Szefc enters his first fall with the Hokies

With the 2017-18 academic year beginning Monday, the Virginia Tech baseball program is under new leadership and will play its home games next spring in a $20 million renovated ballpark. Because of all the changes, hokiesports.com will be featuring Q&As this fall with the newest members of the coaching and support staff who are working to turn the baseball program in the right direction. These features are to help introduce these coaches and staff members to Hokie Nation. First up during this first week of classes is head coach John Szefc (pronounced Sheff), who met with the entire team for the first time Sunday and has just started individual workouts with the players.

Q: So, how was your summer vacation?
JS: “Well, there wasn’t much of a vacation. I got to spend a little bit of time with my wife and kids, but really the majority of June, July and August was spent here just getting ready for the guys to come back and getting our player personnel set here. Then, we were working on our 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes.”

Q: Speaking of recruiting, was it any easier or harder to sell Virginia Tech?
JS: “I don’t think any part of recruiting is really ever easy. It was just a matter of getting familiar with what we’re putting out there about where we are going to go with the program here at Virginia Tech – presenting the strengths of this university, stressing the academics, the campus, obviously everything that’s going on here with the facility and playing in the ACC. So it [recruiting pluses] was already a lot of stuff that I already knew before I got here, but it was getting our strengths lined up and then presenting them to the people that we want to come here.”

Q: You were able to turn two programs around in a very short amount of time and made seven NCAA appearances in 12 seasons as a head coach. What is your recipe for that success – “the Szefc effect?”
JS: “It’s really just a steady culture of recruiting and work and preparation. There are a lot of things that go into it, but it’s a lot of having an academic plan and continuously tweaking that plan no matter where you go. Also, having your academic support staff as well because if your guys aren’t right academically, they’re not going to be right on the field. It’s about having the right assistant coaches and being in sync with them as far as how we’re going to prepare guys and how we are going to recruit guys. And I think being on the same page with the administration as far as what their expectations are, the resources they’re putting into it and what they kind of, hopefully, expect to see in a certain period of time. And every place is different. So it’s [the recipe] not just a one-sentence answer. There are a lot of things that go into that.”

Q: What has been the best part of joining this athletics department?
JS: “I just think the culture here is really one of where people just want to help you. They want to help make your job easier, so I feel like I’ve been able to do a lot of coaching baseball, recruiting things, as opposed to other things that would take away from that. Normally when you take a job like this, you spend an awful lot of time fundraising, for instance, or facility improvement, where we’ve come here and it’s already been done. It’s in the works already in a big way. So that’s something I haven’t had to spend much time on because Virginia Tech has done so much even before I got here that I’m able to invest so much more time in our player personnel for this upcoming season and then for the 2019 season and beyond that.”

Q: Speaking of player personnel, the 2018 roster will feature almost half returners and half newcomers. This fall is an important one for everyone because there are a lot of roles up for grabs, correct?
JS: “This is a new beginning for everyone, including us. We, as a staff, have to go out there and evaluate guys in general, so we can match up past numbers and summer numbers and see what guys look like now, and then what we know is workable in this league and what’s not and try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. That’s what every coaching staff is doing every year – putting puzzle pieces together. With a new staff, it’s a little bit different because you have to first learn the pieces. With a returning staff, they kind of know what the pieces are already. So we are playing a little bit of catchup, but any new staff is. I think so much of it is evaluating, not just physical talent, but also establishing good communication lines and relationships with the players. Clearly, these guys are here because they are good enough. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be here. Now, for us, it’s a matter of getting our system in and meshing it with their ideas. It’s kind of like a melting pot. We’re all thrown into this pot together – coaches and players – and we just have to figure out a way to make it work.”

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