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    TIM PEELER: Holliday's Goal is Getting Pack to Omaha
     
     

    BY TIM PEELER

    For The Wolfpacker

    RALEIGH -- Tom Holliday knows exactly what direction he would like to push NC State’s baseball program 1,256 miles due west to Omaha, Neb.

    Few coaches in college baseball know how to get to 1202 Bert Murphy Ave. the Omaha address of Rosenblatt Stadium, the site of the College World Series since 1950 better than Holliday. He’s been there 14 times in his 31 years in coaching, helping Arizona State and Texas win national championships in his four combined years at those schools, and going 11 times as an assistant coach and head coach at Oklahoma State.

    Along the way, he befriended NC State head coach Elliott Avent, and the two baseball coaches have maintained a close relationship for decades. Avent declared last year when the Wolfpack was sent to Austin, Texas where Holliday was an assistant coach for legendary Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido for its third consecutive NCAA Regional that he was off to see his best friend.

    Following the 2006 season, Avent shook up his staff and finally convinced Holliday to come to Raleigh to be the Wolfpack’s associate head coach and recruiting coordinator, in an effort to help the Wolfpack take another step forward. Avent has taken the Wolfpack to the NCAAs six times and to one NCAA Super Regional. But State hasn’t been to Omaha since the school’s lone appearance at the CWS in 1968.

    “Our friendship formed a long time ago out of respect that we have for each other in the game of baseball,” Avent said. “We are both old-school baseball guys, who have given our entire life to the sport of baseball. We are two very unbalanced people when it comes to other stuff in our life. We don’t play golf or hunt or fish or ski or play pool. We don’t have any other hobbies but baseball and we never have.
    “We have debated baseball. We have laughed about baseball. We have watched it. We have recruited against each other. We have run the whole spectrum. The only thing we haven’t done is coached together. It is something we have talked about and laughed about, and now we are enjoying the heck out of it.”

    The two had talked after Holliday left Oklahoma State in 2003, the same year that Holliday’s son Josh was a volunteer assistant on Avent’s staff. At that time, Holliday opted to join Garrido’s staff as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, and he helped the Longhorns reach the 2004 CWS championship series and win the 2005 CWS title. Last season, the Longhorns were eliminated from the NCAA Regional by the Wolfpack.
    But as much fun as it was to work for a legendary coach at one of the nation’s top programs, Holliday wanted a different kind of challenge.

    “At the University of Texas, it’s like somebody putting everything on the table and saying, Here, fix dinner,’” said Holliday, who won 281 games as a head coach and has been part of nearly 1,500 college victories.
    “It’s all there for you. It’s easy to make dinner, as long as you don’t break the eggs and spill the milk. But sometimes as a coach, the fun is in making people aware of what needs to be on the table.

    “That’s why I am here, and that is why Elliott wanted me here.”

    And there is no question about the feast that Holliday wants to attend.

    “Omaha,” Holliday said. “It’s not quite the Super Bowl, but when you get there you are in the final eight. You are playing for a chance to be in the national championship.
    “I feel like Elliott has been getting real close to that goal for the last couple of years.”

    Holliday didn’t come in talking about his ability to help Avent and his team win an ACC Championship or qualify for a regional. He talked only about Omaha.

    “If your players don’t swallow the pill that it is failure not to get to Omaha, then you are never going to get there,” said Holliday. “You can’t just set your sights on your conference tournament. You can’t be taken seriously if that is your goal. If you don’t work towards Omaha, people will know it and they will eat you alive. You will never get there.
    “I say that in all due respect for what Elliott has done here. But I told him: If I come here, we are going to Omaha. It’s no longer about conference tournaments and all that. We have to get NC State to the College World Series.’”

    That’s fine with Avent, who enters his 11th season at NC State with most of the key components he needs to build a national contender: an experienced staff, a revamped and renovated stadium, and a strong pitching staff.

    The Wolfpack’s offense, though, was decimated by the 2006 Major League Draft, losing first baseman Aaron Bates, designated hitter Jon Still, shortstop Jonathan Diaz and center fielder Matt Camp. And third baseman Matt Mangini transferred out of the program.
    Avent and Holliday had their work cut out to piece together a recruiting class that will complement a pitching staff anchored by Andrew Brackman, Jeff Stallings and a slew of other talented throwers.
    Among the many things Holliday knows how to do well is spot baseball talent. While at Oklahoma State, he recruited future major leaguers Pete Incaviglia, Robin Ventura, Jeromy Burnitz, Mickey Tettleton, Doug Dascenzo, Scott Williamson, Mike Henneman, Luke Scott, Scott Baker, Matt Smith, Jeff Salazar and Josh Fields. At Texas, he worked closely with 2005 American League Rookie of the Year Huston Street and J.P. Howell.
    And it doesn’t hurt that he can get a major league All-Star in his living room any time he wants his youngest son, Matt, is the starting left fielder for the Colorado Rockies. He made his first All-Star appearance this year in Pittsburgh, not far from his dad’s hometown in Uniontown, Pa. Holliday’s oldest son, Josh, who preceded him at NC State, is now an assistant coach at Georgia Tech.
    Avent believes Holliday’s connections in the sport will have an immediate impact on the Wolfpack’s recruiting.
    “He knows everybody in the country, and everybody in the country knows him,” Avent said. “He can pick up the phone and call anybody. He has been to so many World Series as a player and as a coach. His whole family is involved in baseball.”
    The challenge for Holliday is finding the right players for the Wolfpack. His recruiting philosophy is simple: He looks for eight position players who can compete for the best programs in the country and eight pitchers who could pitch for the best programs in the country. And he signs them.
    “I call it the rule of 16,” Holliday said. “And to get to Omaha, it’s a different set of recruiting. You don’t just come out and take the guys who want to come to you. You have 16 recruiting battles you have to win.
    “We are only going to get to Omaha if we have good players. If we don’t get the right caliber of players, it is not going to happen.”

    Tim Peeler is managing editor of www.GoPack.com and a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker. He can be reached at tim_peeler@ncsu.edu.


     

     

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