"Excellence is trying to get better every day." That's the definition offered by TCU head baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle. It's been his motto his entire career as a college coach.
When Schlossnagle got his first head coaching job at UNLV in 2002, he led the Rebels to a 47-17 record and their first NCAA tournament bid since 1996. He took over at TCU and quickly made his mark: TCU recorded a school record 39 wins and its first NCAA bid since 1994. Under his guidance, TCU is one of seven programs to reach three of the last six College World Series.
Schlossnagle was named the National College Baseball Writers Associations' Coach of the Year in 2010 and was named manager of the 2013 Collegiate National Team.
Eastbay recently spent time at TCU with Schlossnagle.
Schlossnagle has built his philosophy on maintaining a culture that allows his program to win.
"For me as a head coach, with really good assistant coaches who are very capable of handling their particular areas, I stay focused on the culture-based things ? the 'view from 36,000 feet,' as some people would call it," he says. "You set, define, and maintain a culture that breeds excellence on a daily basis, and set a standard players want to live up to. They don't have to live up to it, they want to live up to it.
"My coaching philosophy is to just try and give these kids the best experience they can possibly have while they're in college, and to make sure when they leave here they're prepared to have success well beyond baseball," Schlossnagle says.
Building a winning culture is a collective effort, Schlossnagle says, and attributes the baseball team's consistent success to a unique situation.
"I'm at a great university in a great town and state surrounded by good players," he says. "One thing that helps us succeed is the commitment here from our administration. You can have the best coaches and the best players, but if you don't have the backing from the university to maintain a great program, then you have no shot, just like a professional team."
While Schlossnagle doesn't have a problem dealing with success, players need guidance at times to handle the pressure stemming from an expecting fanbase.
"I've always wanted to be at place where you have high expectations and high support," Schlossnagle said. "There are places out there that have won multiple national championships, get to Omaha, lose, and get disappointed. That's not fair, but it is life. To whom much is given much is expected."
"I have to do a good job of managing my players and making sure that everybody understands the reason they chose TCU was to have the chance to be in Omaha as much as possible and to have the chance to win a national title. With that comes expectations but you can't play that way. You have to stay committed to the process and let the results take care of themselves."
Just as his philosophy is based on culture, Schlossnagle uses his talented assistant coaches to effectively manage his men.
"We're fortunate enough to work at a place that's very supportive in every way of our program, so I get the opportunity to recruit, hire, and maintain some of the very best coaches in college baseball," he says. "You have to give them the tools they need to be successful in recruiting ? help them as much as possible and let those guys do what they're so great at."
When it comes to his overall management style, Schlossnagle sees himself as the unifying vision for the TCU program.
"I want to know what's going on," he says. "I'm always going to have the chance to give my opinion on what I think Johnny should do with his swing or what Billy should do with his curveball."
"At the end of the day, there needs to be one voice for the whole team, and that's me. But there only needs to be one voice to each specific area of the game."
As with any coaching position, a huge and occasionally difficult part of the job is finding ways to motivate athletes.
"You find people who are self-motivated," he says. "You try to make them understand that the best discipline is self-discipline. The best motivation is self-motivation."
"If I have to coach your effort, we're going to have a problem. Effort and attitude should be a given, so if you're giving good effort all the time and you have a good attitude, you're going to get to where you want to go."
For Schlossnagle, it starts with creating the right culture. "The number one core value of this program is to be selfless," he says. "It's a tough thing for a baseball player ? especially a good one whose been told how great he is for years ? to accept that. Once they come into our culture, they see the success and they learn the fact that when the team goals are met, all the individual goals always get met, too."
Roles on a team are hard to accept at times, especially with the caliber of players Schlossnagle works with.
"We can give them countless examples of guys who necessarily didn't have the role they wanted but they stuck to it and kept working," he says. "We have a saying: 'The game knows.' When the game came calling, they were rewarded for being a great teammate and being selfless."
Professional baseball will not be a career option for the majority of players. So for Schlossnagle, coaching extends beyond on-field strategies to preparing his athletes for life after the college ball.
"Even if you play in the big leagues for three to six years after college, you still have 40 to 50 years of an adult life to live," he says. "We try to teach them life skills through baseball, through winning, and through hard work that will transfer to lessons they'll keep the rest of their lives. Every good coach would say that's what they're trying to accomplish.
"You want to win," he says. "For coaches who really focus on culture and the broad picture, winning takes care of itself. But when you're constantly focused on winning the next game, you lose sight of the bigger picture and you don't win over time."
Through the years, one thing has been cemented in Schlossnagle's mind through trial and error.
"The biggest thing that I've had to learn as a coach is that you can't control anything in a game," he says. "We change pitchers and we can put on a hit-and-run ? but where the players learn to handle those different game situations is in practice, which is what I can control.
"Practice belongs to me. That's my teaching opportunity. The games belong to the players."
Another lesson he's learned is to separate game play from his demeanor.
"I used to personalize the performance of the players," Schlossnagle says. "If a player did poorly, I would show it. Baseball is intrinsically a game of failure ? your dugout should be a refuge, not a place that generates even more pressure. I've really worked on that over my time as a head coach."
Maintaining focus is probably the primary segment of his program today, Schlossnagle says.
"You have to keep your blinders on and just stay focused on winning each day," he says. "You can't control people's expectations or opinions. You can only control what you can physically do."
"I'm a big believer in the compound effect ? improving a little today and a little more tomorrow. Over a week, you don't see anything. But in a month you do. In a year, you see more. We really commit ourselves to that."
Creating and sustaining a winning program is always difficult. Schlossnagle has shown that with a supportive administration, top coaches, and a clear vision for a program, it can be done ? and sometimes quickly.