Challenges the Next MSU Baseball Coach Faces

Although it's still several years away, what happens to Mississippi State baseball when current MSU head baseball coach Ron Polk decides to retire? To continue the success that MSU is used to, what challenges must the next head baseball coach at Mississippi State hurdle? I sat down one-on-one with Coach Polk to find out his opinion about this as well as a few other things MSU-baseball related.

What will the next head baseball coach at Mississippi State have to deal with if he wants to be continue the success you have had?
"Unless it changes, he will have to deal with a state with very little population. (The state has) good players but not enough to meet the needs of Southern Miss, Mississippi State, Jackson State and all the other division 1 schools. (He'll) have to go into neighboring states (to recruit). If Alabama should ever come up with a lottery, we can close it down because we are now already surrounded (with states that have academically-oriented lotteries).

"It is going to get to the point that Mississippi State .... I like to use an example like the Kansas City Royals; they have a payroll of $55 million having to play the New York Yankees with a payroll of $200 million. That makes it tough. That's why facilities are important and why we have added them. We have tradition, crowds and a beautiful stadium. But other schools also have the stadiums, in-door facilities and the office complex. We have always been the program that did it first. We were the first to have lights, to have a tarp, to build sky-suites, but now everyone is catching up. So, we will never totally be able to say ours is better. That is concerning, but the biggest concern is scholarships. We have 11.7 while (many) other schools (in the SEC) have more. Look at the signing classes of the other schools. They will always have more depth than us.

"So, I, and the next coach, will have to be very picky about who we sign. We can't make a mistake. Also, we can't sign a kid who has any chance of signing a pro contract."

But you've recently signed guys like Ed Easley and Aaron Weatherford, both of whom could have easily been top draft choices.
"That's why we over-commit. We have to over-commit, although we don't over-commit as much as others because we don't run anybody off. I hate to say it but sometimes you hope that a junior signs (a pro contract) or somebody decides to transfer who is on scholarship. When you are over (the 11.7 limit) you have to get down. Let's say it's June and you have 12.6 scholarships (committed). You have some choices to make and I've never run a kid off. Most schools that are over (the limit) will call (some of) their kids who are returning and tell them they are going to help place them in another school. That's why I'm against the transfer rule changing because those kids will be left out and not have a place to go. They will have to go back to their original school with no scholarship."

Have you ever had a situation where you were over the 11.7 scholarship limit the first day of class?
"No, it's always worked out. Now, if I was over-committed to 15 in anticipation of losing several signees or losing a couple of juniors to the draft, then I'm playing with the kids' money. And I don't like doing that. But the NCAA forces us to do that. What the NCAA has done is force a young coach who is fearful for his job to make some tough decisions. If a kid struggles a little bit as a player, then he's going to have to get rid of him because he can't give a kid a 30% (scholarship) and he doesn't play well. He's got to send him to a junior college or send him to another school. That's what coaches from across the country are doing even though they don't want to. Most coaches care about the kids and their parents, but they have to get down to 11.7 scholarships. Schools with lotteries don't have that problem because they don't have to pay much to their in-state kids. That's a totally unfair situation. So, the next coach (at MSU), whether it be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years down the line, will have to make good decisions recruiting. The keys with a kid on 50% scholarship is you can't lose him in the draft, you hope he plays 4 years, he has to play 2 or 3 positions, and he can never get hurt. (But) that's too much to ask."

Despite the unfairness of the lotteries, MSU fans will still expect the next coach to be successful at MSU because you have been so successful. The problem is he won't have the advantage of the Ron Polk name and the success that name conveys. Your situation is similar to the situation Bear Bryant had at Alabama where recruits knew the Bear Bryant name. How will the new coach be able to offset that?
"Maybe in college football you can recruit due to a name, but that's because their names are on tv so much. It's not that way in college baseball.

"I'm hoping the next guy will be in-house and have been around me and know the situation. (But) if (the MSU administration) decides to go outside in 4, 5 or 6 years, this job will be such that a lot of people will be interested in it. But, there may some that will turn them down. Due to the limitations, I would be careful if I was a successful coach somewhere and Mississippi State offered this job to me. It's kind of like Smoke Laval following Skip Bertman at LSU after the success Skip had at LSU. It is very difficult. I don't have Skip's success winning national championships. What I'm saying is it's tough to follow a coach who has had some good success. And then you add to that unequal scholarships in a state that doesn't produce a lot of talent. Just look at the high school draft numbers (that the state of Mississippi has had). That's because of the population. It's not due to the coaches because we have great high school and junior college coaches. We can win occasionally with Mississippi kids if everything works perfect and we get them all and they all stay healthy. But, we have to go into neighboring states because we can't compete on a regional and national basis (consistently) just with Mississippi kids. However, if we want to go to a neighboring state to get a kid we have to pay an arm and leg to sign him. If there is a kid in Atlanta that we want, we have to give him 64% to meet the 0% (athletic scholarship money) that Georgia and Georgia Tech offer him. We have to give him out-of-state and in-state (tuition) and books. That's 64%. While we can still go into Georgia and Florida (to sign a kid), we have to get an academic kid and hope we can get an out-of-state (tuition) waiver."

Will the next head coach have to go to some of the bigger states that don't have lotteries like Texas, California and Ohio to sign talent since he will be surrounded by lottery-based states in the southeast?
"Why would a kid from Texas want to come to Mississippi State if Texas, Texas A&M or Baylor want him? Plus, he will be a long way from home. I would rather get the kids from the neighboring states. That's what we built this program on. But to get a Tyler Whitney (from Tennessee) or a Jet Butler (from Florida), you have to give them a pretty significant scholarship. (And even with that) most of these kids' parents from the lottery-based schools are taking a financial hit to come to Mississippi State because they could stay in their state and get free tuition automatically as long as their son has a 3.0 (gpa) or a 2.5 in Louisiana. In Georgia, they get free tuition and books with the Hope Scholarship (as long as they maintain a certain gpa while in college). If you are the Georgia coach and you give him his room for both semesters, all that he gave him was 18%. For me to get that same kid, I have to give him out-of-state and in-state tuition and books to match theirs. Now, I'm dealing with 82% compared to their 18%. But, with the 11.7 scholarships, how do you give a kid 82%?"

We've mentioned lottery-based schools, but aren't there some schools that have endowed scholarships that allow them to sign a lot of players to high scholarship amounts that don't come from the 11.7 athletic scholarships?
"(Private) schools like Vanderbilt, Stanford and Rice have a tremendous advantage because they have endowed scholarships. Schools that have rich foundations such as Vanderbilt, Stanford, Rice or even Northwestern and Miami can sign a boy or girl if they are (academically) qualified. Any boy or girl (whether they are an athlete or a regular student) that is a good student and wants to go there, can. As an example, Stanford can sign a boy and provide him almost everything free (without giving them any athletic scholarship money). Of course, they still have to (academically) qualify."

Obviously, lotteries and endowed scholarships are a reality. For those coaches that don't have those advantages, what can be done to help offset them?
"All that I'm asking is for the NCAA to increase our scholarships to 18 or 20."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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