Baseball Season Preview | Wins under his belt, Cole in his stockings
Coach John Cole reinvigorated Penn baseball, but alienated many now-former players
February 27, 2008, 5:00 am·
Numbers alone were enough to vouch for John Cole.
The Penn baseball coach had led Rowan University to a .758 winning percentage and five Division-III tournaments in seven years.
And since he took the helm of the Penn program in 2005 - the one that finished last in the Gehrig Division two years straight - the Quakers have re-staked their claim for Ivy relevance. They won the division and played in the ILCS last season.
But there is another figure that's just as pronounced: Of the 17 freshmen and sophomores on the roster during the 2006 season - Cole's first as head coach - only seven remain with the team.
While there were cuts, and at least one player, former pitcher Bret Wallace, chalks up his disappearance to injury, many of this group seemed to suddenly jump ship.
Since Cole's arrival, Penn baseball fans have wondered what about him has caused so many players to quit.
But just as important - despite the mass exodus, how do the Quakers keep winning?
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When it comes to Cole's coaching style, people around the program have already settled on a consensus keyword.
"He's definitely way more intense than any other coach I've ever had before," said Penn's ace and sophomore co-captain Todd Roth.
Co-captain Kyle Armeny, a senior first baseman who played under former coach Bob Seddon for a season added: "I think the main difference is the intensity. Things were a lot more laid back under coach Seddon."
While Seddon was at the helm of the Penn program for 34 years and brought in five Ivy titles, the Red and Blue had been without a championship since the 1995 season.
So when Cole replaced Seddon in 2005, he looked to overhaul the program.
"We wanted to put in a more disciplined environment where accountability was very important - more unselfishness was being preached," Cole said.
"That did entail changing the culture to where winning was expected and earned and not hoped. There was definitely a big plan to instill an infrastructure of winning."
On paper, the formula sounded great. He would restore the intensity the program lacked, and get the current players to buy in.
But it didn't work out that way.
The wins came, but the roster size dwindled, especially the pitching staff. Former Boston Red Sox draft pick Nick Francona (son of current Red Sox manager Terry) got up and left the team. Kenny Yoo voluntarily demoted himself to the club squad. Steven Schwartz took his services to national power Vanderbilt.
And many others, including Jarron Smith, the starting right fielder for most of last year, have also mysteriously vanished from the roster.
While several of these players refused to comment for this story, this wave of defections would seem to point to dissatisfaction with the new coaching staff.
But Wallace, who said his torn labrum was his impetus to leave and remain off of the team, said that personal vendettas had little to do with it.
"I think it was mostly as a result of their personal dissatisfaction with the team, not necessarily with the coach," Wallace said.
This dissatisfaction may have included a new conditioning program for the pitchers.
A year ago, Yoo told The Daily Pennsylvanian that he believed Cole's program over-emphasized running and under-emphasized strength training.
"I'm sure the switch from Seddon to Cole and having to jump into a harder program like that was probably a big thing for a lot of guys that quit," Roth said.
Roth, however, is pleased with the program.
But with a division title already under his belt, one thing is for sure: whatever Cole is doing, it's working.
"It was a whole new system of organization for the guys," he said.
"I think that [it was a] whole educational process of 'Hey, winning the Ivy League is not the only thing.' We're trying to go past that, and expect to win in the weight room, and in how hard you run, and the way you prepare."
Some have bought into Cole's system, some have spurned it. But now his focus is making sure that the recruits he reels in won't be so antsy to leave.
"Knowing people is the key to this; seeing through this young man and why he wants to come to Penn" Cole said.
"Is he gonna bail? Or is he the kind of kid who really wants to win and get a great education?"