Head coach Rob Childress has established his Texas A&M Aggies as a perennial power. Currently in his 13th season as head coach at Texas A&M, Childress has led his teams to 11 consecutive regionals—6 of which the Aggies won—and a pair of College World Series appearances, in 2011 and 2017. In addition to their 2017 CWS run, A&M captured their first-ever SEC Tournament crown with a win over eventual national champ Florida.
Before securing his 500th career win in the Aggies’ 2018 season opener, Childress spent some time with Inside Pitch….
Inside Pitch: When did it occur to you that you wanted to be a baseball coach?
Rob Childress: My parents divorced when I was fairly young and God always put men in my life who served as father figures. Steve Marrs was my high school coach, he was a lefthanded pitcher just like me and really helped me through my high school years. Then God put Pat Malcheski in my life when I was a player at Northwood. As I started to consider what I was going to do as a career, I just felt like if I could use baseball to impact young people like the coaches I’d had, that’s what I was going to do. There just wasn’t any question.
As a senior at Northwood, Deron Clark was my pitching coach. He had been a grad assistant with Dave Van Horn at Arkansas. I shared with Coach Clark that I wanted to go coach, I would go anywhere in the country, I just wanted to impact young people. [Coach Clark] set up an interview with [Coach Van Horn] at a Catfish King in Texarkana, and I got offered a position for $2,000 a year. [Dave] and I were together on and off for 14 years. We had a lot of fun, won a lot of games, and our families are still incredibly close.
IP: How often do you share your faith with your players? What kinds of opportunities do you provide for them to share theirs?
RC: I try to be the same every day, very constant with our players. I provide them opportunities with our FCA, try to empower them to lead our Bible studies. We also have former players come back and lead our Chapels on Sundays before games. Hopefully they see that [spiritual aspect] in us as coaches each day, as a group.
IP: Your pitching staffs always seem to be at the top of the heap when it comes to ERA. Is that a goal you set with your team, or is there a process that you teach instead?
RC: We literally never talk about ERA. I don’t know that I’ve ever brought that up with any pitching staff I’ve ever coached. The only goal we’ve ever had as a pitching staff is to lead our conference in fewest walks per nine innings. There’s no second goal, there’s no third goal, that’s it. All the sexy stats people look at on the internet—the wins, the ERA, the strikeouts, that’s a byproduct of our one and only goal.
IP: What are some ways you develop the ability to ‘throw strikes’ with your pitching staff?
RC: I think it’s different for each and every guy. We have some guys that have a special fastball with above average velocity, or a power sinker, and we have others who have an innate ability to pitch backwards off of their off-speed stuff. Each situation is different in terms of what we are trying to do, but collectively our
guys understand that if they don’t throw it over the plate, they don’t get the ball.
IP: How does that carry over to calling pitches? What kind of back and forth is there between you and the pitcher?
RC: I give our guys the opportunity to shake me off every time. I want them to have that freedom. They may see something I can’t see from the dugout, or feel better about a certain pitch in a certain situation. We do that to control the running game and the short game and to help take the pressure off our pitchers and the catcher.
IP: As a head coach calling pitches, is it a challenge to stay focused on defense, hitting, other aspects of that game?
RC: Coach [Will] Bolt and Coach [Justin] Seely and I are very close in the dugout, and I may ask them to move and infielder or outfielder depending on the pitch that’s coming, and they’ll ask me how I’m going to attack a hitter in a certain situation. It’s very important for me to hone in on my strengths and go find great assistants to cover up my shortcomings. I’ve always been a pitching guy, I’ve always been in the bullpen with the pitchers during practice. So I’ve allowed our assistants to have ownership in different phases of the game: Will runs our offense and works with the infielders, Justin is our recruiting coordinator and handles the outfielders.
There’s not a whole lot of ego on our coaching staff, we get the job done together, and each of us has a piece that we’re responsible for. It’s been a great situation for all of us, with the pieces that we have.
IP: Is it a goal to keep your assistants?
RC: It isn’t. I want our assistant coaches to go be head coaches. I feel like with the responsibility we put on them here, Justin and Will could be head coaches anywhere in the country. We are very fortunate, our athletic department is very committed to giving us the opportunity to compete for championships each and every year. College Station is a great place to raise a family and we’re blessed to have the assistants we do, but they’re certainly going to have opportunities in the near future.
The unique thing about Will and Justin is that I’ve known them both since they were 17, 18 years old. I want players just like they were—competitive, blue collar, hard-nosed guys who hate losing more than they enjoy winning. Those guys were great players for us at Nebraska, real baseball players that hated losing. I think coaches want to look for players who fit who they were, and what they are.
IP: So what are you looking for when it comes to recruiting?
RC: On the pitching side of things, we’re looking for sinker/slider righties and lefthanders that have the ability to throw more than one pitch for a strike. You have to be able to understand when the running game matters. That’s the biggest thing that guys have to understand. You’ve got to be able to control that with your picks, timing, rhythm and tempo. Understanding when teams are going to run is hard to instill, and a lot of times it just takes experience.
IP: What’s the key to running efficient practices?
RC: With the NCAA limitations on hours, you have to be creative and function at a high level to get the things done that you need to get done. I don’t want to be out there for four hours during a practice and neither do our players. We try to be efficient, we try to change things up. We play music during practice. I always go for the Country and Western day, but I usually get vetoed. With the pitchers, we’ll have group work with PFPs, or 1st and 3rd, or bunts. We also try to challenge our guys mentally in situations as often as possible. There’s not a lot of standing around for what we do, three hours is pushing it for us when it comes to practice.
IP: How do you define ‘culture’?
RC: I think culture is laid out from the top down. [Texas A&M baseball] is going to be blue collar, hard-nosed, and outwork you with everything we do. We try to empower the leaders in our program to create that culture on a daily basis. That’s where it has to start. We can define it all we want, but it’s got to be brought to light by our players.
IP: So what’s it like to coach at a place like Texas A&M?
RC: It’s the greatest university in the world. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to come to work at a place that has so much pride academically and athletically. The facilities scream “commitment” with every program in the department, and [Athletic Director] Scott Woodward has done a great job providing all the sports with the opportunity to be the best. To be at a place where the only person you can blame if you don’t get it done is in the mirror, that’s a special feeling.
IP: What is your daily routine like during a typical practice day?
RC: Baseball is a sport of routines, players like to have routines and coaches do as well. We have some fellowship with the coaches when they roll in, and try to take care of the plan for the day. I’m typically in the office until around 11 before I go downstairs to visit with our players that are coming by and working out, try to spend some time with them that’s not on a baseball field. Connecting with them about something other than baseball is really important. We’re usually rolling on the field around 2PM on our practice days. After practice we’ll sit in the locker room as coaches and break down practice and talk about what we’re going to do moving forward.
photos courtesy Texas A&M Athletics