Since taking the job in 2003, Marc Rardin has built Iowa Western into one of the premier junior college programs in the country, with 11 NJCAA World Series appearances and three national titles. His career record with the Reivers is 763-213, and his teams have averaged better than 51 wins in the last nine seasons.
What was it like being a 14-time letterman in four sports in high school?
We grew up on a farm, so the more sports I played growing up, the less I had to work! I played football, I played basketball, I ran track in the spring and played baseball in the summer. So I was playing sports for selfish reasons ultimately, and I had a few lessons to learn. I could have been using sports to be better, but I was cheating myself, playing them to get out of something.
You have been a highly sought after clinician for some time now. What have you learned as a speaker at all of these events?
My dad was a high school English teacher for 34 years and read at our Church nearly every Sunday growing up, so I guess it’s in the blood. It’s not the information you have, it’s how you can get it across to a group. You want people to hear what you’re about and how you do things. We always seem to end up getting names of recruits out of speaking engagements as well.
I feel like I’m the same guy I always was; I didn’t play at a big school, I don’t have some huge pedigree, I started at a small school as a volunteer coach a long time ago. I truly appreciate the attention, and that it seems like there are people who want to hear what I have to say, and I do believe that I have pertinent information that works for coaches out there.
How did you earn your opportunities early in your career? Was there a moment when you felt like you really belonged as a high-level coach?
I had no idea what was going on as a young coach. I was volunteering at Bluefield College in West Virginia and working odd jobs, sending out resumes to everyone I could. At the end of one summer, Steve Smith called and asked me if I wanted to come to Baylor. It was one of those times in your life where you’re in the right place in the right time.
Coach Smith, Steve Johnigan and Mitch Thompson are brothers to me- much older brothers! Kip Wells and Jason Jennings were at Baylor at the time, and a breakthrough for me was an adjustment Kip Wells and I made with his slider, which he was able to pick up in a couple days. Being able to earn that credibility from that type of player and those coaches really gave me what I felt I needed as a young coach.
What are the keys to your practices?
There’s a fine line to practice organization because of all the moving parts of a baseball team. One of the most important things with practice is that kids need to fight boredom and frustration every day. You can’t just sit around and talk about what you want to do all day, but you also don’t want to practice it over and over.
Guys want to be comfortable when they warm up, do drills, throw bullpens and take BP, so coaches have to be responsible for bringing some adversity into things.
Do you want to be a Division I head coach at some point?
I do. I’ve been offered jobs at that level, but things just haven’t really worked out in terms of timing- we have a child that’s a senior in high school and one in sixth grade. We moved five times in seven years at one point and it was all fine for a while, but my wife and I decided that we didn’t want to be dragging the kids around the country when they were in high school. You get into the profession and have personal goals and dreams, but they don’t compare to the goals you have raising a family.
It’s heartwarming to get job offers at the DI level, but I need to be a servant to my family. If I’d have taken the job, my wife and kids would’ve stayed here in Iowa for a year or more, and that just wasn’t going to happen. As coaches, it’s not like we’re always around anyways, but at least we are all under the same roof, and that’s important.
It’s still something I’m driven to do, but I know that window’s closing, too, as a 46-year old. It will take a special opportunity at a special place with a special athletic director, but that’s the situation that I’m already in right now. The Council Bluffs/Omaha area is unbelievable. The facilities we have here are awesome- we have a $700,000 clubhouse we are working on right now, and a $15 million indoor facility being built that’s going to be amazing.
Speaking of your facilities, you have been able to make a real impression in your community and have had a lot of success with fundraising. Aside from winning games, what are the best ways you’ve found to raise money for your program?
It’s not my favorite thing, I can tell you that. It’s not like I wake up every morning with the goal of asking people for money. There are crunches throughout a lot of places in the country right now, so that ‘friendraising’ is huge. Being in a large metropolitan area really helps with that friendraising, which is what I call it. Instead of going around with your hand out and only visiting people when you need something, friendraising is just deeper than that.
You have to be creative. We do a marathon game every year that raises a lot of money, and it keeps our kids from having to do things like go around and knock on doors. We do the dinner and the silent auction, we invite parents to come around a lot and chip in with some things.
Your current players’ parents are really important. They need to see the alumni, the culture, and the people coming back to campus, even at a junior college. If you can see and feel how much this place means to people, it can really be helpful on the business side of things, and that translates to on the field.
What are your guidelines when it comes to recruiting?
You have to be careful of the “hooks” with recruiting, because you can get hooked! It’s just like fishing; sometimes you think you’ve got a big one, but it’s just a snag. Back in the days when I went to junior college, most guys were there because they couldn’t get into a four-year, they couldn’t afford one, or they were basically a juvenile delinquent.
Character trumps talent every day of the week. A kid might help you with the talent side of things the three hours he’s on the field, but the other 21 he’s making bad decisions and dragging other people down with him. Having children of your own can definitely change your opinion on some things in terms of what you want to deal with, how you want to handle things, and the types of people you want to be around.
How do you develop and maintain culture in your program? Is it something you talk about a lot?
We don’t talk about culture much, but when we do, we talk about a living, breathing culture: what we’re doing in the 21 hours we’re not on the field, as opposed to the three hours we spend on the field. We just try to live the way we’re supposed to live. There is a big educational piece to that, and we do classroom work teaching ‘life survival skills’ that have nothing to do with baseball. If they make it all the way to the big leagues and play there for ten years, they’ll still have 50 years of their lives left to live.
I think we have success because our guys ultimately know that this is just baseball, it’s a game. It’s not life. We are just making memories here. Winning a national championship is not going to change your life, it’s just going to be another memory, another thing you get to talk about with your buddies.