What would an Ole Miss team with the likes of Seth Smith, Stephen Head, Brian Pettway, Chris Coghlan, Zach Cozart and a guy named Jeff Francoeur been capable of?
From my 30-minute phone conversation with former Ole Miss baseball coach Dan McDonnell I could have written six articles. Instead, a feature on McDonnell and a Q&A landed in Friday’s edition of The Oxford EAGLE… and I still had more left over. Here are some quotes I didn’t use involving former Ole Miss 1B Andrew Clark’s progression since transferring to Louisville and the recruitment of current New York Mets outfielder Jeff Francoeur:
On coaching Drew Pomeranz while with Team USA this sumer:
I recruited Drew when he was a junior in high school and those guys did a great job of continuing the recruiting process when I left and getting him to come to college. When I was named one of the assistants to Team USA (this past summer), Mike Bianco was one of the first calls I made. I said, ‘I know Drew didn’t make the team last year, but I promise you he will be on our team in the summer. I hope he doesn’t have a bitter taste in his mouth from being cut the year before at the trials.’ It was fun.
Drew became my copilot. From the field we drove those 15-passenger vans and Drew always sat in the front seat. He’s a terrible DJ. He was in charge of the radio station and all the kids wanted to listen to music, so I was very critical of his music selection. But to talk to, he would tell me Ole Miss stories and talk about Coach Bianco and so I got to catch up through a player’s eyes what was going on at Ole Miss. And of course he had a dominant, dominant summer. I feel he’s going to get drafted very high, whether it’s the first five or 10 picks, that wouldn’t shock me. Everything Mike said about him is true. The talent is obvious, but the competitiveness, the mental toughness between the lines, he’s a real superstar.
Andrew Clark’s progression?
He really grew up a lot. I recruited him to go to Ole Miss and he really thought he was going to be a high draft pick. He had an injury his senior year and I think school was kind of a backup plan for him. He wanted to play pro ball. I left and I really had the only relationship with him. He goes down there and was a little lost. It wasn’t anything Mike or Ole Miss did, he was lost, a little immature and then I happen to take a job less than two hours from his hometown. All the struggles he went through there, he went through the same struggles when he transferred to Louisville. I called him in and said, ‘Andrew, the system is the same.’ He might have been home sick and you’re a little far from home, but the rules still apply. It’s all the same rules with how we approach academics and everything, the community service, and so I said I’m not changing, you have to change.
He really grew up a lot and realized, ok, I’m in college, I might as well drop my bags off and adjust to the college system. He was All-Big East last year.
He was really locked in through the first seven games this year. He wanted to play in this series, and if I let him, he would. He’s that hard-headed and tough. He would play with this injury, but it’s just not worth him having a season-ending injury.
How the Ole Miss series prepares the U of L for later in the season:
This is a great RPI weekend. It’s a great challenge for our kids to be in a hostile environment. You have to be able to win on the road and at some point you have to win in your league on the road. If you’re not one of the eight national seeds and you can’t host a regional and super regional, you’re going to have to win in somebody else’s ballpark, so we use this weekend as a great learning tool for our ballclub. You hope you play well and win while you’re experiencing it, but either way it’s going to make us better for later on in the year.
How did you get Francoeur at U of L banquet? Know him from recruiting?
It actually was (from recruiting). We had a great relationship with Jeff Francoeur. He was going to be the next Todd Helton or Seth Smith. He wanted to go to Ole Miss. I sent Coach Bianco to his house — he went to Parkview (High) outside of Atlanta — and Mike called me and said, ‘you’re not going to believe it, this kid has an Ole Miss license plate and has a patch of Ole Miss grass in his back yard from one of the old fields.’ We’d been recruiting him really hard and went to football and said, ‘hey.’ But unfortunately Todd Helton and Seth Smith really emerged in baseball, so (former head coach David) Cutcliffe — and I don’t blame him — said he heard he might not show up because he was going to be such a high draft pick. When it was all said and done, we didn’t offer him a football-baseball deal and Clemson did. He’ll tell you, and he’s public about it, Ole Miss was his first choice. Again, for us and getting the program going, you can only imagine how excited I was when I thought we were going to get Jeff Francoeur.
He’s your All-American kid. You’d never know he didn’t go to college and play in college because he acts like one of those SEC college guys.
Talk to Mike much?
We text back and forth, and if we ever do get on the phone we seem to talk for a long time. He’s the first person I call if I have a question or what should I do in this case. Last year we had a handful of injuries and I needed a pity party with somebody and I learned from him to never do it with other coaches or the community and don’t make excuses and win regardless, whether you have healthy players or not. It just got to a point last year where I had to vent to somebody and knowing that I wasn’t playing him, I called him up and said, ‘I’m embarrassed, but I have to reach out and cry to somebody because I’m biting my tongue in Louisville. And we talked, it was good to express my concerns and where we were at and he reassured me — like at Ole Miss — win regardless. Don’t be one of those teams that makes excuses. You have all the reasons in the world why you can’t win, find the reasons why you can win and go out there and do it. We took that mindset after that phone call and we beat Kentucky that night. I called him on the way to Kentucky to cry about not having enough pitchers, and players and injuries and all that stuff, and it was a great talk that we had. From that point on we were on fire and that allowed us to host a regional. (March 13, 2010)