Comments from new WKU baseball coach Matt Myers and AD Ross Bjork

12 07 2011

Here are a few comments from today’s introductory presser.

Matt Myers’ acceptance statement:

“I want to thank Ross, our athletics director, for his leadership and vision and trust in giving me this opportunity – this is a day I will not forget, and I will not let you down. Dr. Ransdell, I want to thank you for your vision for WKU and your support and passion for baseball. It’s always nice 30 minutes before a game when I’m down with our starting pitcher and Dr. Ransdell comes down in suit and tie with his notes for the radio broadcast. I told him earlier I want to see him again in a regional like we did in 2009 at Ole Miss. It’s really neat when your athletic director and president are that involved with your program. When I was at the University of Tennessee I think I saw our president twice – once at halftime of a football game and the other at commencement. Same with the AD. That’s something that separates us here and I think both of them for their passion and support.

“You don’t get anywhere without the family and I want to thank my wife. Your strength this year and support means a lot – we went through a lot, but we’re here. Carson, our future cleanup hitter, you’re the best son a dad could have. The players, I see the current guys and former guys that called in and supported me – Matt Ridings probably Tweeted support about 22 times per day. … When Chris left, we could have gone in 42 different directions with our kids. We’ve all been around 18-year-olds before. But everybody was on the same page, and that was neat. We hadn’t even met as a team yet, and we were all on the same page – and that says something about the type of guys we have coming in and the guys we have coming back.

“(WKU assistant coach) Blake Allen will be staying with me. This was a tough process because we were both on the road working, but Blake stayed loyal to me and to this program and he’s in Atlanta right now recruiting. His loyalty and work ethic as a recruiter and a coach is unmatched and he’s one of the reasons why I’m here and why Chris (Finwood) had success, too. I can’t forget to thank him and his beautiful wife.

“A lot of people that sat in the chair interviewing were interviewing for a job and were interviewing because it’s a good job and a good program. It’s that way not just because of the guys on the field, but the people behind the scenes. Not just WKU, but also Bowling Green. There are a lot of people here today that don’t work for WKU, but support this program. … Ross’ phone blew up when this thing happened, and a lot of people I didn’t even know were supporting myself and Blake to keep this thing going. And that meant a lot. I’ll never be able to repay those people. They believed in what we’ve done. This program is more than just a baseball program, it’s a community and a community that’s grasped on to this. When we go to play UK two years ago at Bowling Green Ballpark and 6,300 people show up and there’s just a sprinkle of blue here and there – that shows you a lot. … That all started with Chris, who is a unique individual and an even better person. He started it, and it’s my job to keep it going.

“And lastly, my big buddy Chris Finwood. The greatest thing I can say about him is what I told every recruit (I’ve recruited here at WKU). The first time I met a recruit, I said ‘I’m Matt Myers, I’m an assistant coach at WKU, let me tell you about our head coach.’ I’d tell them ‘he’s a heck of a coach, but he’s a better person.’ That’s how I started every conversation, because they want to know who they’re playing for. We take care of the guys while they’re here and once they leave – we’ve got good kids and we do things the right way, and the leadership has to be that way. I want to thank Chris, I love you and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

“Baseball’s about relationships – with our community, our players and our recruits. That’s how we survive and that’s how we’re going to continue. We’re going to continue to entrench ourselves in this community, we’re going to continue to go after top recruits and develop relationships and players that come into this program. Those are the foundations that have helped us in the past and (foundations) that will help us in the future. … We’re going to take the next step here.”

Myers on his vision for the program:

“I used three words in the interview process – continuity, stability and pride. We’ve got a lot of momentum going on here right now. We don’t want to stop what we’re doing and where we’re going, that’s continuity – we want to keep that going. Stability is my job. I’m here for a long time, this is where we want to stay. We love this community. My wife teaches in this community, there’s no better place to be. It took me a long time to get to say that and I love northern California, but this is one of the best places I’ve ever been. It’s more than just a job. It’s a great place and you want someone that’s here for a long time. At my age, people might think this is a stepping-stone. It’s no stepping-stone for me. It’s not a vision for four or five years – it’s one for a long time. This program is here to stay. We want to continually compete for conference championships and be a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament. We’ve done it the last few years and we’ve missed having four straight by about four games. It’s a realistic goal and something that will happen every year.

“My goal one day is to bring an NCAA Regional here. We’ve proven we can create an atmosphere, we’ve proven that we can also win at Nick Denes Field. It’s one of the toughest places for anyone to come play in. We play very, very good here. That’s the goal, to get a championship and bring a regional here – you start doing that, you have a chance to go even further and I think we can accomplish that.

