Over the summer, Western lost one of the best coaches on campus in head baseball coach Todd Raleigh. After leading Western to a 42-20 record and the NCAA Regionals, Coach Raleigh left to take the head coaching position at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Not only did Coach Raleigh graduate from Western, but he helped continue the Catamount baseball team’s winning tradition in his stint as head coach. To say that there were big shoes to fill is an understatement. Eventually Western found a new coach and his name is Bobby Moranda. Moranda comes as an assistant from ACC-baseball superpower Georgia Tech and brings very impressive credentials to the Western program. The Western Carolinian sat down with Moranda and asked him nine questions to help everybody on campus get more acquainted with the new head coach of one of the most successful sports programs on campus.
1. The Western Carolinian: Tell us about yourself?
Bobby Moranda: It’s been a long road to get here. I’ve spent 21 years coaching. I was at Eastern Kentucky as a player, and as a graduate assistant coach. I spent three years there and got my masters. Then I went to Virginia for six years-’90 through ’95. I was the head assistant at 24 at Virginia. Then I went to Wake Forest for six years and was associate head coach there. Then I went to Georgia Tech for six years. So I’ve spent 18 years in the ACC and at the time I left during the summer I had seen every single head coach and assistant coach hired, fired, or retired, and I was the last man standing. Coach Martin (Florida State) came in at ’92 and Coach Leggett (Clemson) and Coach Hall (Georgia Tech) came in at ’94 and I had already been in the league for four years when those guys came in. I just turned 43 and I finally got my head coaching gig so it’s exciting no doubt about it. It’s exciting to be involved in such a great tradition.
2. The WC: What do you feel that you bring to the program?
BM: Energy, excitement, enthusiasm, experience, and experience at winning championships. I’ve been part of coaching staffs that went to Omaha (College World Series). I think I bring organization at practice. We are going to be very prepared as a team. We want to be prepared for every situation that can come up down the road. Obviously there is no perfect world. People make mistakes and it’s our job as coaches to prepare them to execute in all situations. I was a guy who has pretty much been underestimated my whole life so I kind of have a little attitude myself. I want to prove something and I’ve heard Western is a place that gives people chances as far as students and stuff like that goes and that is what I’m all about. I like those kinds of people who are getting a chance to go to school, to get a good degree, a chance to play baseball at a great program, just a chance to be part of a great situation. I’ve got a great opportunity and I think people who have come here in the past have made the best of that opportunity. Maybe some other people passed on them and they’ve come here and done some special things. I respect the tradition that Jack Leggett basically started in the ’80s and I hope to continue that.
3. The WC: What are your goals for the program?
BM: Our goals are to obviously graduate our players. No question academics are first. We want to have a family atmosphere. We want to build relationships that are lifelong lasting. Our goals are to develop our players not only from a baseball standpoint but also as a person. When we go out to recruit we are looking for the student first, the person second, and then the player. We are not going after the talent with no character. We feel like with good people around you then we can do special things and the sky is the limit. This place has a great tradition and has done some great things in the Southern Conference. They’ve gone to Regionals. They’ve almost gone to Omaha. I believe that we can take that next step. We can raise the bar and get to the Super Regional and then it’s a 50-50 chance from the Super Regional. Then boom! We can go to Omaha. I’d say that is the ultimate goal. We have a nine inning approach that we go after. It’s a year-round system. To dominate the Southern Conference regular season, win the tournament, and make the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis year after year after year and give yourself a chance to get to Omaha that’s what it’s about from a baseball standpoint. We are dealing with the person and not the talent. Lifelong relationships are the number one thing we want to develop, and if we do that then the rest of it just takes care of itself.
