9 for ‘9’

Nine questions for legendary Stanford head coach Mark Marquess, affectionately known as “9,” his longtime jersey number, now retired by Stanford University Baseball.

1. What was your road to being named head coach at Stanford?

Ray Young was my coach and mentor at Stanford, he hired me in 1971 to be an assistant and six years later, he went into administration. Somehow, he convinced our Athletic Director Joe Ruetz that I should be the next head coach. I was 28 years old, just in the right place at the right time. It’s a little intimidating when you think about it, but it was a different time, so I just jumped right in. If you’re going to coach in college, your dream job is to coach at your alma mater, and I was able to live that dream.

You’re only as good as your mentors and the people that help you along the way. Ray Young was one of those guys and I also played for Dutch Fehring, a Hall of Fame coach who was the president of USA Baseball and a member of the ABCA Board of Directors. He helped get that sport into the Olympics and I got to be involved with coaching a few of those teams, highlighted by the 1988 Olympic team in Seoul, Korea. Between those two, they helped me with every opportunity I ever got.

When you get your opportunity, you have to be ready. You need good assistants, you need a mentor, you need help. There aren’t any good coaches who don’t have that support.

2. What did you look for in assistants coaches, and what made the ones you hired so good?

Dean Stotz was my main guy, we worked together for 37 years, and I had a fantastic pitching coach in Tom Dutton, who was with me for 25 years.

As an assistant, you must be loyal to the head coach, but you also can’t just be a yes-man. Dean was fantastic, he always that way. He could have been a head coach at a lot of different schools, but he had a love for Stanford and chose to stay. It really helped that Dean was a lot different than me; he didn’t micromanage and he really helped offset my personality. He was always loyal- he didn’t always agree with me and what I was doing, but he would support it. When there was a disagreement he would let me know, and I’d consider his opinion and sometimes we’d change things up. It can be hard to do but you have to be able to disagree amongst your coaching staff, because that will ultimately help the head coach and the program.

As you get older, you need to have at least one of your coaches be a younger guy, to relate to the players. Baseball is still the same, but the communication can be a challenge. A lot of times, younger players can be afraid to approach an older head coach, so having that young guy really helps. Another thing that’s huge is having older players who know the head coach and can explain the expectations to the players, both on and off the field.

3. If you were the teaching a class titled ‘Recruiting 101,’ what would you cover?

The first thing you have to do is find out what your niche is- what does your school offer that’s attractive to the people you’re going after?

You take a great program like Cal State Fullerton, I’d bet 90% of their players are from within 50 miles of that school. Their niche is location- a hotbed of talent at both the high school and junior college levels. Catholic schools like Santa Clara or Notre Dame often find their niche recruiting from Catholic high schools.

If it was just baseball players you were looking for at Stanford, you would never need to leave California, but our niche was different because of the Ivy League-type of academics. We learned that we had to recruit nationally. We had to find that great player that also wanted to be a great student and was looking for that combination at the next level. It was a challenge, but embracing it enabled us to get guys like Mike Mussina out of Pennsylvania, and Paul Carey out of Massachusetts.

The guys we offered scholarships to were probably going to get drafted out of high school. We were fortunate because if our recruits wanted to come to Stanford, they were probably very interested in academics and unless they were a really high draft pick, they weren’t going to sign. And conversely, the scouts wouldn’t draft a lot of them as high.

There’s an expectation that the kids you give scholarships to are going to be your better players, but you have to play, you have to produce. We had walk on’s at Stanford that ended up being All Americans and getting drafted. Chris O’Riordan was a walk-on that got two at-bats his freshman year and was an All-American the year after that, he ended up being an 8th round draft pick. When guys like that come through your program, that’s special. You just never know for sure with recruiting, and you’re going to get surprised.

That walk on guy is most always a great example when it comes to work ethic, because theirs is probably going to be better than some of the scholarship guys. As a result, they might become a better player than that scholarship guy, and that sends a message to the team.

