July 28, 2006
Scott Lawler – a busy man these days, after recently joining Notre Dame’s baseball staff as the top assistant coach and recruiting coordinator – took a few moments out of his hectic schedule to visit with Notre Dame baseball SID and share his thoughts on baseball while also discussing his family’s rich tradition in baseball coaching. A full transcript of coach Lawler’s comments – in question-and-answer-format – follows below, as does a link to a similar Q&A with new Irish head coach Dave Schrage (plus additional ND baseball links from the past two weeks).
- Scott Lawler Named Assistant Baseball Coach At Notre Dame
- Catching Up With Dave Schrage (Q&A transcript)
- Dave Schrage Press Conference Transcript
- Dave Schrage Photo Gallery
- What They’re Saying About Dave Schrage
Q: Well, you now officially are a member of the Notre Dame baseball staff. How does it feel?
A: “It’s an honor to be at Notre Dame right now. It has been a great program for the past decade and Notre Dame academically speaks for itself. After growing up in Chicago, this is kind of clichÃƒÂ©, but for me it’s a dream come true. You read the papers there and hear about the various pro teams and then Notre Dame. So, for me, I feel like I’m coming back home.
Scott Lawler (left) hails from a noteworthy baseball family that includes his father Phil (center) and uncle Jim (right).
“I am Catholic and half-Irish, half-Italian. My dad is big Notre Dame fan and Notre Dame is up there with the pro teams in Chicago, so for me this is an honor to come here. I’ve been out before and walked the campus but never was able to come to a game because of playing so many sports. My folks haven’t even been to a football game at Notre Dame, so even that will be exciting.
“The prestige of this university is not just the baseball program. Anytime I talk to a recruit, a high school coach or college coach, they want to talk about how great Notre Dame is as a school. It’s not just about Notre Dame baseball. It’s an honor to be a spokesperson or recruiting coordinator for a university that has such character across the nation.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities as an assistant or head coach at other schools, but this is an opportunity where I’m not looking over my shoulders.
Q: You were a three-sport athlete in high school but it appears that baseball truly suits your ability as a coach.
A: “That’s true. In baseball, it’s such a mental game that you don’t have to be the most talented team to win. That means in coaching baseball, you play a bigger role in trying to get those kids motivated. In baseball, the most talented team doesn’t always win as much as in other spots – it’s the team that is better prepared, that has belief in themselves, that is close-knit and plays together. You saw that with Evansville and what they did at the NCAAs this past season. Being a baseball coach is one of the greatest jobs in the world because of all the rewards it can bring and because you can make such a positive impact on young players.”
Q: Comment on your background with Dave Schrage.
A: “I’ve coached with Dave for five years and he is a very loyal person to his program and to the kids. I respect that and it’s the reason I want to work for Dave again – because, with him, the kids come first and the program comes first. He has no ego and has a passion for winning. Every program that he has taken over, he has turned the program around and they’ve all been better programs after he leaves. I feel I’m a teacher and when you look at that aspect, you want to work for a guy that believes in the kids.
“Aside from the one year coaching with my uncle, I’ve been part of Dave’s staff ever since that first year in coaching. I’ve turned down two head jobs to stay with Dave.
Q: You and Dave have taken the time to sit down and plot out your first steps. What is the program’s recruiting plan for the near future?
A: “We are going to do some home visits in the next few weeks while also going to the East Coast Showcase and Area Code Showcase in Long Beach. We probably have seen a lot of those kids but are just double checking. Eventually, we will decide exactly what we need and then bring them in for official visits during weekends.
“Our plan for recruiting is to win with good athletes and good people. We need to make sure we can spot a kid who is going to help us athletically and also help us off the field, someone who is going to get it done in the classroom and also represent Notre Dame in the right way.
“We are trying to go after some power hitting, whether they be infielder or outfielders. We also need to get a little more depth in the infield, we need a catcher and need to have arms every year. Right now, we are just trying to go out and get the athletes and improve the power in our lineup.”
Notre Dame two-way player Mike Dury is a player who could benefit from the coaching of Scott Lawler, who also was a utility player in his college days and has served as both a pitching and position-player coach during his previous six seasons as a college assistant (photo by Pete LaFleur).
