"CLEARY" AN HONOR

Stability, it is the most important thing to have when it comes to building a college sports program. This is especially the case in the turbulent world of college baseball, as the amateur draft can do a number on your team's future for two or three years even when the players never step foot on campus.

With this being said, UC baseball coach Brian Cleary has managed to forge a sense of stability into his now nine-year attempt at rebuilding a once dilapidated Bearcat program. He has become a father of sorts for the program; left to nurture and develop all the potential UC baseball shows.

During Tuesday night's contest versus Miami (OH) at UC Stadium, Cleary's parenting efforts were recognized, as he was honored for amassing 200 career victories (203) and coaching his 500th game for the Bearcats (203-296-1). Cleary's total of 203 make him just the second man in program history to accumulate 200 wins and are enough to claim second place on the school's all-time win list behind Glenn Sample's 391 victories.

Though he has seen his fair-share of success on the campus at Clifton, it was not always the case for Cleary or the UC program.

Coming to UC in 1997, the traditional red and black of the Cincinnati uniforms must have appeared to be more black and blue to Cleary, as his newly inherited team had won just five games the year before his arrival.

"When I came here I had people warning me about the state of the program. Every part of the program that had to be addressed in order to make this a place that could compete," said Cleary, who served as an assistant coach at C-USA rival Tulane for three seasons prior to taking over the reigns as Bearcat skipper. "However, knowing that, I knew Cincinnati was a baseball town and that I was up to the challenge and receiving such great support from our AD (Bob Goin) I knew we could make this into a great place to be."

Almost immediately after Goin handpicked Cleary the program developed quickly into a team to be dealt with. In his first four seasons the 37-year old Cleary (celebrated his birthday by beating Xaviier 9-2 on Wednesday) saw his team improve in wins each of his first four years. Jumping from the five wins prior to his tenure, Cleary won 12, 15, 30 and then 35 (school-record) games respectively.

"It has been a very slow process and has been a long time coming," said Cleary about leading UC to their first winning season since 1995 in 2000. "I think that we have dealt with the major problems of the program and are now ready to compete with top-teams in our conference."

In all, under Cleary's tutelage the Bearcats have amassed three of the schools five 30-wins seasons in the 100-plus year history of the program.

Of course, it is not just the "X's and O's" that lead to a team's success. For every coach they can only be as good the players they put on the field -- and Cleary has done a great job of that.

"They guys we bring in have to fit our philosophy," said Cleary. "With the amateur draft being so difficult to project, it is important to get guys that want an education along with the chance to play baseball. You always want talent, but if they do not plan on being here to get an education they are not right for this program."

Cleary's stern recruiting philosophy has not hindered his ability to bring-in some of the top talent in the country. Cleary's first three recruiting classes were recognized as being equal to some of the top programs in the country. In all, Cleary has seen 11 of his former players go on to pursue careers in the professional ranks, including three players from the 2001 squad (the most for one team since 1988).

"Recruiting is such a critical part of the process," said Cleary. "With the draft playing such a major role in the recruiting process (taking away your juniors and seniors, and some of the top talent from the high school ranks), bringing in the right players for your team is crucial when building the program for the future. Once you bring in the young talent you create an atmosphere to where you can win."

Even by recruiting local products such as Chris Hamblen and Kevin Youklis into the UC program, players who went on to have success at the next level, Cleary knows that utilizing college baseball's rules with regard to transfers to the fullest of his ability is crucial in filling the voids left by the draft and graduation.

"With recruits you bring in guys for the future, but when it comes to transfers you have the chance to bring in guys that can come in and play right away," said Cleary who has seen Division I and Junior College transfers like LaFringe Hayes, Pat LeMasters, Josh Kay and Mark Haske come in and make an impact for this year's team. "It is important that they fit your system and fill a need for your team. You have to know who you are bringing in, because guys are not going to be happy if they transfer and then don't play."

The University of Cincinnati has taken some of the pressure out of the hands of their manger by deciding to make two moves of their own in the right direction to help make the Bearcats a team on the cusp of competing with college baseball's elite. The first is the construction of UC Stadium, the school's state-of-the-art new ballpark.

"There is no part of the program that the facility doesn't help improve," said Cleary who saw his team play just 12 "home games" last season due to construction. "It really gives us a home and a place that is great for the fans to go. Though the fans have been great, the new stadium should create an even better relationship between us and them in the future."

Along with the stadium the University of Cincinnati has decided to leave Conference USA. Moving to the Big East at the end of this season, Cleary feels that the Big East will match them against schools dealing with many of the same issues that his program faces: "there are so many positives in switching conferences for the school and the program. We feel we will be more on equal footing with schools we are competing with as they are dealing with similar situations that we are (scholarships, weather, etc.)."

With the program now truly having become "his baby", it is clear that the efforts of coach Cleary and the support of the University of Cincinnati will help foster an environment conducive to allowing Bearcat baseball to grow-up to accomplish great things.

 


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