Bakich explains ‘neck up’ philosophy being brought to Clemson baseball

Bakich explains ‘neck up’ philosophy being brought to Clemson baseball


Bakich explains ‘neck up’ philosophy being brought to Clemson baseball


By the time Erik Bakich left Michigan, he’d turned the Wolverines into one of the Big Ten’s premier baseball programs.

Bakich won more than 60% of his games during his 10 seasons as Michigan’s coach with the end being the golden years. In his last three full seasons at the helm, the Wolverines went 111-69 and ended each of those years in the NCAA Tournament. In 2019, Bakich led Michigan to its first College World Series appearance in 35 years. The Wolverines finished that season as the national runner-up.

Recruiting talented players certainly helped, but Bakich credited what he calls a neck-up approach for playing an even bigger role in the success in Ann Arbor.

“We got the most out of our teams at Michigan not because we were the most talented team from the neck down but because of what we had from the neck up,” Bakich said.

Now Bakich is back at Clemson trying to implement the same method.

A former Tiger assistant under Hall of Fame coach Jack Leggett in the early 2000s, Bakich was hired as Monte Lee’s replacement last summer after Clemson missed a regional for the second straight year. The Tigers’ quest to return to college baseball’s postseason will begin Feb. 17 when they open the Bakich era with a three-game series against Binghamton at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

Bakich recently explained the neck-up component that he believes the Tigers will need if they’re going to maximize their potential this season, which entails buy-in from his players in all facets of the program.

“Everybody is born with a certain level of toughness, leadership and those character traits that are also learnable traits,” Bakich said. “Everybody is born with a certain level, but everybody can improve those levels. So that classroom curriculum, and that classroom in general, I would say was the most valuable piece or real estate in this stadium this past fall. The talent from the neck down, the collection of baseball talent, is phenomenal. I’ve said a million times that the previous staff did an awesome job of recruiting some awesome baseball players. For us, it was getting theme to have this collective buy-in that Clemson is not their three-year stepping stone to pro ball. That may be a byproduct of having very successful teams, but it’s just this team-first mentality and understanding that there’s been a lot of great teams and a lot of great players that have come before them. We’re just standing on their shoulders, and we’re trying to add as much value to an already storied program as possible.

“It follows this philosophy personally that if you want to have a great team, you’ve got to have a bunch of great teammates. Building a teammate is where we do it in the classroom, and building the teammate is simply building the person, building the man, building the future husband, the future father, the future community leader. So you’ve got to get out in the community, you’ve got to engage with this community, and you’ve got to take the target off of yourself and not think I’;m going to go be an independent contractor at the plate and just try to do my Twitter swing. But I’m playing team baseball. It’s not nine independent contractors at the plate trying to get their swings off. It’s we’re a super run-scoring unit, and the offense is about scoring runs, the defense is about preventing runs, and we’re working in constant synergy together because we are one team. We do our separate stuff, but we’re together in everything.

“It’s just tightening that circle and getting that collective buy in, and I feel like that’s where we’ve made the most strides. What’s going to happen on the field is going to happen on the field. It just feels like we’re not missing anything and we’re not lacking anything from a physical talent standpoint, and connecting those dots from the neck up is what’s going to make us a championship team. Because champions behave like champions before they become champions. How you do anything is how you do everything, so what they do in the classroom from a GPA standpoint is connected to the community service, which is connected to playing well on the field.”

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