KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)-- Head baseball coach Tony Vitello met with the media on Tuesday to discuss his new contract, the state of Tennessee baseball and much more:
"Thank you all for coming. Obviously, we wish we were still one of two teams playing today but reflecting on the season, it was a successful one in a lot of different ways and the biggest way was our last group meeting really was in right field at the regional and we talked about this group doing an awful lot of work to lay bricks of a foundation of something that everyone wants around here, and that's for Tennessee baseball to be a major player in college baseball. I think this group deserves a lot of credit, and when that regional number goes up on the wall it'll be something they can be very proud of and it'll help with the memories that they had with this year's team. So, I'll keep it simple. You guys are usually good about asking the right questions, so ready for whatever you've got."
(On how getting a contract extension will help the program)
"It's incredibly crucial in a lot of different ways and the number one way is recruiting. These kids are making decisions at an awful early age and you see a lot of fluctuation and commits, and what guys are doing with their decisions because of coaching changes. Having experience in recruiting, the whole thought process behind building this coaching staff was recruiting and I felt like it was a staff that could stay together for a long time. Well, they've done an awful good job and people know who they are so people have tried to come in and get those guys, so it's kind of got a dual effect in a major way for us. It helped us keep those assistants together and our group together because it's what we all want, and also it assures recruits that not only is part of our staff going to be here in the very near future, this whole group is on board to do what we all came here to do, and you know it benefits us greatly in both those ways."
(On how quickly the extension came together)
"Yeah, it was kind of one of those things you already knew was going to happen, so kind of like the regional, you never know you're in until you're in but there wasn't the one moment for the coaching staff where we celebrated making it. There were several steps along the way and that was a parallel to the contract deal. Coach (Phillip) Fulmer had initiated conversations about halfway through the season and we felt like it was in our best interest, in karma's best interest to kind of hold off until the season was over. But I think both sides know that there's a high level of appreciation and respect there. I think there's a good chemistry right now between the whole athletic department, administration and all coaches, so we knew we were going to move forward. It was something that could have got done right at the end of the season, but again the number one priority from my standpoint became, how do we take care of the assistant coaches, and how do we make sure this whole staff stays together? The administration, headed by coach Fulmer, did what we needed to do."
(On the first priority in terms of facility upgrades)
"The first priority is literally getting done right now. We've got some gentlemen painting in our batting cages, so I know that's not a luxurious upgrade or anything that's going to be on the front page of the paper, but you know there's just a lot of things that we kind of want to have our hand in or kind of help initiate our brand that we're trying to put in place here at Tennessee baseball. A lot of those things have gotten done since we've gotten hired, but there's also been just as many that have been put off for a later date. We finished some construction in the locker room for instance right before the season started to give our guys more space, but there's really no amenities in there, there's been no dressing up of the locker room or decorating if you want to call it that, so those are things that need to get done so when our players come back in August they realize okay, there's a new tradition going on here. It's not just about making one regional or making headway with extensions or anything like that, there literally has been a facelift around here. I think it helps with the mindset, but it also helps take care of our best resource. We're recruiting like crazy right now because it's summer, but the bottom line is our number one recruits are the guys that are on our team, on our campus, and we want to take care of those guys as best as possible, so cleaning up the areas or improving the areas so that they have a first class working environment is the number one priority, and then we'll get into some bigger structural things."
(On the importance of having a handful a players drafted and what that does from a recruiting standpoint)
"I think they can see it. We've kind of beat to depth the topic of the first few guys picked for us are guys who weren't known to be able to hit for power, guys who weren't known to strike somebody out and Andrew Schultz, who was a great story to tell all year long. These guys had talent, there's no question about it, and they definitely met the coaching staff in the middle with great work ethic, but I don't think they would have been in those positions without those assistant coaches that we were talking about earlier with the extension, so that's how all that stuff is kind of circular and tied together, whatever the right you know words are for that. Now I think now there's something to point to with recruits rather than just saying here's our vision. Again, the assistant coaches have done a great job of painting a picture that is very clear for recruits to see but it was a vision and now there's some concrete things there that are that are truly tangible for incoming players and also potential incoming players to see."
(On how he feels about the pieces coming back and the new incoming players ability to fill the roles of players leaving)
"You know I have a tremendous amount of respect for junior college coaches. I don't know how they do it because turnover and a two-year deal there, especially when you have the draft in our sport, it's tremendous. Well, at an SEC program, we're not that far off. We're a little more blessed with, you know, seniors and things like that but with guys in our league constantly getting looked at and given opportunities play pro ball, there's an awful lot of turnover. Last year was a difficult summer because we got slaughtered in the draft in a negative way. This year, we have almost the ideal setup that we want. We want to help develop kids so when they're juniors, we can support them in signing a pro contract, we can encourage them to go out, we can give them advice on how to succeed, and it's a great building block for the program, something fancy to put in the media guide and all that. At the same time we'd like to hold on to our guys that are incoming junior college transfers or coming from high school because they can be the next wave of those guys to improve their status, help get their degree underway and really just enjoy the college experience that is kind of a natural part of a young adult sequence of their life. So, that's kind of the cycle you'd like to build and it's healthy turnover. In a roundabout way what I'm getting at is you want that healthy turnover and when you have it there's going to be young guys who are ready to step into roles and basically continue the theme of the program, and I think we have some of those young guys. Some of our toughest kids on our team were some of the younger guys, and some of them are ones that didn't play every day that you guys didn't get to see but we got to see it in practice. I think it'll be a pleasant surprise next year with some new names for you all to write about."