Q: How have your contacts gone with recruits who had shown strong interest in Notre Dame prior to the coaching change?
A: “You’d like to think as a coach that the kids are coming for you. Paul Mainieri and his staff and his previous assistant coaches did an unbelievable job here. There is still an interest among the recruits because it’s Notre Dame and that prestige is there. There’s a great education and chance to go to Omaha. That package is hard to find anywhere in the nation. Paul Mainieri did a great job in building Notre Dame baseball and now we have to make sure we still are making kids excited to come play baseball here.
“We just want to make sure it’s always a good fit. We want to have kids who are proud of Notre Dame baseball and be more team guys than `I’ guys, We are recruiting the person, not just the baseball player. That is our main goal, because if you are recruiting good people who also are good athletes, you don’t have to be the most talented team. You have a great chance to win, they are going to come together as a team and you are going to have a very good product. If you don’t have that, it leaves holes in your lineup, the players will not be good teammates and you will have a lot of off-the-field problems. We don’t want to deal with those things. We want to deal with kids graduating, putting a championship ring on their finger and walking out of here with a degree.
Q: You had mentioned a couple of examples at Evansville where coach Schrage showed great leadership and really shaped the future success of the program. What were the details of those events?
A: “The first example came during our second year at Evansville and it showed how a baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint. A head coach has to deal with the ups and downs while letting the team know he still has the plan. We barely made the conference tournament that year and had just been swept by a Wichita State team that was among the best in the nation that year. We made it as a 6-seed but finished third, a game away from the title game. We beat their ace Mike Pelfrey – who is with the New York Mets now – in the first game and that had a lot to do with Dave and what the staff did, after just getting swept by that team. We also beat the 2-seed Creighton, this all from a team that still was in the rebuilding process.
“What we did at that 2004 conference tournament started things going for the program. We beat Pelfrey again the next year in 2005, now that the team believed they could get to the conference tournament and compete with the best teams. And then the 2006 team went out and won the league and the conference tournament to go to a regional.
“It was a building process and Dave could have been down on the team but at that moment he built the Evansville baseball program. And it was because he didn’t panic. We set our goals and saw what we could do. It was great to do that with such young team and it built them for the future success in 2005 and 2006.
“That next season in 2005, we went on the road to Wichita State and not many teams walk out of there winning a series. We ended up knocking off Pelfrey in the first game. On Saturday, we came out pretty flat and lost by a big margin. It would have been easy for our team to walk away from the win over Pelfrey and be happy with that. But if we were going to be able to accomplish what we wanted to do, it was going to take something special and Dave gave a great speech to the guys where he did not yell at anyone. We made a lot of mistakes that day but he encouraged them to walk out of there with their heads up high so we could take the series on Sunday. We came out on Sunday and won a tight ballgame and it showed a lot of character for Dave to come out and praise our team after we did not play well on Saturday.”
Scott Lawler (left) and Dave Schrage (right) were the primary factors in major turnarounds at both Northern Illinois and Evansville.
Q: Looking back a few years earlier, how were you and Dave able to complete the turnaround of a Northern Illinois program that had won only four games the season before Dave arrived?
A: “Northern Illinois was an unbelievable experience, recruiting-wise. It was in my backyard, 45 minutes from where I grew up, and it was a struggling program when we got there. When we went 28-27, it was the most wins ever for an NIU baseball team and was the program’s first winning record in 20 years. Today, NIU actually is a stable program and I feel a pretty big part of that. We brought in a really good recruiting class before we left and they went on to win 36 games and then won 32 the next year.
“The key with those kids at NIU was telling them the opponent was just another team out there. If we played as a team and had a plan, we were going to win. With the talent level in college baseball, there were some teams with a lot more depth but having the belief that we cold win was key.
“One of the important things also was being able to play a complete game. When we first got there, they would play six innings and then things got rough with the game on the line. What made the biggest difference was mental toughness.”
Q: It would seem that a coach looking for the blueprint for rebuilding success should speak to Dave Schrage.
A: “Dave rebuilt Northern Iowa in nine years but then he compacted that in three years at NIU, because of all he had experienced at Northern Iowa. He got the kids going faster and then did the same at Evansville as well. Both were quicker turnarounds because of his experience at Northern Iowa.”
