Clement talks about making the move from KSU

mike clement

 

Editor’s Note: This week’s Q & A is with Mike Clement, who was hired this month to help Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco. He is replacing Clif Godwin, who left to become the head coach at East Carolina, as an assistant.

 

John Davis: What stood out to you about leaving Kansas State for Ole Miss? You had some success there.
Mike Clement: For sure. Like I told some other people, I have always respected the job that Coach Bianco has done from afar. I haven’t had a ton of experience playing against them except for the 2012 regional when I was at Texas A&M. Obviously the job he has done here for many years – you don’t have to be attached to the program, (but) even if you’re just mildly involved with college baseball – you’re going to know the program that he’s built here and the success that they’ve had, topping it off with a trip to Omaha this past year. My experience at Kansas State was wonderful. Wonderful people, and I really enjoyed my two years there. When Coach Bianco gave me a call, it was a fairly easy decision for me to at least be interested in this position.

Davis: Is that how it worked? He called you? You hadn’t applied or thought about the opening?
Clement: Mississippi was enough outside of my neighborhood, and like we talked about, I really enjoyed the job that I was in. I didn’t have plans to leave. I had a couple of opportunities to leave after (2013) because we had a really good year at Kansas State. I was really happy at Kansas State, and I felt the same way this year. We didn’t have as good of a year, but I still felt the same way. I thought we were really making some headway there and had a bunch of good players. Coach gauged my interest in the job and when you get a phone call from a program like this and a head coach like that, you have to sit back and think about it for a minute.

Davis: So he recruited you like he would a player?
Clement: I don’t know if it went that far (he laughs), and it probably didn’t take a whole lot of urging. I may have been one of those two-star guys that played really well in camp; and when he played well at camp, coach asked him to walk-on and I was all in. It was probably a two- or three-week process where we spoke on the phone a couple of times. I know he spoke to some other candidates that were really good candidates. I came over to campus after we had spoken on the phone and it went from there. It was a really good situation.

Davis: What did it for you? Was it Coach Bianco? Or was it coming to campus and seeing the facility?
Clement: I think it was a mixture of everything. Number one: Coach Bianco. I think that goes without saying. The facility is what it is. It’s unbelievable, right on par with the best ones in the country. I knew that coming in here. While it did wow me a little bit being what it is, that was not the reason I was going to take the job. Being able to sit down with Coach Bianco and the rest of the staff, the guy that I have to impress in the interview is Coach Bianco, but very honestly, I’m going to work day in and day out with Carl Lafferty as far as being on the recruiting trail and doing those sorts of things. It was important for me to be able to get a good handle with “Laf” and understand who he is and what he’s all about and the character that he has. Obviously Coach Bianco and Coach Lafferty both provided that. I think they’re off the charts as far as character and knowledge of the game. The way they live their lives, the way they coach the game – all of that was very important to me. I think those things are first and foremost, because to have a good program, it’s about relationships. If you can trust the people that you work with, from the players to the coaches to the other staff, you have a chance to do something special.

Davis: What is your recruiting philosophy? Is it kind of similar to what they’re doing now?
Clement: What is very similar from a recruiting standpoint is when you’re at Kansas State; we had guys from 14 different states on our team. If we just recruited the state of Kansas, we were going to win about 15 games a year. That’s not to say there is bad baseball in the state of Kansas; it’s more about the population of the state of Kansas. I don’t say that to be disrespectful to this state or that state, but if you look at the roster here at Ole Miss, we try and hammer out the best players that grow up in this state. It’s also a national program.
Davis: And you had been recruiting nationally then?
Clement: Absolutely. Our staples of our program at Kansas State were the Midwestern states, but then it was also real important to hammer out all over the country. If you look at our roster, there are guys from all over Big 12 country, guys from up and down I-35.