(On his confidence that the incoming signees who got drafted will make it to campus)
"You know, like the Jerry Maguire movie, our word is our bond. That's all you can kind of trust and we try and be straight up with guys in the recruiting process, there's not really a lot of punches we pull. I think that helps lead to a mutual relationship that a family's being honest with us. The families that have been drafted and have not signed have said we're coming to school and we've met with them and we've talked with them. We don't really try and compete with the whole situation too much because it's tough to tell a family that $100,000 is not a lot of money or $500,000 is this or that. It's really a decision they need to make, but what we can put in front of them is there's a pretty good track record of this coaching staff helping guys either increase their value or just really become more prepared when they do enter that pro game, which there's no way around it, it's cutthroat. I think those guys will all be on board. Some of the guys who were not drafted were not drafted because they said no to really good money and kind of dug their heels in so teams figured, you know why waste a pick? It should lead to success for us next year having some of those guys on board, whereas last year, we had a lot of guys take the money they were offered, which you know for a lot of them was a great deal."
(On the current players involved with various summer leagues)
"The brain is a very important thing, you know in this sport, and if you confuse it with too much information you'll get locked up. I think everyone that's played has experienced that a little bit and then also everyone's experienced that clarity when you're thinking about nothing, you know when you're at the plate or however you term it when your mental game is on. You want to be careful about too much information, but at the same time the great part about this game is you can almost every weekend see something you've never seen before. You can turn on the Red Sox game and see nine different stances and nine different approaches at the plate, so I think it's important for our guys to gather information from not just the coaches around, but their other teammates that play at Nebraska, Florida State, Oregon. You've kind of got a little gumbo there with each summer team and the kids need to learn because information is power and if they're constantly learning now, they can add a few things to their game and eventually kind of have a full rolodex of different things that help them. But again, like everything there's a delicate balance. You want to be careful about overload and you certainly don't want to do anything that's entirely contradictory from what Coach (Frank) Anderson is trying to do with the pitchers or Coach (Ross) Kivett is doing the infielders or Josh (Elander) with the hitters, but I think our guys are really starting to develop a sense of loyalty to this place and our coaching staff, and that type of loyalty and unity is what gets you to Omaha."
(On if he had a chance to recruit Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker when he was hired at Tennessee)
"I'm glad you brought that up. I don't know how social media works with stuff like this but this needs to spread because it'll save all the coaches a lot of time and effort on the road. Everywhere we go people ask, you know, why is he not at Tennessee? Well I mentioned earlier, kids you know are making decisions in eighth grade, freshman year, sophomore year of high school, so Kumar was locked into his decision before we got this job, and he was locked in well in advance before Tracy (Rocker) joined our football coaching staff. Of course, when we all merged here together we formed a good relationship with not just Tracy but all coach Pruitt's coaching staff and it came up and there was never going to be any change there to begin with. I think it's obviously going very well for him and at the end of the day that's what recruiting is about is it's finding a good match. It's not who offers you the best deal or who's the fanciest school to tweet out or anything like that, it's find a place that's the best match for you and that's what we're in the process of doing is find guys that are the best match for us. We were left some really good pieces from Coach (Dave) Serrano's staff, but we also kind of have a different approach that we're going with and I think as we move forward it's going to be a much cleaner recruiting process for us and maybe we can find another Kumar Rocker down the road but that guy's pretty unique, I don't know if that's possible. Long story short, not our fault, not Tracy's fault that he's not here and kudos to him for doing what he's doing. He'll be pitching in a major league stadium soon and hopefully everyone in the state of Tennessee can cheer for him."
(On if any players are still dealing with an injuries this summer)
"Fergie (Max Ferguson) is a guy who's still on campus because we'd like him to get healthy, we'd also like him to gain some weight, which he's teased about every day and he's retaliating by doing a good job with that. Garrett Crochet just had everything that he needed to have worked on yesterday and now he's kind of full go and clean up there if that makes sense and he'll go try out for Team USA which he's really fired up about. To wear the United States uniform when it's actually the United States uniform – about everyone wears the colors now – that that it's got to be the greatest honor, I think. Those are the two things that stick out with injuries. Other guys have seen, okay we held on to a lot of guys in the draft. There were several guys I could rattle off that were on our current roster that could have went out and played pro ball and some of those guys may still make decisions like signing a free agent contract. They're out there trying to work things in summer ball, so the roster is not settled on the back end or the returning players and then on the front end, the incoming guys, you know, we're locked and loaded. All those guys are going to come in here and show us what they can do, so any news that pops up will be new news to me, but at the same time we won't know who our roster is until about July 15 and that's the same for every other college baseball team across the country."
(On the success Will Heflin is having this summer and Garrett Crochet's opportunity to try out for the USA Collegiate National Team)
"Yeah, he's (Will Heflin) killing it. We really didn't know which way things would go with Will and I was eating with Coach (Frank) Anderson and a recruit down on Market Square and got a call from Will, and I was like, 'I don't know what what's going to happen here'. It was the last day of the draft and he said coach, I want to come back. I think that regional experience did a lot for a lot of guys, but I think he just had a blast. He got the pitch obviously, several innings, but I think being there you recognize not only how great it is but how disappointing it is what you were missing out on before and I think he wants to experience that more. A pretty cool deal from a kid who stated himself the reason he came to Tennessee was to change things around or solidify the program and that's what he had a heavy hand in and will continue to next year. It's neat for him to be pitching at an elite place like the Cape Cod and getting to compete against some of his teammates up there. It means we're at a strong point in the program when there's that many guys up there. And then, it speaks volumes to the program to that Team USA is willing to come get one of our guys. We obviously have nothing but great things to say about Garrett, but the Cape, Team USA, those are places that are very selective, that have to come to you and they're not going to come to you unless they think the guys are talented enough but also are capable of going about their business the proper way. It's a huge compliment and it's a great thumbs up for the program."