A New Era For Blue Raider Baseball
By Jackson Patterson
MTN Sports Reporter
At the beginning of the semester at Middle Tennessee State University, the baseball team’s head coach, Jim Toman, resigned due to him receiving a DUI charge over the summer. The athletic department has been on search mode for a new coaching staff ever since. A little while after Toman’s resignation, it was announced that former pitching coach and associate head coach, Jerry Meyers, will take the reigns of the team. His new associate head coach was announced not too much longer after, Kevin Nichols. With team scrimmages and fall games right around the corner, Meyers and Nichols will have their hands full as they take on their new positions and coercing the team.
Coach Nichols was a strong candidate for the new associate head coach due to his previous experience. He played professionally in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and was the former associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for baseball at the College of Charleston before accepting his role for the Blue Raiders baseball team. He described how his transition to MTSU has come along so far,
“At first it was a little slow, but now we’re starting to get our feet up and underneath us and starting to figure out the ins and outs of Middle Tennessee but we’re enjoying everything we have learned so far,” said Nichols.
Even in his short time with the Blue Raiders, coach Nichols said that he has started to get involved with the players and how he is personally coaching them,
“I’ve been here long enough now where we’re doing some skill instruction position player wise. I have gotten to know most of these pretty well already,” he said.
Coach Nichols shared what his expectations of the team are this year as far as being successful goes, emphasizing how the number one priority is to stay healthy while also leaning on the talent that is still on the team,
“Just like any year you go into, you have to avoid injuries. We’re only as good as our pitching staff can take us, so hopefully we can stay healthy. We’ve got plenty of guys to chose from and a lot of talent on this team and hopefully we can reach our potential,” he said.
A common occurrence for any new coach in a baseball system is creating a recipe for success and be influential as the unknown authority figure for the team. Nichols explained that sometimes it is easier said than done, but that he has not had much of an issue with this, saying that he wants to focus on mentoring the players on and off the field,
“I want to make sure that first and foremost we mentor these student athletes on and off the field as people. Most of them aren’t going to play in the big leagues, so we want to make sure they’re good husbands and good fathers and good people,” said Nichols.
As his parting thoughts, Nichols described what his initial thoughts were when he heard of this job opportunity opening up and also what he thought of Toman’s resignation and how he and coach Meyers plan on still keeping the success of the MTSU baseball program,
“When I first was looking at the job, I was very happy with where I was, but Conference-USA is very intriguing. It’s a really good conference and they get multiple bids to go to regionals and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what got me interested in the first place. It was very unfortunate that coach Toman made a mistake. I’ve known him for a long time, and I wish him the best, but the program still has to move on. Right now, with the leadership of coach Meyers, I think the sky is the limit for this place. All we can do is put forth our best effort of maximizing each kid on the
field, defensively and offensively and in pitching. Hopefully we can stay healthy and hopefully we can teach them a few things,” he said.
As tough as taking on a new assistant coach role can be for any college baseball coach, taking on a new head coaching position is a whole new level, especially after succeeding a successful coach. Coach Meyers is the man in this position. He has a bit of an advantage in this scenario since he served as Old Dominion’s head coach from 2005-2010. Meyers is taking his new position and running with it, saying how so far everything has been a smooth transition and he has been extremely focused on the team.
“It’s going really well. Our guys are very focused on trying to do a lot of the things we’re doing with our player development right now. We’re doing skill work and small groups positionally. We start scrimmages during the weekend of October seventh through the ninth. We pushed that back a couple of weeks because of our new staff and new situation, but our guys are handling it really well. They’ve been working very hard and are locked in on wanting to move forward with a new sense of purpose and are focusing on bonding together and getting better individually and as a team,” said Meyers.
As Meyers is embracing his new role, he describes how coach Toman is still on his mind often, and being one of his former assistants made it a little heavier to take in with his resignation,
“I felt and still feel bad for him for certain. He’s been in the game for a long time. He is a good man all the way around. We have talked about what we need to do moving forward but I’ve always told him that if there’s something I can do to help him, I wanted to make sure that he is aware of that. But the emotions were just feeling very bad for him, that was the main thing. I was hurting for him, but also making sure he knew we were there to help him because he really is a good man,” he said.
For any college baseball team, a new coaching staff is always a lot to take in, especially when it is so unexpected. But coach Meyers said that he wants to keep the energy of the team the way it has always been, positive,
“The energy on the field so far has been outstanding. Behind the scenes, the guys probably talk about what’s a little different and some of the things that they have to make an adjustment to with their being different personalities. They know me a little bit from last year, but they don’t know me in this role and how that impacts their day to day, especially since my main focus was on the pitchers last year. But since I was also associate head coach last year, I had input on all parts of the game as well. I think they’re a resilient bunch. These young men will look at it as ‘somehow we’re going to turn it into a positive situation and find a way to make us even better than we would have been,’” he said.
Coach Meyers then was of high praise of his new coaching staff, saying that he is extremely excited and ready for this opportunity to work with them this season,
“They’re very experienced and very hard working, quality people. I expect them to respond very well. I’ve known coach Nichols for a long time, and I know what he’s been doing for the past ten to 15 years and they all know me a little bit as well, so we’ll just adjust to our situation and for the most part I couldn’t be happier about having very experienced guys on our staff as our full-time assistants,” said Meyers.
Meyers closed with his thoughts on how he and the new staff have a plan of how they are going to execute being and remaining successful,
“We’re going to try to use this fall in particular to have a clear-cut answer. We scrimmage for six weeks in the fall, and we will use the opportunities when you’re allowed to play outside competition as well and see how guys respond to that, especially the younger players that have not played a college game yet. The reason we pushed our fall schedule back and wanted to start scrimmages a little bit later was because player development and teaching some things on the offensive side that we want to be a part of our system and trying to get pitchers to where they need to be. We want to continue to practice like we want to practice, and prepare and train, so when the games come, we’re prepared as anyone we’re going to face. I think the preparation is going to be very much engrained in them and the team by the end of the fall. We are going to need some leadership to step up to make sure that all the things moving forward stay in line when we start competing,” said Meyers.