By Maggie McEvilly
This upcoming season will mark the seventh consecutive that the UConn baseball coaching staff has been together in Storrs, currently the third longest tenured staff in the country.
What makes this staff so unique is that all four coaches played for the Huskies during their undergraduate careers and therefore have the ability to lead a team they were once a part of.
Head coach Jim Penders begins his 15th season with the team, as is volunteer assistant coach Chris Podeszwa. Associate head coach Jeff Hourigan and pitching coach/recruiting coordinator Josh MacDonald joined their former coaches eight years ago and are coming up on their seventh seasons this year.
“We have a tremendous amount of pride in where we are, and Coach Mac and myself played for Coach Penders and Coach Dez when they got started so we all have a special relationship,” Hourigan said. “Our staff doesn’t have any interest in going to any other place. We love UConn and I think we just want to see how far we can take it.
All four coaches have very distinctive coaching styles and techniques, coming together to form a group that complements each other well both on and off the field.
“I would have to say Coach Penders is the guy that’s always even keel, keeps the ship together. Coach Dez is the fiery one, when you need to light a fire he’s there to do that. Coach Mac is the same way and he can relieve some tension by telling a joke,” Hourigan said. “I’m the very serious one, it’s good to have those guys to kind of loosen me up sometimes, and I think you need that.
Podeszwa agreed in saying that each coach brings something valuable to the team in his own way, and that’s what helps in forming this cohesive unit.
“We are very, very different people and the way we all go about the game is very, very different. As a result, those four personalities kind of come together to form this perfect storm if you will,” he said. “And it’s worked for the last seven years, that’s for sure.”
Podeszwa, Hourigan and MacDonald all seem to agree that the structure Penders has established in his time with the program is what makes them look forward to coming to work everyday.
“Coach Penders can be the head coach and still allow me and Jeff to do the majority of the recruiting work, allow Jeff to work with hitters, allow me to work with pitchers and allow Dezzy to do infield while having him to look over our shoulders,” MacDonald said. “It just takes a burden off everybody when you have that kind of trust for so long.”
“Coach Penders doesn’t want someone who’s a ‘yes’ person because as the head guy, you want different opinions,” Podeszwa said. “It works out well because ultimately, it’s Penders name on the door and he’s going to make the final decision but he knows I’m not going to be a ‘yes’ man and tell him what he wants to hear.”
“The way [Penders] treats his guys, they do want to give back to the program in any way they can when they’re done,” Hourigan said. “Coach puts a lot of pride into it and I take that away from being a father and a husband, all those great things that Coach Penders instills into our program, you can use in your life.”
Each of the four staff members has developed individually in the seven years they have been together at UConn, learning a lot from one another about what it truly means to be a coach.
“It makes you put things in perspective a little and understand what’s truly important,” Podeszwa said. “Developing a relationship with your players and what they do after the four years you have with them is just as important as the success you have in the four years with them.”
“We make adjustments, we tweak things, but those guys have a great foundation and we’ve kept the program pretty much the same since Coach Mac and I were playing here,” Hourigan said. “You make slight adjustments as you go but those core principles don’t change.”
“When I first started playing we were all trying to get there, we were all trying to figure out exactly what we wanted to play,” MacDonald said. “Fourteen or 15 years later, this is how we play and it’s been kind of branded that way.”
It is clear that these former Huskies have come together over the past seven years and grown as coaches to develop a lasting culture for UConn baseball.
“It definitely gives you a certain sense of pride in what you’re doing because this is something much bigger than yourself,” Podeszwa said. “It’s for those guys who all came before us and those guys who are going to be here long after we leave, so we definitely take a certain amount of pride in that.”
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