Pat Casey announced his retirement from coaching in September after 24 years at Oregon State and 31 seasons at the collegiate level overall. The winningest coach in Oregon State Athletics history amassed 900 victories, with his last coming in the final game of the 2018 College World Series to seal the Beavers’ third national championship.
Casey’s teams made six trips to the College World Series and 13 to the postseason. 21 of his former players have advanced to Major League Baseball. He now serves as Oregon State’s Senior Associate Athletics Director/Special Assistant to Vice President and Director of Athletics Scott Barnes.
Casey was named national coach of the year by at least one organization five times, had 116 players drafted by MLB organizations since 1995, was named the top collegiate coach of the previous decade in 2010 by Baseball America.
Talk a little bit about the journey that your program went through on its way to the 2018 National Title.
When you go through a long season and you’ve had a good club for a couple years, sometimes you dream about going to Omaha and then you may not be good enough. Other times you get there and you start thinking about winning the whole thing. We felt like the 2018 team was capable of doing that if we played well. We felt we had the right people, and we were very aware of how talented our opponents were going to be. Anything can happen in a tournament with eight teams in it, and there’s nobody that you can say isn’t playing good baseball by the time the College World Series comes around.
What was the thought process that ultimately led to your retirement?
I just thought it was a good time to do so. Coaching is difficult. If you do it with passion, it consumes you. You’re around it every day and if you’re constantly working to sustain what you’re doing, you’re always thinking about it. So I thought it was a good time to take a break. Anything you enjoy doing for a long time should be difficult to leave. Ultimately, no one thing made me feel like it was ‘time’ to step down, it was just a culmination of time, energy and stress.
How do you believe the timing of your announcement has helped your program maintain stability?
I certainly wanted our staff to stay together. I knew everybody wanted to stay and how important it was to keep our staff together. Maintaining continuity was important to me. We had an unbelievable club last year and I like this year’s team, they have a chance to be really good.
How did recruiting change throughout your tenure?[Recruiting] sped up in a hurry. I never thought we’d be committing guys this early, so you don’t have the opportunity to get to know guys through multiple visits to campus and an official visit prior to a commitment. If there’s one area I think coaches could all agree on, I think it would be that you can have more contact with kids, where you can sit down with them instead of just evaluating, but the rules keep them from doing that unless they’re on our campus and a certain age.
How did you continue to learn and improve your craft as a longtime head coach that didn’t have the opportunity to learn as an assistant?
I was a head coach my whole career, for 31 years. I was playing minor league baseball one day and ten days later I was a head coach. There are some things about that that are good, and there are some things that are not. There’s a lot of trial and error, and I made a lot of mistakes. I didn’t go into the game early with a lot in terms of what I liked or didn’t like as a head coach.
I think the level I started at was perfect for me. I don’t think like there’s anything I couldn’t get better at in the game of baseball, and I became more aware of recognizing the challenges our players were dealing with off the field, with social media and the distractions that are constantly around these young men. Sometimes they come from places that aren’t intentional, from someone who may care about you and love you, but they might not be as helpful as they think they are. Anytime you get on social media there’s a comment or an evaluation or a ranking.
What are your observations about major league clubs looking into college coaches to fill their off season vacancies?
It’s a great sign that Major League Baseball and college baseball are working together. We’re doing a great job at the college level developing kids. That’s the main thing the pro guys are looking at. The key to coaching at any level is managing people, and I think there is a lot more involved when it comes to coaching at the college level, when you consider starting runners, laying down bunts and some of the other little things. For the most part, MLB players are very experienced and may not need as much guidance in-game. The college and pro coaches’ jobs are intertwined in a way- I think we have the same ultimate goal of producing big league players.
Speaking of pro ball, what has your involvement been lately with the Portland Diamond Project?
I’ve been talking a lot to those guys. There’s extreme interest in big league baseball in Portland, and they’re doing everything right to bring an MLB franchise here. I played for (Triple A Minnesota Twins affiliate) the Portland Beavers in 1987 and I’ve spent a lot of time in this area. It would be a great thing for the state and the city.
What’s one thing you’d like to see added in the college game?
Getting inter-conference challenges like they have in basketball would be great. Interleague play, so to speak. That would really help out as far as bragging rights for conferences. We had LSU out here in a Regional this past year and Vanderbilt the year before. We’ve played Georgia, Tennessee and Florida through the years and have had a good experience with that.
If we want to grow and we want more exposure, people want to see that. If Oregon State is playing Vanderbilt early in the season, that’s pretty exciting. How the Committee selects teams for at-large bids at the end of the season is always difficult because there’s not that much ‘interleague’ play between the power conferences, so it would also help on that end.
How did the logistics of your team practices evolve over the years?
The older you get, the wiser you get. Sometimes you want to do things [in practice] with the best of intentions and all of your effort, but maybe there’s a way to do them more less strenuously or more efficiently. Finding a way to get your work in with half the workload can go a long way when you implement it throughout the course of the season.
When I first started coaching, we’d spend a great amount of time trying to get four or five things done on team defense, for example, and not even get to some of the other things we were wanting to do on a particular day. That changed over time. You have so much more information on your hands now, with all of the analytics. I’m more of a gut feel guy, but it is nice to know if a guy hits a certain amount of balls in a certain area.
There’s a lot less practice time as the season goes along. We looked at each season in three phases. The first phase was a commitment to working consistently with team defense every day. We picked 2-3 things to do each day, instead of five or six. When you get towards the latter part of the year, maybe you’re down to one area you want to work on a little more. Ideally you get better at those things, so you don’t have to do them for as long.
What were some things that stayed consistent when it came to developing your team offense, defense, etc?
The game never changes. It’s what you do within the game that can change the game, and it comes down to whether you’re doing those things right or wrong. That’s why there’s so much failure, that’s why this is such a difficult game to play. The greatest infielders in the world are always working on something simple, the greatest hitters are also working on a specific part of their swing or a certain part of the plate. That’s the beauty of the game, that’s the frustration of the game, that’s what makes coaches old in a hurry.
Offensively, we tried to vary the package to where we weren’t doing the same thing every day. Live BP, machine hitting, soft toss, tee work, fundamental drills- those things change as you get a chance to learn more about your guys and prepare for who you’re going to face.
What were the key factors when it came to developing players off the field?
There’s a trust factor that must be there between players and coaches. There are things at the baseball field that are pretty simple, but you may have some guys who don’t know how to deal with all the attention, even if they were highly recruited.
Academically if you get behind, that’s going to show up on the field, because that’s time that you have to make up off of the field. Some guys are going to come in prepared for the weight room and others may not be as prepared. Something in the family is going to come up during their time here, good or bad. The distractions are coming, we just don’t know what they’re going to be. As a staff, we always have to be looking out for them.
Making the players aware of the people that want to be around them- even in a good way- is also important.
The talent level of the players you recruited was obviously very high. What was one additional characteristic that you looked for in recruiting?
Guys that are self-motivated are the easiest to motivate! That’s the one area that I feel like we had a great number of kids on that club- they took it upon themselves to take care of business and do things on their own. Our coaching staff did a great job of recognizing who they were working with and how they went about it- but this thing is about the players. You have to have a collaborative effort from the players, they have to be invested. Players win championships. Players win games.
photos courtesy Oregon State Athletics