After becoming head coach of the University of Richmond baseball team on June 22, Mik Aoki reflected on adapting to a new lifestyle, moving back to the east coast and what he’s excited about this season.
COLLEGIAN: You were named the University of Richmond’s new baseball head coach back in June. What has it been like so far getting acquainted with UR and Spider Athletics?
MIK AOKI: Bit of a whirlwind ‘cause it’s just really hectic, right? I have three kids. We have a house. I live in Lexington, KY and so I have a house to sell, a house to purchase, a school system to figure out for my two girls. My oldest is going off to college so I don’t need to worry about him. And in the meantime, you’re trying to keep up with recruiting and getting in touch with players and speaking to them. So, all things that are exciting, but all things that are…you’re juggling your whole life right now.
C: You’ve had quite the career coaching baseball, your last three stops as a head coach coming at Boston College, the University of Notre Dame and Morehead State University. At Morehead State, you’re coming off an Ohio Valley Conference regular season title. What went into the decision to come to UR and do you feel your past successes coaching at a variety of programs will help you while at the helm of the Spiders?
MA: Wow, that’s a big question. Yeah, I think that if four years ago when we separated from Notre Dame, if you had given me the choice then of coming to UR or going to Morehead State, if you just look at the two universities and the facilities and the financial resources and all those different things, I think if I had just looked on the surface, I would have said to you, ‘well, UR is the no-brainer…’ On the professional side, I really believe strongly that UR is kind of an untapped resource in the [Atlantic 10]. I just think that it’s a program that can set up to be extremely successful and hopefully become the standard bearer for baseball excellence within the Atlantic 10. And so that was really attractive, just the additional resources that the university has is really attractive. Most of my professional life has been at high academic schools and high-level athletic schools and I think UR mirrors that. Personally, I believe really strongly in the idea that academics and athletics and personal growth for young people who are in college, which I think is an incredibly transformative period of time in a young person’s life, can all be done at a really high level. And I believe that that’s what, at the end of the day, colleges should be aspiring to do, college athletic programs should be aspiring to do…So I think that UR, I think really reflects my personal feelings on the development piece of the person, the development piece of the student, the development piece of the athlete and how all of that I think is interwoven and not ones that are sort of silo and entities unto themselves and so I think ultimately that was it. Lastly, I think from a personal standpoint, my wife and I are both east coast people. My wife is from outside of Philadelphia and I’m from Massachusetts and it gets us a little bit closer. It gets us a lot closer to Philadelphia and it gets us a little bit closer to Massachusetts. And having some family that also lives out toward Virginia Beach and the Norfolk Hampton area I think also really kind of put a bow on it, I guess.
C: And you played yourself at fellow Atlantic 10 competitor Davidson College. What will that be like for you to get to coach against your alma mater this upcoming spring?
MA: It’ll be fun. Over the years, I haven’t done it a ton, but I think we went there once when I was at Morehead. We went there once when I was at Notre Dame. I can’t remember if we did it at [Boston College]. We might have done it when I was at Columbia. So I’ve been back there maybe three or four times as a coach and I like going back there. The growth of the college has been incredible. The growth of just that whole area. North of Charlotte, up into Mooresville was kind of a really small town and Cornelius was just starting to get developed because I was in school back in the dark ages, but it’s really neat to go back there. I have a good relationship with Rucker Taylor, who’s their coach there and so it’ll be good. I mean, we’ll want to be ‘em, that’s for sure, but it’ll be nice to go back there.
C: The Spiders are coming off a 27-28 season, exiting the A-10 Tournament after three games. Before that, the 2022 season saw UR finish second to Virginia Commonwealth University in the A-10 Championship. What is your plan in terms of getting this team back into a contender?
MA: I mean, I think a lot of it is setting what I think is a really good culture. I want to involve the players in determining what that culture is going to look like and feel like, but I do think it’s really important to be intentional about setting that culture. And when people look back as a player, when people look back at their experience at UR being in our baseball program, what are the things that they remember? What are the things that have helped them once they get out into the real world and baseball careers are gone and all that kind of stuff? What are the things that we were able to help them with? And I think being really intentional with that type of a culture, an elite high-performance culture and creating that and holding everybody involved to those standards, I think is step one. Step two, obviously, is you have to do a good job of recruiting and identifying the players that are the right fits and the right types of players for your program and for your culture and to perform at a high level. And then developing those young men, right? As people, as students and as players. And I think if we can do that at a high level, then I think we’ll be able to compete at a high level year in and year out. I don’t know what the next year will hold, right? I don’t know whether we’ll win the A-10 or we’ll finish some place that we wouldn’t really want to finish. I haven’t gotten an opportunity to see our team yet. I know that we’re working hard to get some players to fill a couple of gaps — guys that we’d lost to graduation or different things like that ‘cause we lost I think a decent amount of offense. There’s some kids that can really swing that bat that have aged out or have chosen to move on and so we’re trying to fill some of those gaps, try to get a few more guys that can compete at a high level for us on the mound. If you just look just purely from a numbers standpoint, our pitching and our defense need to improve and we’ll get there. But we’re gonna do it the right way and we’re not gonna skip any steps. We’re gonna build ourselves a solid foundation so that at the end of the day we have a really, really solid house upon which we can build on that foundation.
C: And finally, you’re inheriting a team with a lot of talent, including the likes of rising sophomore infielder Jordan Jaffe, who had 64 hits, 59 RBIs and 12 home runs with a .314 average this season. What are you most excited about once workouts for the team begin and the season starts?
MA: I love being around the players. I think more than anything else. It’s the interactions that you have with them, and sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with baseball when you’re just maybe waiting for practice to start and there’s just kind of that quiet moment where you can kind of BS around with them and have some laughs and enjoy some of those sort of lighter moments and find out a little bit more about them and things like that. I think stuff like that is really something that I always look back on, right? And think those were really fun times. And then I love being baseball and teaching baseball and using baseball hopefully to teach these kids something a little bit more than just how to hit or throw a slider at a high level, right? So just kind of being around the game and using the game to hopefully help these guys become better players and better people and all of those things…The challenge of going through a season and trying to win games and doing all of that. I think at the end of the day, that challenge is something too that at least I look forward to. And it’s kind of like trying to put a puzzle together, not to say that I’m like a big puzzle guy ‘cause I’m not; my wife is. But try to figure out that equation is really I think is a great challenge and a lot of fun and it’s made all that much more fun when you win. And so I think all of that stuff. But I think I’m very process-oriented in the way in which I coach and the way in which kind of I hold our kids accountable and so from the very get-go, from day one, it’s gonna be about, whenever our first practice is, whatever that day would be, say Aug. 28 or something, we’re gonna be talking about the steps that we need to take to get to the NCAA Tournament. Win an A-10 championship, win an A-10 tournament championship and get to the NCAA Tournament. And so the journey and the process starts with the first step, which is gonna be the first time that we get together and get together as a group and start working toward it.
Contact sports editor Jimmy James at email@example.com
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