Sorenson: Q&A With UNC’s Scott Jackson
LONG BEACH, Calif. — It was almost weird to not hear the name “North Carolina” called out during the NCAA tournament selection show this year. We’ve become so accustomed to the Tar Heels being in Omaha, let alone just making the field of 64.
But there they were during the first round of regionals, sitting at home with a rather odd-looking 34-24 record, a losing mark in the ACC and an RPI in the 20s.
I ran into UNC assistant Scott Jackson on day two of the Area Code Games and wanted to get his gauge on the Tar Heels’ season and about their prospects moving forward. Here in Long Beach this week the Tar Heels have four players who have committed to coming to Chapel Hill, and they are always looking for more.
Here is what the UNC recruiting coordinator had to say.
ES: Okay, first of all, what the hell are you guys doing missing the postseason?
Coach Jackson: Well it seemed like we were in a pretty good spot there going into exams. We were in the discussion to host a regional and we had two regular-season weekends left against two really good teams, one of which won the national championship. You know, you’ve got to win at home and we had the chance to do that against Virginia, but they outplayed us and we got swept. You go back and think about those things in your mind and it is sort of torture at times to replay that, but I’ve certainly done that a lot this summer. The bottom line is that you’ve got to give the NCAA selection committee reasons to take you and not reasons to leave you out, and down the stretch there we just didn’t.
ES: I guess when you see things like that happen, you still assume a team like North Carolina is going to get into the NCAA tournament since you’ve been in every year. You guys just have that reputation and that pedigree and especially with an RPI that high.
Coach Jackson: Yeah, there was talk that they switched us and Clemson for one of the last few spots. But remember, LSU a couple years ago got left out and they took St. John’s, and UCLA not making the tournament a year after winning the national title. Oregon State did the same thing a few years back, sat at home. So there is no program that is immune to not making the NCAA tournament. Hopefully this will turn into a learning experience for our guys, and you usually learn more from seasons like this than you do from really successful seasons anyway. I think we learned a lot as a staff, so I hope we will come back motivated because I know we look forward to having the team we have coming back this fall.
ES: Even if Virginia hadn’t won the national title, it seems from an outsider point of view that the ACC was really, really good this year. I mean, the conference is always are near the top no matter what, but this year seemed ridiculous.
Coach Jackson: Well everybody works hard. You look at the staffs in this league and the academics we offer, it’s the best. I think if you want a good education and to play at the highest level of college baseball, you need to play in the ACC. I don’t think we’re any different than the SEC of going through that gauntlet in conference play and not being able to take a weekend off. Certainly Louisville came in and showed everybody, “This is how you do it…” and they’ll have a lot of those guys back including Kyle Funkhouser next year. Notre Dame was great and they’ll have everybody back next year. Clemson has a new staff and they are always good. Then you’ve got the magician down there in Tallahassee. That guy (Mike Martin) is as good of a coach as you can find in our business, and they do it every year. Miami… they’re back, which was huge for the league this year. And it speaks volumes about your conference when the seventh-place team wins the national championship.
ES: Talking about being here at the Area Code Games, even being a name program like North Carolina, how tough is it to get players of this caliber to come to your program?
Coach Jackson: It’s as competitive as you would think in the recruiting world. The recruiting of players is getting earlier and earlier, so it’s getting tough because a lot of kids you identified at a young age that you think are going to be really good, projectable college players end up making strides beyond what you thought they were. So next thing you know they’re going to have to make a decision on going to play pro ball or not. That is something that really got us in 2014, six of our high school recruits we had commitments from were selected in the first 64 picks of the draft. That’s a dynamic that comes with recruiting these level of players, and there is nothing you can do about it.
ES: But the competition to get these type of players to commit to your program, that’s got to be so cut throat, right?
Coach Jackson: Oh sure. I mean to get these caliber of players, you’re going to go up against a lot of national powers in this business and you’ve got to recruit them and work hard to get them. It’s fun. I really enjoy that chase, that’s a fun part of the job for me, that competition. I think most good recruiters do like that part of it. But you also have years like in 2014 where you get all these guys to commit to your program and then you lose them to the draft. Still, you have to work hard and let the chips fall where they may.
ES: Let’s say you’re talking to a player that is an Area Code-level player. What is your biggest selling point to get them to come to Carolina?
Coach Jackson: I would say the support system that is in place for you. When you come to a program like North Carolina you are surrounded by teammates, coaches and a support staff that have only one thing in mind: What is in your best interest and how can we help you? I think you have to look at the support you have and the way you’re treated, not to mention you get three or four years toward a degree that is going to be there for you your whole life. Baseball is going to be taken away from you at some point down the line. I think spending three years in that type of support system, you can get where you want to go and get to the big leagues just as fast. The one common denominator is that it is hard to tell a kid to walk away from a couple million dollars, that’s hard to beat. But as a young kid you have to be able to step back and look at the big picture.
ES: If a guy is uncommitted here at the Area Code Games, can you actually turn him and get a commitment from him?
Coach Jackson: Yeah, you can still have guys that you are after that are still uncommitted at this point, but the way recruiting is today, kids are committing a lot earlier and coaches are going after kids a lot earlier with all these showcases and tournaments out there. Those days of still recruiting players here are getting fewer and farther between. More times than not I am just out here checking up on the guys who have already committed to us and see how they do against this level of competition.
ES: What about you. You’ve been at North Carolina for eight years now. What is it like working for coach (Mike) Fox at UNC? I’m guessing you love it there, but what is it like to have him as a mentor for your coaching career?
Coach Jackson: There’s no question that Mike Fox lets you work, first and foremost. I think that you have to earn that trust factor, and I think coach (Scott) Forbes and I have done that because coach Fox just lets us go and work. I mean, you start to work with the 11.7 scholarships, you start to work with hitters, you start to run practice, whatever it is, it prepares you for what’s ahead. I hope coach Forbes and I both find ourselves in a future position where there is not too many facets of running a program that we are not familiar with.
ES: It’s funny that you mention how coach Fox gives you all that autonomy because from an outsider’s point of view, you see him coaching third, you see him throwing batting practice, you see him heavily involved in everything, so you would think he’s the kind of coach who kind of controls everything.
Coach Jackson: Well, Coach’s passion is the practice and the development of our players. He’ll throw BP for hours. He loves being on the field. We always say that’s our sanctuary away from the office and to get away from the phones and do what we all love to do. He doesn’t just talk about that, he walks the walk on those things. He loves practice and loves being involved on the field. That’s one of the big things I’ve learned from him, when you go out there on that field you’ve got to be where your feet are. You can’t worry about recruiting or administration stuff.
ES: Speaking of, I know you were in the running for the James Madison job this offseason. But what is your M.O.? Is being a head coach the ultimate goal here?
Coach Jackson: I think every assistant in our business has that ambition and that motivation and wants to be a head coach. I’m not any different. But you know, you get addicted to Omaha. You get addicted to that feeling in the fall that when you walk out on the field you think, “Hey, we’ve got a shot to get back there again.” I like that feeling, and I feel I’m in a place where I have that feeling every year. I don’t think it’s something where I’m just dying to be a head coach, but at some point I would certainly love that opportunity. In this profession I think you just keep your head down and work hard and something good is going to come your way. But I’m thrilled to death to be where I’m at right now.