The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

For baseball team, there's a new coach in town

The way to coach is a little different these days, says Mark McQueen, the University of Richmond baseball team's new head coach.

Coaching techniques were more forceful in the past, very negative, and were always focused on telling players what they had done wrong. McQueen, on the other hand, has found that players responded better to positive comments.

"Baseball is a game of failure," McQueen said, "so the kids beat themselves up enough because they're going to fail more times than they succeed. If they have a coach consistently beating them up as well it would be worse. What they need is someone to lean on during those slumps."

McQueen is very flexible and easy to work with, according to Brian Alas, a senior pitcher. Alas said McQueen didn't make players change things about the way they played, instead he just made suggestions and let them do their own thing. McQueen is very experienced and puts things in a different perspective, Alas said.

For example, McQueen suggested Alas switch from throwing overhand to the submarine pitching style, an underhand motion.

"He asked if I felt comfortable with it, and then we worked on it for two or three months and it turned out really well," Alas said.

McQueen works with the team's pitchers and is a former pitcher himself. He played at Sam Houston State and graduated in 1984. He spent a year in the minor leagues with the Detroit Tigers, but was forced to retire by an elbow injury. He then began coaching at Iowa State where he spent one year as an assistant coach before moving on to coach at Richmond, where he was an assistant coach for 12 years.

After 12 years at Richmond, Mc- Queen began to wonder what other programs were doing, he said. He knew Ron Atkins, the coach at the time, wasn't looking to move on anytime soon.

McQueen got a job as a pitchinig coach at Virginia Commonwealth University. It felt right to work with a different school and learn different styles of coaching, he said. He stayed at VCU for six years until Atkins announced that he was retiring. Before McQueen could pick up the phone to apply for the coaching job, Jim Merritt in the athletic department called and asked whether McQueen had any interest.

McQueen returned to Richmond and worked as an associate coach with Atkins to ease the transition. Things worked well between them because the two had worked together before.

"It was like I had never left," Mc- Queen said. "I was allowed to bring in my own coaches, so I called Ryan Wheeler. I really respect the way his team played and I was looking for someone who could work with the offense. It was a perfect fit."

Wheeler spent one year as an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania before serving as an assistant coach at the College of William and Mary for nine years.

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McQueen is wonderful to work with, Wheeler said. He is always positive and keeps the players upbeat and playing with confidence.

"I think the future is very bright with McQueen in charge," Wheeler said. "He wants to continue the success of coach Atkins. There is a lot of tradition of winning. I think the program is in great hands with him."

The baseball team has suffered a lot of injuries, and its record has in turn suffered, McQueen said. There were a lot of injuries early on the season, and most of the players were replaced by freshmen. This year, it hasn't been unusual to have five out of the nine players on the field be freshmen.

"We're a little below .500 right now," McQueen said. "I've always been associated with a winning season and it is frustrating on the inside to not be winning.

But, it is something that I try to hide on the outside because I know there is a lot more to it than winning."

Alas said McQueen had done a great job dealing with all the injuries this season, and that there was only so much a coach could do once players started getting hurt. McQueen had just tried to keep the mood light.

"One day when we showed up for practice on Sunday and he turned the music on, it was Bob Marley, and he poked his head out and yelled 'it's reggae Sunday!' So every Sunday we play reggae now," Alas said. "It's a tradition we have and it keeps the mood light. He's strictly business once the game starts. But, he's fun to be around after the game, too." McQueen's goal for the season is to make the conference tournament, he said. Out of 14 teams in the conference, only six will move on.

"I think the future of Spider baseball is very positive. All the coaches do a great job of recruiting and we have another good class of kids coming in. We're headed in the right direction," McQueen said.

McQueen and the team will go to Dayton, Ohio on Friday to play the University of Dayton in a three-game series this weekend.

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