Davis: And of the Big 12 states, Oklahoma and Texas are the best, right?
Clement: Texas, first and foremost, kind of stands head and shoulders above everyone in Big 12 country. It’s got a huge population (and) a lot of good players. Oklahoma is a good state as far as baseball goes. It’s a little harder there just because of the population, and there are two Big 12 schools there. It is a good state for baseball; just look at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and the success they’ve had with Oklahoma kids.

Davis: So you want to continue to go out to these states for Ole Miss? Is Texas an area where we see more kids coming from potentially?
Clement: I think that possibility is always there so “yes” is the right answer to that. We want to go where the best players are, and the beauty of wearing this script ‘Ole Miss’ across your shirt is everybody is that going to be interested. The success that Coach Bianco has had here, specifically over the last 9 or 10 years, has been off the charts. When you go and wear you Polo shirt that has the script “Ole Miss” on it, people are going to be interested.

Davis: When you were at Kansas State and you had that really good year (45-19 overall in 2013 with a Super Regional appearance), you might have seen that bump in recruiting. Do you feel like that will happen with Ole Miss now having gone to the CWS?
Clement: Absolutely. What are kids attracted to? Facilities. But anybody we talk to right now, they all watched Ole Miss play during the end of the season. They probably watched them during the regular season, but when you get into the College World Series, everyone gets to see who the big players are and who the marquee names are. People with just a mild interest in college baseball will typically tune in to watch the College World Series. I think all of those teams have a boost in interest on some level in the recruiting department for the next summer for sure.

Davis: Let’s talk about your offensive philosophy. Hitting is what you’re in charge of, but hitting is only one part of the offense. You’re basically the offensive guy. So talk a little about your philosophy as a whole to score runs.
Clement: If you look back through the years on the teams that I’ve coached and what we’ve done, I want to really be up-tempo, and I want to put a lot of pressure on the defense. Pressure can come from a lot of different ways. Pressure can come from hitting the ball out of the yard, but pressure can also come from running the bases the right way, stealing bases and being able to execute the offense on hit-and-runs. Those are going to be very crucial to what we do. I want to be very aggressive. I want to take the game to the defense. That’s going to be very important for us from an offensive philosophy standpoint. As far as hitting goes, we want to be flat in the middle of the field. That’s not rocket science. That’s not something any other hitting coach in the country wouldn’t come in and say. I feel like we can be flat in the middle of the field, and that doesn’t just mean ground balls. Flat means back-spinning line drives, and sometimes flat means hitting the ball out of the yard. If we can start with our base of going gap-to-gap, I feel like it’s going to expand and we’ll have a pretty dynamic offense.

Davis: It sounds a lot like what Coach Godwin was doing. He believed in getting around the bases and being aggressive.
Clement: I didn’t know Cliff that well. I have been able to talk with Cliff a couple of times in this process just to talk about players and the staff here before I got hired and about the interview process. He had great things to say about Ole Miss, and I think it was a little bittersweet for him leaving here just because of the experience he had here and with the people in the town of Oxford and the way they treated him. I think we are similar. I coached against him a couple of times, and he’s an energetic guy. He’s a fiery guy, and that’s what he wants his team to have. I think, in that department, we’re not that dissimilar. I want guys that are going to play with a chip on their shoulder – guys that have a blue-collar type attitude. If you have that mentality, the baseball side of it is going to take care of itself. I’m not going to re-invent the wheel as far as how to swing a baseball bat. I really believe if you have relationships and a mentality, you can stand on your head and hit.

Davis: Confidence is a really big thing when you hit.
Clement: That’s the hardest part. You can have really, really successful players, but if they don’t have confidence, they’re probably not going to have it to the level that you want them to have success. We’ve seen it the other way as well. We’ve seen a guy that may not have as much talent make it back up with mentality. You would think that he shouldn’t have a ton of success, but he does because he has a ton of confidence in his ability. He knows he’s a small part of something bigger. It is a lot about mentality.

john.davis@journalinc.com
Twitter:@oxfordcitizenjd

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