Tim Corbin admits he didn’t have to say much in 2011.
That probably was a good thing. After all, with a veteran and supremely talented roster that ultimately made it to the final four at the College World Series it would have been difficult for the players to hear him over all of the cheering.
This spring was different. His players needed instruction and encouragement. And for a time, the Commodores gave their fans little to celebrate.
“You get to a point where you don’t really know what to say to them,” Corbin said recently.
Apparently, he found the words.
From the hush of a 7-15 start, Vanderbilt once again is the talk of the town coming out of Memorial Day and Monday’s announcement of the field for the NCAA baseball tournament.
For much of the season it seemed as if there was no way the Commodores would hear their name among the 64 participants.
Down the stretch, though, the critics who were quick to call them a one-hit wonder were silenced with series’ victories over Kentucky and LSU and finally a sweep of Ole Miss as a warm-up to last weekend’s SEC tournament. Following last Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over two-time defending national champion South Carolina, Vanderbilt was 31-25 and squarely in the discussion of the hottest and most dangerous teams at the most important time of year.
Corbin was quick to say it was “all the players.” Any other coach in any sport would say the same thing, never mind that it is not true.
Often coach of the year awards go to a man or woman who produces a significant turnaround — for the better — from one season to the next. A noticeable rise in victories often is easily attributed to the person in charge.
For my money, however, the greater challenge in coaching is to take a good team and keep it good, if not make it slightly better. The weight of expectations, the consistent focus from opponents and the natural balance of luck conspire to make it hard for a winning team to win again.
Corbin accomplished both — this season alone.
There’s no nice way to say it. The Commodores simply were not very good through the first half of this season. They lost seven of their first eight and later dropped its first four conference contests. They committed errors. They failed to come up with timely hits. They could not get outs when they needed to.
It all came to a head when they blew a ninth-inning lead at Alabama on April 21 and lost 8-6.
Since that game Vanderbilt has been one of the best teams in the country. Its pitching staff finally took shape. Changes to the lineup brought forth some timely hitting and improved defense.
Most importantly, they started to win. In fact, they did not lose back-to-back games the rest of the regular season. They even managed to finish with a winning record in the SEC (16-14), still the most challenging college baseball conference in the country.
What was a bad team is now a very good one. What has been a very good program is headed back to the national tournament for the seventh straight year and the eighth time in the last nine.
It was a dramatic turnaround that proved nothing really has changed.
In every college program, regardless of the sport, players come and go quickly. What separates the best teams from the pedestrian ones are the coaches.
This season is proof positive that Vanderbilt baseball is going to remain a national championship contender for quite some time, that is if Tim Corbin has anything to say about it.