WINCHESTER — Jeremiah Robbins was hired three months ago to be the head baseball coach at Umpqua Community College. He’s also the assistant athletic director for athletic facilities.
Building a baseball program from scratch will be no small feat for Robbins, a former Douglas High and Dr. Stewart’s player and coach who has accumulated a collegiate record of 508-172 during 13 seasons at Western Oregon University and Lewis and Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho, where he led LCSC to the NAIA championship game in five straight seasons and won titles in 2015, ‘16 and ‘17.
Two months into his new job, Robbins has built an initial recruiting class and is getting comfortable with his other duties. The Riverhawks won’t play an intercollegiate opponent until the fall of 2019.
The News-Review sat down with Robbins on Tuesday for a question and answer session on building a baseball program.
Q: What have you learned about the job?
A: It’s going to be a lot of work. Obviously, getting the facility piece, I feel good about that. I feel good about using Legion Field with the turf project kind of moving forward a little bit more. That’s taken a little bit of time.
I think some challenges are out there, but we’ll overcome those challenges and we’ll continue to move forward. The big one will always be the facility. You have to have a place to practice and develop players, and that seems to be moving in the right direction, so it’s very exciting right now.
Q: Why this job?
A: It’s Roseburg.
I know the community and how much they care about athletics in general. It’s a big part of our community fall, winter, spring and summer, so to be a part of that and bring back Umpqua Community College baseball. To have a college team in Roseburg, Oregon, is very intriguing.
It’s very challenging to start from scratch and build it back up, but I know we can keep our county kids here and give them an opportunity to play baseball and after two years move them on to another place. And then family, I’ve talked extensively about that, being back close to home.
At the end of the day, it’s being in a community that supports the business that I’m in, and that’s baseball. For me it was an easy choice to make after talking about it. Talking with Craig Jackson (the AD), and talking with my family. It was a simple decision to make.
Q: Putting together a recruiting class for a program that hasn’t been around for a while has to be an interesting process. How do you go about it?
A: It’s very interesting, I think now it’s going into the time that the group that I signed for this fall and this next year of 2018-19. They know they’re going to be able to play. We were able to get 20 kids who wanted development and a chance to redshirt for a year, and the next group, to be able to recruit and know they’ll play a 50-game schedule after they step on campus next fall.
I think it’ll be very promising when we get into beating the streets more and we move into September and October and in November we can start signing kids, and this spring season, being able to go out and recruit some more, I think we can get some kids.
I watched Legion baseball this summer, watched some of the single A teams play and getting a feel for that again, I think we definitely have some prospects here in our community. There are some big time prospects; there are a few at Roseburg High School that I think we will get an opportunity, either two years here or two years down the road playing D-1 baseball. I’m excited. There’s an uptick in talent coming through, I’ve seen the lower levels, I’ve seen Babe Ruth and all the way down to Little League, and there’s some phenomenal talent out there. It’s definitely getting me excited about what’s out there.
Q: This first class, they’re going to redshirt, is that more position players than pitchers? It seem that pitchers would be harder to get.
A: Yes. You nailed it. This isn’t your first rodeo. Out of that group, I’d like to have them all make the team, but we’ll go out and attack pitching. We’re getting a list of pitchers. I’d like to have anywhere from 12 to 15 pitchers on the roster next year. Pitching and defense are, no doubt, what you have to shore up, especially when you’re playing with wood bats. I’m excited. The feedback has been good.
I spoke at a showcase last week, 600 kids, kind of getting our name out. That’s the big battle right now: getting the Riverhawks baseball name out there and spurring the interest a bit more. It’ll take time, but we’ll do the work and get some guys.
Q: That first class of 20, guys that redshirt and improve, are they guys that may not have had a chance otherwise?
A: Yes, a few. And there are guys that, with some of my contacts, their coaches have said, this is the perfect opportunity to go, redshirt year, it’s going to benefit you. Some of them had opportunities to go and play someplace, but they just felt that spending time, development-wise without the stress of having to make a team, was the best thing for them. Yeah, it’ll be interesting for me, with no games, this will be the first time in 21 years with no games for me. We’ll get creative and have some fun with it.
Q: This opportunity to teach these guys, that has to be exciting?
A: It’s very exciting, the opportunity to teach these guys. We’ll have to get creative with what we’re doing, with our facilities here for strength training and conditioning, are phenomenal, and then getting guys down to Legion Field to get in the cages and how we’re going to do that. The fall will be a lot easier. The spring will be a test run, if you will, of how we’re going to do things with a couple of other schools using the facilities and in the cages and things, we’ll see how it’s going to work out.
I’m very excited about the developmental piece. Baseball is such a game of repetition and to get those kids those repetitions for a whole year will really benefit them.
Q: On the course schedule, is advanced baseball, five days a week.
