In the dugout with Doughertyby Ashley Morris
Coastal Carolina University assistant baseball coach Brendan Dougherty knows by now – after 12 years of coaching, including six at CCU – that each game, each season, can change up as suddenly as a swift wind over the infield.
It’s why the coaching staff doesn’t place any expectations on the team before it takes the field from year to year, although the goal each year is to reach Omaha and win a national championship. “Does that happen? No, we’ve never gotten there, but we’ve been close a few times,” says Dougherty. “We work every day in 200 feet, is what we like to say.
“Not to be cliché, but it’s not about the big picture. It’s the process. It’s about today and working one day at a time – not worrying about tomorrow. You have to have some talent, but you have to have some luck, too. You’ve got to play well at the right times. It’s not always about the best team; it’s the team that plays the best.”
Last year, CCU set school and Big South records with 55 wins, which nationally seeded the team fourth for the NCAA Championship and led to hosting the Myrtle Beach Regional and the first Super Regional. That game ended in a crucially close loss to University of South Carolina, who then headed to Omaha to win it all.
Shortstop Taylor Motter, third baseman Scott Woodward and second baseman Tommy La Stella each earned first team All-Big South honors. Part of Dougherty’s duties are infield and team defense. “But it’s definitely not just me,” he says. “Coach [Gary] Gilmore started building this program back again, one brick at a time. And Kevin [Schnall], the other coach, and I grew up together in New Jersey and have known each other for 20-some years. He makes me better every day.”
Dougherty, a native of Trenton, N.J., started playing T-ball in kindergarten. But his dad was a longtime basketball coach. “He didn't push me to play, though,” says Dougherty. “I wasn’t a great basketball player, so I thought maybe baseball would be a better career decision.”
He began playing at Potomac State Junior College in Keyser, W.Va., where he was a third team All-American in 1994 and a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American in 1995, the year he helped lead the school to a national championship and was named to the Junior College World Series All-Tournament team. (Dougherty was inducted into the Potomac State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.)
CCU and Gilmore, who happened to be a coach at USC Aiken at the time, both began aggressively recruiting Dougherty in 1996. But when John Vrooman retired as head coach of CCU Baseball and Gilmore replaced him, Dougherty’s choice was simple. “I loved it here when I came on my visit. I felt that the program was going in the right direction, especially under Gilmore. And two other guys from my junior college committed here as well, so it was a good situation here.”
Dougherty played shortstop for the Chants in 1996 and 1997, finishing his playing career with a .287 batting average and 40 RBIs in 104 games. Defensively, he set CCU single-season and career records for assists. He graduated from CCU in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and sports management. “I owe a lot to Gilmore as to where I am today,” he says. “I had some trouble academically when I was in school, and he was the guiding light to get me back on track and help me understand that baseball may not be what I do for the rest of my life on the playing field. A degree is important.”
Sure enough, Dougherty injured his shoulder midway through his senior year. “I probably would’ve had to have surgery, and I just felt that, realistically, with my expectations in life, I didn’t think I could make a career of playing baseball for the rest of my life,” says Dougherty. “I decided when I graduated to stay in athletics somehow, maybe as an athletic director, but then, watching our coaches, I realized I liked staying outdoors and liked what they were doing.”
Dougherty was hired as a hitting instructor and recruiting instructor at Elon University in North Carolina. During his four years at Elon, he led the team to its first NCAA Regional appearance (2002) and coached six all-conference players.
In 2003, he moved to Alabama and coached Auburn University to a regional. Dougherty then worked as an assistant coach at Army, focusing on infielders and hitting. Over the next two years, he helped set more school records, with two regional appearances, a Patriot League Championship, and a second baseman that captured an All-American title – the first Army player to achieve that distinction in 40 years.
“I’m passionate about teaching kids, developing guys to get better and to get the most out of their talents,” says Dougherty. “That’s something I strive to do every day as a coach. When these guys are here, you sometimes feel nothing is ever getting through to them. But when they come back or you see something in a game they do after you’ve said something to them, that’s what it’s all about. I don’t think Gilmore even knows how many wins he has sometimes because that’s ultimately not why he’s out here. If we’re just out here for wins and making money, then we’re in the wrong business, that’s for sure.”
Dougherty, 36, says he thinks of the team as an extended family. But his wife, Jonna, and 4-month-old son, Cruz, come first. “I have one true son at home, but I also have 35 other sons that we’ve recruited, and these parents have entrusted us to guide them,” he says. “A lot of them are from out of state and it’s at least a two-hour drive home, so we’ve become mom and dad for them – helping them make the right decisions on and off the field.”
Dougherty envisions a time when Cruz can play catch with the team. “I want to be out on the field with him,” he says. “I’m looking forward to being able to have him out here running around. We have a lot of good kids that I’d like him to grow up to be like. So if he is around them a lot, then hopefully he will go in the right direction.”
Also headed in a homerun direction, says Dougherty, is the future of the school’s baseball program – and the growth and pride that surrounds its success. “We work together to find guys who want to be Chanticleers. We don’t want a kid who likes it here, likes his scholarship offered, but wears his University of Miami T-shirt around,” he says. “We want someone who’s going to wear his Coastal shirt everywhere because he’s proud of the University and the baseball program.”