“I also want to continue being the top academic program in this conference. At our conference tournament, they did awards for first-team, second-team and academic awards. Every team had about four guys head up for the honor roll honors. And then came us. About half our club went up there of the 27 we took to the tournament. And I remember thinking we’ve got some smart guys that haven’t been mentioned – then the president’s honor roll came up, and the rest of our team went up there. It was basically me and our coaching staff left in the dugout because of our achievements on the field and in the classroom. You want to sustain consistent success, you have to do it off the field, too – and we’re going to continue to do that.”

Myers on recruiting:

“We’re going to continue to recruit the best players in the state of Kentucky, Tennessee and anywhere we can go. (Staring pitcher) Justin Hageman is out of Hopkinsville, a player I thought was by far the best (prep) pitcher in our state two years ago. Tanner Perkins out of Rockcastle the year before, who was also by far the best (prep) pitcher in the state. Matt Spalding (a signee out of St. Xavier in Louisville), who we’re still working on getting here and Ryan Fucci out of Louisville, a position player that everyone will be excited to see. We’re continuing our recruiting efforts for the next two classes of going after the top players in this state and in central Tennessee – where guys like Kes Carter and Matt Ridings came from. The recruits have been unbelievable throughout this process and they’re on board. Kids were calling me yesterday, we had one on campus today – I love where we’re going and Blake and I are working hard to keep that going. When you have momentum, continuity, stability and pride – it makes for a really nice package to sell to a kid. Kids are amazed with what Western Kentucky University has to offer them and we’re going to continue to bring in the top kids in this region, year in and year out.”

Myers on the team’s playing style:

“With team identity, baseball’s changed with these new bats. … Pitching and defense will always be the foundation of our program. The bats have changed, and we will hit, but we’re going to play the game a lot faster. Speed is going to become a big part of what we’re doing. Pitching, defense and speed. … Our team will conduct itself with professionalism and we’ll be tough in everything we do, mentally and physically. Fifty-six games – it’s easy when you start the season, but as we saw over the past two years, it’s all about how you finish. In 2008 and 2009 we were the best team on the field down the stretch. The last two years we weren’t. We had the talent, but we’ve got to get back to being tougher mentally and physically. Every day you have to bring it. Our league is as tough as any in the country and you’ve got to be a grinder. And I don’t ever want anyone coming to a Western Kentucky game on the road or at home and see our kids play without passion or energy. We’re going to fly around that field – and that comes from me and our staff, everything else will take care of itself if those things are there. If you have those factors, you’ll be in position to win every day. And that’s the goal.

“We’ve got I think the best two starting pitchers in our conference in Justin Hageman and Tanner Perkins – the best one-two punch in this league. And opponents know that. It’s our job to provide them runs. So you’ll see us sacrifice guys over early, you’ll see more hitting and running and more pressure  – we have the athletes to do it and with the way the bats are, the game calls for it.”

Myers added that he will continue to handle the team’s pitching staff, and that current assistant Blake Allen will be retained on the staff. Myers said that his next task is to hire someone to handle the infield responsibilities as his final full-time assistant coach.

WKU AD Ross Bjork:

“We wanted to cast the net wide and see who’s out there. We knew that this position would be attractive and we were flattered by the candidates that were interested – and that showed that our program is on the right track as one of the top baseball programs in the country.

“We believe and we know based on the previous track record, that we have a great baseball infrastructure in place here – there’s been a tremendous amount of equity that’s been built in the past six years and it was our goal to maintain that. Thirty-six wins per year over the past three seasons, 17 draft picks over the last three seasons, community pride built within the program evidenced by a tough schedule, big-time matchups and great crowds. The Sun Belt Conference is a top-six baseball conference. Our goal was to preserve that equity but also to find someone who could take us to the next level on the field, in the community and in the classroom – someone who could build for the present and for the future.

“Our university, fans, faculty and staff – and most importantly our student-athletes – deserve a top-flight program and that’s what we have here.”

“Our candidate pool was strong, but there was one profile that kept sticking out in my mind. The profile of a pitcher that pitched in the SEC and led his team one win away from the College World Series as a junior, who also coached on an SEC staff that made an NCAA Tournament and was part of a program (at WKU) that has led us to great heights. That profile stood out in my mind.

“When it came down to it, somebody had to beat Matt out for this job. That did not happen, Matt won the day. There’s two things you can control in life – your attitude and your effort. Matt has a positive attitude and he maximizes his effort day in and day out. I have complete confidence that he’s the person to lead us where we want to go.”

Bjork added that Myers will receive a four-year contract with a base salary of $125,000 per year. He also added that former coach Chris Finwood did in fact have a clause in his contract requiring that his new school (Old Dominion) owe WKU a home and home series, should WKU choose to have one. Bjork said Tuesday, though, that he’s unsure whether or not that will be pursued – and that it’s currently being discussed.

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