BASEBALL: Leo Durocher Never Met Pat McMahon

"Nice guys finish last." --- Leo Durocher, former major league baseball player and manager; member Hall of Fame. It's quite obvious that Leo Durocher never met Pat McMahon, not only the nicest and kindest baseball coach on the planet, but a real winner and truly deserving of all the good things that have been said about him in the past couple of weeks...

When the charter carrying the Gators landed at Gainesville Regional Airport Monday afternoon, a fairly large crowd of supporters gathered to welcome the team. One by one support staff, the radio broadcast team of Mic Huber and Steve Babic and the players made their way through the tunnel of well wishers happy to express their pride in what Florida's baseball team accomplished in this season of all seasons. Pat McMahon? He was back on the plane thanking the pilot, the co-pilot, the navigator, the flight attendants and then offering to help the baggage handlers and ground crew.

A huge crowd greets the players - Corsaletti is in the upper left

Well … not really. He really didn't offer to help the baggage handlers and the ground crew, but if they had asked him for help, he would have stopped what he was doing, removed his jacket and pitched in. That's the kind of guy he is.

If you wonder why Florida, given up for dead by many during a 10-game slump at the end of April, made this marvelous run to capture the SEC regular season championship before capturing the Gainesville Regional and Super Regional as well as their bracket in the College World Series before being buzz sawed by Texas in the championship series, then take a look at the Gators baseball coach.

First and foremost, he's just a nice man and he's found that you can be nice, be in complete charge, and get your point across to a bunch of 18-22-year-olds in such a way that they respond and they win. Check the record. He's won and won big everywhere he's been. He won big at Old Dominion, not exactly a household word in the world of college baseball. He was willing to succeed a legend at Mississippi State and he took the program to the College World Series even though there was always the shadow of Ron Polk hanging over him.

In four years at Florida, he has reshaped a baseball program that had hit the skids in a variety of ways under Andy Lopez. Lopez won a lot of games at Florida and even went to the College World Series twice, but there were several Tommy John surgeries on pitchers, talk that Lopez was not well liked by the high school and junior college baseball coaches in the state who provide the bulk of the recruiting pipleline to UF and Florida's win total was in decline, the program's future teetering somewhat.

Tordi looks thrilled to see a big welcome

Enter Pat McMahon with a fresh approach and we can see in each of his four years a measurable degree of improvement. Throughout his tenure, McMahon has stressed doing things the right way. He's fundamentally sound in his approach to the game and he doesn't waver in the least when things start to stray a little off course.

When the Gators were off to a torrid start at the beginning of the year, McMahon was his kind, polite self, constantly praising and encouraging his team, always praising the opponents for playing hard, too. When the team was up, Coach Mac was steady. When they hit the skids for about 10 games in late April, McMahon held steady at the wheel. The Pat McMahon you saw in March when the Gators were on a tear was the same Pat McMahon you saw when they were searching to regain their confidence.

When the Gators were able to stop their listing and the ship was righted, they went on another tear that only ended when injuries to the Gator pitching staff shuffled the deck in favor of a Texas team that had its pitching intact. It was a wild, crazy run to the title game for a Gator team that was viewed as too young to make it that far.

"We thought at the beginning of the year we were a year away," said pitching coach Ross Jones at the airport Monday. "Gosh, we're so darned young. We only had one senior position player (Jeff Corsaletti). Next year we've got everybody back but Corsaletti and a few pitchers.

"We thought we had a chance to get out there to Omaha this year, but really, next year is the year we really thought we could contend. We were there a year ahead of schedule."

Early in the year, in his post game interviews, McMahon talked a lot about team building. You could tell in his comments that it is important to mold and shape a team the right way so that it really is an all for one and one for all approach. Some teams might have blown apart when the slump hit in late April, but this team simply held together, following the approach of McMahon, never too high after a win, never too low after a loss.

He didn't make any radical changes or throw any hissy fits. He just kept on leading his team. If you're looking for something magical that turned the Gators around, you won't find it. What you will find is a coach who never lost track of what's important. He involved all his players in the team and kept them involved when things weren't going well. As a result, the coach was the magnet that pulled everything back together and it was the full team that responded to his firm but kindhearted approach.

"When you talk about so many guys who contributed in so many ways, that's what is so very special about this season," said McMahon as he patiently and politely signed anything and everything that was thrust his way. "They were a first class group of young men."

Once Florida rebounded from that slump, the Gators were Sherman marching to the sea, torching everything in their path until Alan Horn's torn hamstring against Arizona State threw a plumber's wrench in the pitching works. Horn's injury forced McMahon to use Tommy Boss for five innings of relief instead of throwing him as the game one starter of the series with Texas.

"The tough thing was obvious Alan's injury on Thursday night," said McMahon. "So now you go into a best two out of three series with not the total pitching in line that you would like to have but even then some guys stepped forward."

Even with the perfect opportunity to make an excuse that everyone would buy into because it was so obvious that Florida's pitching rotation was askew, McMahon did what he always does. He thanked his players for giving it their best effort and never quitting on him or on their teammates.

Coach McMahon being interviewed by the media upon his arrival

"The guys just really competed so much for us every step of the way," he said. "If you look at the entire season, from the SEC championship to the way they played every day against the type of competition that we played against, obviously this season is something that will give us something to look back on."

Four years ago, Jeff Corsaletti came to the Florida program as a promising youngster with a bright future. He leaves as a sixth round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox and a chance to pursue the dream he's had since he was a kid playing baseball in the back yard. He's the first to tell you that so much of the success he's had in baseball is a tribute to Pat McMahon, but it goes beyond just the lessons he's learned on the baseball diamond. He will tell you that he's better equipped to face the world because Pat McMahon was his coach the last four yeas.

"Coach Mac … well, it doesn't get better than that," said Corsaletti. "Four years under Coach Mac and I can't tell you all the stuff I've learned that makes me a better person and a better baseball player.

"This was a great run we just had and other than the ending which obviously we wish was different, I couldn't have asked for a better way to end my college baseball career. All I can say is thanks Coach Mac because he made it happen for me and for this team."

Boss, who hopes to sign with some professional team as a free agent, smiled when Durocher's famous quote about nice guys was mentioned.

"He didn't meet Coach Mac," said Boss, the senior from Dunnellon. "He was wrong about that. Coach Mac's the nicest guy I know, just a tremendous person and if you want to know why we won, just look to Coach Mac. This was a great bunch of guys to be around and other than those last two games, you couldn't have asked for something more. I'm going to miss being around these guys. I'm going to miss being around Coach Mac."

You see, nice guys can rise to the top. You can be nice, polite, kindhearted and respectful. You can do all those things and you can still win big. Pat McMahon will keep on winning big at Florida. His approach is one that will never grow old.

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