worked for everything he has received. He and my mom have always put my sisters and me first. He is a man with unbelievable character and composure, which I strive to be like one day.
DP-What MLB feat in history do you wish you’d been inside the stadium to witness and why?
RT-Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking the consecutive games started record. That record exemplifies everything I have ever been taught. Whatever you do, you show up EVERYDAY and do it to the best of your ability. What Cal Ripken, Jr. did was unbelievable. I would have loved to see it.
DP-Who is your favorite MLB pitcher and position player to watch and why?
RT-Josh Beckett and Derek Jeter. I like to watch these two guys because they seem to get better, the bigger the stage. That’s what it’s all about.
DP-What is your favorite sport to play other than baseball?
DP-What is your favorite sport to watch other than baseball?
DP-What are some of your hobbies?
RT-I guess my biggest hobby is recruiting. It’s definitely a roller coaster ride, but I’m always looking forward to the next good player we sign at UPSTATE.
DP-Where do you see yourself in ten years?
RT-Hopefully still doing what I love. I’m very excited about the present and future of the program at USC Upstate. Coach Fincher has a great baseball mind that I learn something from him everyday. This is a good program to be a part of right now and I’m not looking to leave.
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?
RT-I think the new rules are fair, only because everyone has to follow them. The reality is that you still must sign good players, now your room for error is much smaller. The 25% rule really helps student-athletes receive more money, now they just need to increase scholarships for college baseball.
DP-Give a high school player who is reading this article one piece of advice. RT-You can never get back a missed workout or training session. Don’t ever look back and say I wish I would have worked a little harder. You will regret it forever.
DP-Awesome responses Trip, thanks so much! Good luck in 2009!