A: Yeah, it’s going to be fun. It’s the baseball class. We’ll spend some time in the classroom. We won’t be able to practice that much, not only with the restraints that NWAC has, but just the common sense of wearing guys out. We’ll spend some time in the classroom. I’ve taught the baseball class at my two previous institutions, kind of having some classroom time with it and stepping away from the bats and balls piece and sitting down and understanding the game a bit better.
Q: It’s an opportunity to raise the level of the baseball intellect, then?
A: Yes, and that’s one thing that I have seen in the game in the last eight, nine years. That’s the one thing that is missing. Everything is so rushed, they want to sign and play travel ball and play Legion ball, it’s such a rushed process. To be able to slow that process down bit and really starting to understand the game of baseball. What they think it is and what it really is, is total opposites, I think.
Q: No games. You’re coming from five trips to the NAIA Championship series to no games.
A: Yeah, it’s going to be different. More so the scheduling piece. My daily schedule and weekend schedule that I’ve had for 19 years for college, 18 years of college. That piece will be different. Hopefully I’ll still have a marriage when that’s over, it’ll be new for my wife and I.
It will give me a little more time to recruit, but I think it will be harder on the kids than on me. I know how competitive this group is, just from my interaction with them so far, it will be hard on them not stepping onto the field against a different colored uniform. We’ll take some time to go through that process with them. Have them understand the process of development and the reward at the end of that development, but the game piece, nothing can match it. That will be the toughest part. The following fall, we’ll have games against some other teams. We have four weekends where we can have teams come in and play. We’ll get that fire back with them, especially that first group.
It will be unique, but we’ll manage it and move forward.
Q: You hired Richie Charles as an assistant. Why Richie?
A: I’ve known Richie Charles a long time. I know his family, his mother and father, his grandma and grandpa, I just felt real comfortable with him. And the energy he brings on a daily basis. We need that with young adults coming in, having that presence of energy daily. I thought that was very beneficial.
And then his high school ties, all the high schools, not just in the Southwest Conference, but throughout the state of Oregon. I thought that was very beneficial. I know him, I respect him, he’s one of my former players for me for a year when I was an assistant with the Dr. Stewart’s in ‘99. I think this guy has a big upside in the coaching world to continue on. Hopefully we can keep him here for a few more years. But the energy and passion — the X’s and O’s, those things come over time — but the energy and passion you need, he nailed it. It was an easy hire.
Q: You have at least one other spot to fill. That was a decision to be made later?
A: Yes. We’re kind of, I’m feeling it out. We’ll have some volunteers come in this fall to throw some BP for us and to hit some fungos, but I think probably next spring, we’ll have somebody that is that third assistant or second assistant, however you want to phrase that, but yes, we’re going to wait on that for now.
Q: Richie will be the pitching coach, that’s a new element for him, from a standpoint of needing to develop a bunch of guys.
A: Yeah, in our conversations, I think he enjoys the challenge of it. He has some growth mindset that is kind of incredible in terms of taking on challenges. Making himself better, researching. I have no concerns about him in terms of handling a bigger group. He’ll be fine.
Q: The other duties you have here?
A: Yeah, the facilities piece, I’m kind of learning as I go. A lot of mowing, doing stuff and getting caught up. I think over time we’ll be able to manage it a bit better. I think it’s going to take a bit more time over this first year than we were anticipating, but we’ll get it dialed in and have a smooth process, for sure.
Q: It gives you the flexibility to get out and recruit?
A: Yes, it does. Craig (Jackson) has been phenomenal. So I’ve had, a couple, three or four times this year where I’ve needed to go out recruiting and it’s been a non-issue. I’m able to make my own schedule; if I want to come in early and do it and come in later and do some different things. The interesting piece will be when men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball get going in the fall and winter. I’ve been in facilities management before at Western Oregon, and so it will be a non-issue. Frankly it’s kind of exciting to step away from baseball a little bit and do some other things.
Q: You mentioned the field project at Legion, how soon does that need to be done?
A: The big piece, the ideal, would be to have it done in time for the high schools in the spring. This fall, we can go without turf, I’m not too concerned about it. Ideally, best case scenario, we have that thing ready to rock and roll for Roseburg and UVC and for us to practice, and then obviously Docs using it in the summer. I anticipate that happening, maybe sooner. I would be more than happy to go to Sunshine Park for my first fall here if Legion Field was not available.
You’re definitely right. It’s moving fast. All of the entities are working together on the same page, it’s been awesome. And to be a part of that, taking this position, it’s pretty unique. Kind of like buying a new car.
Q: I was told to ask this question, who’s going to be coaching third base?
A: I will. I’ve, in the past, my past six years at LC, my head assistant coached third base. I enjoy it, I wanted to keep him busy. He’s a young coach and I wanted to keep him moving forward, but as of now, I will be coaching third base. I’ve always called my own offense anyway, but my third base coach, some of my assistants, you have to keep them busy, and he directed traffic and I ran the offense. I don’t want to say it’s getting back to my comfort zone because I’ve never been real comfortable, it’s more getting back to the early days when I first broke into coaching and coaching third base and doing a bit more, I’m excited about that.