College Baseball Daily continues our series of interviews with coaches from across the country today with East Tennessee State head coach Tony Skole. He is entering his 12th season in charge of the program which he led to a 32-28 mark while going 15-12 in Atlantic Sun conference play. The Buccaneers return one of the top senior hitters in the country in Paul Hoilman who won the 2010 TD Ameritrade Home Run Derby at Rosenblatt Stadium and the Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star Game Home Run Derby at Fenway Park.
CBD: ETSU finished last season with a 32-28 overall record and 15-12 in conference play. How do you feel about your team’s performance last season and what are your early expectations for this year’s squad?
TS: I think last year we turned the corner in many regards concerning our baseball program. Just in general, making college baseball important on our campus and in our community has been a priority for our staff over the last decade. And I think we have finally arrived in that department. We have a new stadium on the horizon (which will be ready for the fall of 2011) and you combine that with some of our recent successes along with the talented players we currently have in our program; and it has caused enthusiasm and excitement to be at an all time high.
As far as last season, we felt like we had a solid year but we still came up short on many of our goals. Obviously we want to win the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship every year, but we also want to be in and advance in the NCAA Tournament every year. Our staff doesn’t sit around the office every day and talk about Omaha, because we know how difficult it is to make it there. But I also know that if you don’t passionately and ardently pursue those goals, then it will never happen. The only thing we lack here at ETSU is tradition in the postseason. We finally feel like we have the players here to get that started.
CBD: This season you return two-thirds of your weekend rotation from last year in Bo Reeder and Ben Booker while losing Chas Byrne. Who do you expect to fill into this role in the rotation?
TS: I am extremely excited about our pitching staff this year. We have consistently been one of the best offensive programs in the country over the last ten years, but quality pitching depth has always been our nemesis. We feel like John Long (juco transfer from Spartanburg Methodist) will give us a dominant starter on Friday nights. Senior Bo Burton who won nine games last year will be in the weekend rotation as well. Right now the number three starter on the weekend would be freshman Clinton Freeman. Clinton is an upper 80’s left-hander who can really pitch. The emergence of these three pitchers has allowed us to move Booker to the midweek and Reeder to closer role. We still have to go out and execute, but our pitching depth is better than it has ever been.
CBD: Bo Reeder had an outstanding 2010 season at the plate while making 15 appearances (14 starts) on the hill. Do you expect to continue to use him in both roles in 2011?
TS: Bo is a special player who was tremendous for us last year. His numbers the last two years (.348 BA with 35 homeruns) have been somewhat overshadowed by Hoilman’s outrageous numbers, but Bo is one of the top two-way players in the country. We are very lucky he is at ETSU. This season we have the luxury of moving him into the closer’s role, so we are hopeful that this will ease his workload a little bit. Bo can really locate and his velocity has been consistently 91-93 mph this fall and winter, so we are excited about what he will bring the table at the back end of games.
CBD: Paul Hoilman had a great 2010 season and in the summer won the TD Ameritrade Home Run Derby at Rosenblatt Stadium and the Cape Cod Baseball League Home Run Derby. What makes him such an outstanding hitter for average and power?
TS: What makes Paul so special is his tremendous work ethic. The kid just loves to work. At times I literally have to run him out of our cages and weight room. Paul is one of our best students on campus and thus he has a great desire to learn. But what separates Paul from his peers is that he is a great listener. I think being a good listener is a dying characteristic of many young people today, but Paul gets it. He is very coachable and can decipher what you are trying to get him to do. Paul’s success at the plate stems from the fact that he has great pitch recognition and his swing is very simple. His bat is always on a good path and he keeps it in the hitting zone for a long time. His simplicity allows him to make quick and easy adjustments whenever needed.
CBD: Have any of the incoming freshmen impressed you during Fall workouts? Do you expect any of them to break into the starting lineup/rotation this spring?
TS: This year’s recruiting class consisted of some talented freshmen mixed in with some very good junior college players. But we return about 90% of our offense and 70% of our innings pitched, so development and learning the college game will be the major emphasis for most of our younger players. Clinton Freeman is one freshman though who will make an immediate impact. He is a two-way player who can pitch and really hit.
CBD: This season we will see a new bat standard go into effect. Has your squad had a chance to try out these new bats and if so, what are your thoughts on them?
TS: We were able to get in a few scrimmages with them this fall and we noticed a little difference. I like the fact that everyone will be swinging bats that are going to be similar in performance. But baseball is baseball and to win you still have to be fundamentally sound in all areas. Excitement for College Baseball is at an all time high and I expect that excitement to continue to grow. At the end of the year, I guess we will all know if these new standards were a good thing. Only time will tell.
CBD: We have now been through three seasons with the Uniform Start Date being in effect. What is your opinion on the rule change? Has it been a good move?
TS: I don’t have a problem with the uniform start date. I think it has been a good thing. All coaches would prefer to be outside every day in January and February developing their players. But that is just not a reality in many parts of the country. Obviously the warmer climate schools have a head start in this regard, but the uniform start date does regulate some of that. I would prefer that we expand the season on the back end, rather than on the front end. I know there are many variables that would have to be worked out in order for that to happen, but that sure would give us better weather to play in, which would benefit many areas including attendance and the quality of play/performance.
CBD: Who has been your biggest influence on your coaching philosophy or career?
TS: My father and older brothers were a big influence on me growing up. They definitely instilled an “old-school”, “play the game the way it is supposed to be played” mentality. I was blessed to have outstanding coaches in high school who all had a positive influence. In college at The Citadel, Chal Port and Fred Jordan taught me so much about the game on and off the field and they continue to do so. And Charlie Taaffe, my football coach at The Citadel was very instrumental in developing some of my coaching philosophies. I worked for Ken Creehan when I first broke into the coaching profession and his influence still remains strong to this day. I’m also fortunate to have some great PALS in the profession like Dan McDonnell and Chris Lemonis at Louisville, who are always there as a sounding board and support system for me.
College Baseball Daily would like to thank Coach Skole for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. Special thanks to East Tennessee State Media Relations Assistant Jeffrey Schneider for setting up the interview and sending us the photos. If any other SID’s or coaches would like to be featured in a future interview feel free to send me an email.