4. The WC: Tell us about your assistant coaches?
BM: Nick Mingione came from Kentucky where he was the hitting coach at Kentucky and ran every practice. He was there for two years and the first year he was there they won the SEC Championship for the first time ever at Kentucky. The guy is a superstar in my opinion. Well, I think all of our guys are. He was quote unquote the volunteer coach at Kentucky but they still paid him pretty darn good money out of camp for that. Now he finally gets a chance to be a recruiting coordinator and get full time benefits and all that. He needed to take that next step. He’s been to four NAIA World Series-one as a player and three as a coach. He’s solid. Dave Haverstick is 31 years old and is a very experienced pitching coach but at another level–the NAIA and then the Division II World Series team. He’s developed some players at places where they just don’t get talent. SCAD-Savannah College of Art and Design-is a place where it’s tough to recruit, but they had a top draft pick this past year and they’ve had some top pitching staffs. So I said to myself, “Hey what if we bring this guy to a place like Western where he can get talent. If we give him more talent than he’s ever had then what’s going to happen?” The sky is the limit I believe, and I got some good friends of mine-Kevin O’Sullivan (Associate Head Coach at Clemson), Derek Johnson at Vanderbilt, and about 10 other people and they all said, “Yeah, this guy is the man. This guy is the guy you got to hire.” I had met him about four or five years ago and we hit it off. I kept up with him and when I got the job, there was really nobody else that I wanted for the job and he got it. He’s impressive and innovative. The biggest thing with our coaching staff and style is we don’t want anybody who is inside the box. We want guys who are outside the box, on top of the box, and want to jump off of the box. We want that type of creativity and innovation. It’s very critical I think. The game of baseball has been around forever, but there has been a lot of different ways of looking at it. I believe in the year 2007 we have to take it to another level. In football they are so advanced with the way they do things with the West Coast offense and they are always looking for new ideas. You look at track and it’s always 10 years ahead of any other sport. You look at golf and how advanced it’s become. Baseball is always a little bit behind in developing new ways to look at their sport. We are going to try and be different. I like being different. I think different is good. That’s not to say we are going to respect the game of baseball. We are going to play hard, but we are also going to try and be a bit different than everyone else out there. Grant Achilles is our volunteer coach. The term volunteer doesn’t mean much to me. It’s an NCAA term. He’s an assistant coach. He was an assistant coach at UNC-Charlotte last year. The reason I got him was because I recruited him when I was at Wake Forest. I coached his brother for four years at Wake Forest so I know his family very well. He’s a solid young man. He’s outstanding, positive, and energetic. He can work with our catchers, some of our infielders, our hitters, and he’s just a really intelligent young man. He went to Wake Forest and graduated there. I’m ecstatic to have him basically for free. We are going to try and pay him out of camp. Then we have one more coach a student assistant coach whose brother is a freshman on the team, Brandon Johnson. Brandon is one of our top freshmen recruits. Todd and his staff did a great job bringing him in. His brother will be our student assistant. We got him to come up here from East Carolina and transfer in. I met with the family and went to Morehead City. He was coaching legion ball and I said how would you just like to come to school and finish up here and he said, “That’s great I would love to be your assistant.” So he’s up here as my student assistant and we’ve been working our butts off. These guys have been up here sometimes till 2:00 in the morning just trying to crank stuff out and get organized. When I go home sometimes these guys are still here till midnight trying to get the program locked in to what I want to do.
5. The WC: Why Western Carolina?BM: I’ve had some opportunities in the past. I’ve interviewed with some other people. I’ve turned some jobs down. I’ve went after some jobs who have turned me down. This summer I actually had an opportunity and turned another job down and then all of a sudden Western popped up. I would say one of the biggest reasons I took this job is the tradition of the program. I think that the potential here is unlimited. The athletes you can get. The location of the school is within a lot of ACC and SEC schools so you can get a good RPI and RPI is the key to going to the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis. We are two hours from Atlanta, an hour and a half from Clemson, we are two and a half hours from Charlotte, and we aren’t too far from Wake Forest and Tennessee. The state of Virginia has a lot of talent. The recruiting base is just great and the weather is excellent. The stars align when you think of this place in my opinion. Another thing is the commitment that the administration is making to the program. Chip Smith, the Athletic Director, is totally on board. Fred Cantler, the Associate Athletic Director, is on board. They’ve already made a lot of upgrades to the program. Our alumni are on board. Our chancellor is totally on board. Chuck Wooten, the Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, is on board. We are renovating our stadium. We are raising money for that right now. They are going to build a clubhouse, add on to the stadium and red brick everything. It will be an absolute gorgeous and state of the art facility. What’s not to like? I came up here for the interview and basically the place just sold itself. It was exciting and the feel is right. Jack Leggett is a good friend of mine. I’ve known him for 18 years. I know a lot of his former players and I know what Jack is about and I know the program he built here and the style of play he wants to continue here and I think I’m the right guy to do it. That’s why I took the job.
6. The WC: What do you think of the returning talent?
BM: It’s very good. I think we have to find out what is going on with our whole team. We have not even seen our guys yet. We start on Tuesday with individual work so we’ll find out where our talent base is, but from what I’m hearing we have some talent back. We may try to pick up some players in January-a few junior college transfers. We aren’t panicking on that. We are going to wait and find the right player. We will work on that all fall and bring some guys in possibility for any holes we might have. After about two months I’ll have a better idea of our talent. I don’t want to rush and say we have the best team in the conference or say this or that because right now I have no idea. They had a very good year last year with 42 wins and the staff has some good pitchers back and there are some good players back so that should be a positive thing, but let us take a look and see what we have and evaluate these guys and we’ll go from there.
7. The WC: What would you say to critics who question Western’s decision to go outside of the Catamount family or Western coaching tree to hire a baseball coach?