When I recruited, I tried to sit by myself and just watch the game, that way I wouldn’t be tempted to talk to the people I knew there. I’d usually sit down the first base line just above the first base bag. I’m not antisocial, I was just there to concentrate on the 2-3 kids I’m there to watch. Now on the games where I didn’t have anybody, that’s when I would go bother all of the other coaches behind home plate!

4. How about ‘the one that got away?’

I recruited the heck out of Buster Posey and got him to visit, but I couldn’t get him away from Mike Martin! And I think [Buster] had a girlfriend back then that went to Florida State, which had to hurt us too. Of course we ended up playing them in the College World Series [Posey went 1-for-4 in a game where Stanford scored a CWS-record 11 runs in the 9th inning, winning 16-5], and eventually he’s in [Single-A] San Jose with the Giants, so I had to see a lot of him!

5. How many players did you identify through your camps?

There were a lot of guys that came through our camps that we didn’t know much about who would eventually jump out at us, because we had them for 3 or 4 days. The camp thing is really important, I think. I tell high school players to pick 3-5 schools that you’re interested in and go to their camps, let their coaches really evaluate you and see you, get to know you and your work ethic.

We used to have at least half of our recruiting class that had attended our camps, and I think that’s what high school players today should be doing. It’s good for the coaches, and it’s great for the players.

6. We’ve got to know about the briefcase: how many different ones did you have and what exactly did you keep in them?

When I first started, it wasn’t unusual to have a briefcase when you traveled. Normally, I’d have one nice briefcase with everything in it-recruiting, admissions, everything I need to know. I was prepared for when I talked to recruits because if someone had a question about admissions or a scholarship, I’d have that on hand. Now you can put all of that on your iPad!

I would also have a game briefcase, which had all the charts, clipboards, lineup cards in it. It was big enough to keep a dry t-shirt in too, for the days I threw pregame batting practice.

I could have switched bags but I just figured what the heck, I’ll be the old guy with the briefcase. I bet it’ll come around again though, years from now everyone will be running around with a briefcase; it’ll come back in style if you just wait long enough!

7. How did your coaching style change as technology changed through the years?

To be able to show your players what they’re doing on video instantaneously is fantastic. It’s just hard to find a way to fit it into your schedule. Your time is so limited at the college level… technically if you’re going over video, that’s practice time.

Analytics has really changed the game over the past few years. Initially we had pitch pattern charts, times to the plate and a lot of other things, but not pitch count, there was no such thing! I had Mike Mussina go 150, 160 pitches, no big deal. It’s not good or bad now, it’s just different. The challenge now is how and what you choose to make important in your program.

8. What kinds of expectations and/or rules did you lay out for your players and coaches?

One thing you can always demand from your players is effort. Effort also includes the coaches when it comes to time management and practice planning: you’re not working hard if you’re just standing around at practice. At the end of my career, I ended up staggering practice with the players, breaking it up by position. We always tried to be as efficient as possible with our practice time, no one needs to be standing out there for three hours.

I’ve learned that players will do what you expect them to do. On the baseball field, in the classroom, wherever. It doesn’t mean they want to do it, but as long as the coach controls the playing time, they’ll do it. My players knew that my number one goal was for them to get their Stanford degrees, so if they weren’t taking care of business in the classroom, they didn’t play.

The only rules I had for our players were to be on time, work hard, and don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, your family, the university, or the baseball program. That last one really covers everything- if you’re drinking underage, if you’re stealing, that’s embarrassing stuff. And your older players have to reinforce that, they’ll tell the freshmen, ‘he’s not kidding- he’ll bench you if you don’t take care of business!’

9. What are some lessons in perspective that you learned along the way?

One thing we did at Stanford is go to our Children’s Hospital. We’d take a handful of players over there once a month. You think you have a bad day at the field and you have it rough as a student-athlete at Stanford until you see these kids and their parents, who are sleeping in these hospital rooms.

Sam Fuld, who just retired from a long MLB career, is a diabetic who when he visited the hospital as a player for us, just connected with a little diabetic girl, talked about getting the shots, everything involved with it. It was amazing, and it put everything in perspective. Baseball is important and we live and die with it as coaches, but we’re very blessed to do what we’re able to do for a living. And they pay us!

photos courtesy Stanford Athletics