Q: And now, you and Dave are leading a program that has experienced success for some time. How does that change your overall approach?
A: “Now, I’m coming into a program where these kids have won and know how to win, but our main goal is going to the College World Series and wining the College World Series. It’s the same philosophy but with a different goal. These kids are further along, so now it’s a matter of setting the goals higher and going for it.”
Q: Tell us about your dad and uncle and how they got into coaching.
A: “My dad and his three brothers all grew up on a farm in Wall Lake, Iowa. Three of them played football while Jim played baseball. They all went to Buena Vista College. Jim was drafted by the Yankees in the ’70s and pitched one season in Johnson City. Then he was a graduate assistant at the University of Arizona under Jerry Kindall and they won the College World Series. Guys from that team, like Terry Francona and Ron Hassey, went on to the big leagues.
“My uncle then went to be the head coach at Gonzaga, he was only 30 years old at that time but they almost made it to the College World Series. They had some cutbacks in the program, so he took the UTEP job but then they were going to drop the program there the next year. Mark Johnson also had coached on the staff at Arizona with my uncle and he asked Jim to come along with him to Texas A&M, where he ended up being the pitching coach and associate head coach. He had over 100 of his players at A&M get drafted, including five first-rounders. Some of the names people would recognize are guys like Chuck Knoblauch, Casey Fossum and Ryan Rupe.
“My dad has been teaching and coaching for over 30 years in the Chicagoland area. He is very well known, a Hall of Famer in the state of Illinois, and is a spokesperson nationally for physical education with a program called P.E. for Life. His connections and credibility within baseball are very solid.
“My younger brother also played baseball for my dad and was a backup catcher at Northern Illinois when Dave [Schrage] and I were coaching there. I also have a sister but she has not been involved in athletics like me and my brother.”
Q: How did you first end up in coaching?
A:”After I graduated from college, I went to work in a leasing office where I had been working while still in college. I was sitting there and my uncle calls me and he had been at Texas A&M forever. He asked what I was doing and I told him I was sitting with a tie on, typing on my computer and handling some leases. And he said, `Well, I have my baseball gear on and I’m in the bullpen working with some pitchers. Don’t you think you should start trying to maybe get into this?’
“By luck, my dad runs the Illinois summer state tournament and Dave Schrage has just got the NIU job. He saw my dad and asked what I was doing and said he had an assistant job open if I wanted to come for an interview. I called him and pretty soon I was the second assistant at NIU.”
Q: How influential have your dad and uncle been on your coaching career?
A: “What I learned from my dad is that he is one of the most patient people and patient coaches I’ve ever been around. He has a passion for coaching young people and that’s the number-one goal when he coaches. I learned a lot from that. He also really studies the game, both hitting and pitching, and that carried over to me in learning mechanics at a young age. I also want to be a great teacher so I can pass that knowledge on to the guys that I coach.
“My uncle kind of paved the way for me in college baseball. He is looked upon nationally as one of the best pitching coaches and head coaches. His strength of character has set a great example for me and my contacts in baseball have broadened because of him. Whether it was working camps with him or as his associate coach this past season, it was an honor to coach with him because he taught me so much.
“When my uncle was at A&M, I used to attend all their baseball camps and my dad used to go down there. I actually ran some pitching and hitting camps with Jim all across the nation, it was just me and him.”
“My uncle and Dave Schrage are the two coaches I would most want to work with – they are two great people. My uncle was sad to see me go but he’s also ecstatic for me to have this opportunity.
“Considering that I just turned 30 years of age, I can only hope that when I’m in my 50s if I have achieved anything that my dad and uncle have done then I’ll be a success as a father and as a coach. Those are my goals in life, to be close to where they are.”
Q: Tell us about your wife and newborn son.
A: “My wife also is Catholic and grew up in Belvedere, which is close to Rockford. It will be exciting for our son Luke to grow up here at Notre Dame. He doesn’t realize it yet but it’s going to be an unbelievable experience for him growing up in this atmosphere. My wife is very excited as well. In the coaching world, your spouse is your assistant coach and she is very supportive of my career and loves athletics. She loves going to all the different events and we will be at a great place for that. Our family will get to see a lot of great teams here, in all sorts of different sports. We now are closer to both of our families, which puts me in good graces so everyone can see the baby.”