BM: I think there are a couple of ways to look at that. Number one if you win I don’t think it matters where you’re from. You could be from Russia and it wouldn’t matter. If you come in here and win and have a first class program and do it the right way and your kids are having a positive experience then I think that’s all the alumni are concerned with. I think that is all our chancellor, athletic director, and former players will be proud of and just continuing a great program and raising the bar on a great program. I think that the only time you really need the alumni to feel really, really good about you is when you are not getting it done. Maybe that would help you get through some valleys when you’re not on the peak. That’s going to happen. There is going to be adversity. There are going to be losses we should have won. That’s happened with every coach who’s been here whether it’s Jack Leggett or a Western guy or whatever. They had their peaks and valleys. Are we going to go out and win every baseball game? I would say probably not because baseball is a long season. As far as running a great program and trying to raise the bar-time will tell. I think it will work out well. Everybody’s been awesome. All the alumni I have met have been unbelievable. The support has been incredible. The town has been incredible. The community has been unbelievable. The academic support, the administration, there hasn’t been one person that I have met who has been a negative or disconnect from the program. We are in the honeymoon phase right now so we still have to go out there and win. As coaches we have to graduate our players and we have to have a first class program that is run right and develop the person. The bottom line is you have to win baseball games. In my opinion winning baseball games is not enough. Winning championships is what it’s all about and that’s what we’ll be graded upon and that’s fine. I remember when I was at Virginia and I was making $10,000 a year with no benefits and they tried to drop the baseball program twice and nobody even knew where the baseball field was. So a situation where people may question what we do in the program is great. As long as we have interest in the program-negative or positive-that is great I think. This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been doing this a long time. Georgia Tech is a very, very competitive place to coach. The tradition is unbelievable. You have standards to uphold and we raised the bar the last six years while I was part of that coaching staff. Georgia Tech had only been one time to Omaha in the history of the program and we went twice in the last six years. We finished top 10 in the country four straight years. We won two ACC championships and two regular season championships. We were a number one ranked seed eight straight years which had never been done in the history of baseball. We had several first round picks. We raised the bar. We raised the bar at Wake Forest and won three ACC championships there. They had never even won an ACC championship. Virginia won their first ACC championship in 1996. We had their first first-rounders and first first-team All-Americans. We’ve had a lot of firsts and I want to continue that here. That’s not just me, that’s the people surrounding me. It’s a team effort, but as far as I’m concerned I want to be the first to do things. What hasn’t been done here? That’s my goals. What hasn’t been done here? Well let’s do it. What are they saying we can’t achieve? We’ll let’s go do that. We are just going to try and raise the bar in every way possible and I know that would make Jack Leggett and Keith LeClair and Todd Raleigh very proud. Todd told me when I took the job, “Hey, I want that place to win. I want that place to succeed. I know you can do the job. I know you can help my alma mater improve.” And I will definitely hold up that end of the bargain. I expect to be here a long time and that’s what I expect to do. I think this is a great place to live and raise a family. I love the mountains. I love to snow ski. I love to mountain bike. I love to hike and stuff like that. Where else can you live in a place where there is a division one baseball program, have your kids go across the street to go to school and you can live across the street from your field? It’s nonexistent. It’s unbelievable and then to also have a top program it’s just amazing in my opinion. As far as the alumni, there is going to be an adjustment period but they just need to figure out what we are all about. When you get after it and you work hard and you show people that you care about their program and you care about their players and you care about trying to raise the bar and take it to another level then they love that. As long as you use the golden rule and treat other people the way you want to be treated then it will work out.
8. The WC: How would you describe your baseball philosophy?
BM: Aggressive. High risk/high reward. Work ethic. Blue-collar mentality. Up-tempo. Make up has to be off the charts. It’s a very, very simple philosophy: adversity and team. How do you deal with adversity? Adversity is good. Problems are good. That’s probably number one. Then the word team. T-E-A-M. The T stands for toughness. You have a choice to be A-plus in toughness and that is our job as coaches to develop that every time we step on the field. That has nothing to do with talent. I can get a walk-on to come out there and be tougher than anybody on the field so it has nothing to do with talent. Now we have to get talented guys that are tough. E is for effort. You need A-plus effort and again that is a choice. The A is for approach. Your approach has to be within the system and has to be A-plus. So you must make wise choices in everything you do. We have to prepare you to have that A-plus approach. The last one is mastering the fundamentals. The fundamentals of baseball have not changed in a hundred years. They’ve tweaked them here and there, but we need to be masters of those things. That again is a choice. You can go out there and have bad preparation and bad execution. If you have bad practices then you won’t master fundamentals and then boom! The game will come back and bite you in the butt. So T-E-A-M: toughness, effort, approach, and mastering the fundamentals. Those areas are choices for our guys to make and I want them to make the right choices in those areas. I’m not going to go out there and say you have to throw 95 if you don’t throw 95 then we aren’t getting it done. That’s not what I’m talking about, but I will go out there and say if we don’t have an A-plus in all those areas then we are not going where we need to go and we will have a disconnect. We can’t have that.
9. The WC: Who is the best player you have ever coached?
BM: Matt Wieters (catcher from Georgia Tech). Not even close. What made him so good was his make-up, not his talent. He’s obviously a very talented man, but his character and his make-up are off the charts. A-plus in every single category. His effort when he played, his toughness, his approach to everything he did was amazing and he mastered his fundamentals. The guy knew how to play the game of baseball. You take all those things and you think of how he competes. Adversity is competition and how he handled that as a baseball player and student-athlete was just A-plus. That’s why he’s the six million dollar man now (drafted and signed by the Baltimore Orioles in ’07 MLB draft).