Q&A with Bryant Gaines

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Former UNC pitcher Bryant Gaines was announced earlier this month as the newest addition to the Diamond Heels coaching staff. Inside Carolina stopped by Gaines's office to discuss his return and fall practice.

Can you discuss the timeline for your hiring to replace Robert Woodard who accepted the pitching coach position under Mark Scalf at UNC-W?

"Well I had heard that Woody was going to get the opportunity to go somewhere else. I knew that he was in the running for UNC-Greensboro and UNC-Wilmington. So I knew that was probably going to happen but at the time I was working my previous job and I did not think a whole lot about it. I did not necessarily pursue it because I figured Coach Fox kind of had someone in line or decided who he was going to hire or whatnot. I had been working all the camps during the summer on the weekends that I could. After the final one on the Saturday of camp he asked me if I would like to go out to eat with him. So I generously agreed and we went out to eat and he basically asked me if I had any interest in it and if was something that I wanted to pursue he would like me to seriously consider it. After about a week of deliberating if I should leave my old job or take the new one I basically came to the decision that it was definitely best for me and what would make me happiest. It was just an opportunity that there was no way that I could turn it down. That is the timeline – about a week."

Speaking of camp – can you discuss what your role being in charge of the different camps that the University of North Carolina baseball program put on and what it entails?

"Well camps are very important for us. It gives us an opportunity to look at players, to develop players and to develop an excitement for the game in younger kids as far as little leaguers. We take them very seriously. In the fall we have two prospect camps and it is basically a pro style workout with scrimmages. They get out there and pitchers get to pitch and hitters get to hit and they play live in front of us. One of those is a two day camp and the second is a one day camp. But it is basically an evaluation the entire time. There is not much teaching, not much fundamentals. Then in the summer the camps vary. We have Middle School, Little League and prospect camps as well. Where like we said we do everything, from trying to develop players all the way to the prospect camps where it is more of a recruiting based idea. So all of them are very detailed and tedious in and of themselves but we take them very seriously and I think that it is something that really helps our program for sure."

So far in the fall you've already been working on coaching first base in the scrimmages. What other areas of focus have you been given by Coach Fox, Forbes and Jackson?

"Well I have a natural tendency to gravitate towards the bullpen to work with pitchers but it has also been very fun to learn the offensive side of things in more detail. When I was a player here I got a lot of simple knowledge about the offensive side of things because as a pitcher you have to understand the hitter to be a better pitcher but now I am having to learn rules and different ways to hit and different offensive approaches that I hadn't really even considered before. So, I had a little time spent in the bullpen but my major role is to try to move further down to help the fielders and the outfielders. I throw a lot of batting practice. I hit a lot of fungoes. Essentially my main role is to make the other coaches jobs a lot easier. I take a lot of pride in that. Because the last thing I need to is to be getting in their way since they are seasoned vets when it comes to all this kind of stuff. So if there is anything I can do to help them out or help our team out I try to just pick it up."

Which of the coaches throw the best batting practice?

"It depends, Coach Fox has been rumored to be one of the best pitchers in the ACC. He has a good breaking ball and he is a tough guy to hit against because if you hit the ball well he is going to break one off on you. But he throws it well. Coach Jackson throws it well. Coach Forbes does not throw it very much and now that I am in the mix I have gotten to throw a lot as well too. I can't say for sure who is the best BP thrower, you would have to ask one of the position players."

Coach Fox really seems to enjoy practice and has different ways of keeping practice entertaining. Can you discuss one of his practice games, "King of the Hill" and how he works on keeping practice interesting for the players?

"Any kind of competition within practice is fun. "King of the Hill" is basically a game designed to help work on pitchers fielding practice or PFP's. Coach basically tries to hit it by you. You emulate throwing the pitch and then he throws it up and hits it. If it hits the dirt on any part of the mound it counts. If it does not hit the dirt it does not count. But you as a pitcher you have to defend it. If you make an error, if you throw it away or if you drop it you are out. So one through 20 everyone goes and you eliminate yourself as you go until one person is deemed the "King of the Hill". There are a lot of other fun competitions. For instance, last week we had regular batting practice and right before the scrimmage we had a Home Run Derby where our hitters had a chance to take some swings and have a little bit of fun before we get into the scrimmage. So there is always something once every two or three days at least where everyone gets to relax a little and lay back and have some fun at practice."

Speaking of practice, the Diamond Heels have a lot of newcomers in fall practice heading to the Fall World Series. Which of the position players and pitchers have stood out to you so far in practice?

"There are quite a few. That is one of the things that we as coaches have a hard time narrowing down who may play where and who may play over here or over there. We have been very impressed with our entire class. There certainly have been a few guys that have stood out. We have had a few pitchers that have had very good outings as freshman in the fall – which we are always patient with. Trent Thornton has really thrown the ball well. A couple of our other guys – Taylore Cherry, he has had to face a little adversity the past couple days but he has thrown the ball well. Hitting wise we have had a number of middle infielders who have shown some athleticism and an ability to play up the middle. Landon Lassiter has played great defense and been swinging it very well the past couple of days. Skye Bolt certainly in the outfield. He hits from both sides of the plate and I was talking to Coach Fox the other day and I asked him which one is his prominent side and neither one of us seemed to be able to figure out which one he has holes in whether from the left or the right side. Those are just a few but it seems like there have been a lot of promise with our entire freshman class. We are extremely excited about it."

The Diamond Heels have had plenty of pitching depth the past couple of years in the Fall World Series but were lighter on position players. However this fall it seems like there is plenty of depth in position players. What is your opinion on the depth on the team this fall?

"Absolutely, the Fall World Series is always something you look forward to as a player. I think that this Fall World Series will certainly be one of the best that I have had the opportunity to be around. It will definitely be a good one to watch from a coaching standpoint because there is so much competition for positions out there. There are guys where we are three and four deep at positions and guys are going to get paired off with each other and we are going to see who has the intensity and who is able to play a 7 game series and it will give us the opportunity for us to make decisions as to who do we like in this spot or who do we think will help us here or there. It is certainly something that the players are going to look forward to but as of right now I think that they are trying to get into the swing of scrimmaging every two or three days or back to back days. But we are certainly looking forward to it for sure."

What is the biggest challenge for student-athletes in the fall?

"I think certainly time management is the most essential factor in getting started in the fall especially for our freshman. Because you have to learn to balance baseball, academics and academics is a big one since it includes class, tutors, study hall, everything and have some sort of a personal life. It seems like most days if you don't manage your time right you don't have the opportunity to be successful in one or all of those areas. We really encourage our guys to form some sort of structure to set themselves up for success instead of just going with the flow and getting behind on things like class or tutors and everything else. We try to get our guys in a very structured program from the beginning. We think if they stay in that and abide by that as they become sophomores, juniors or even seniors it will be second nature to them."

What is a normal day like in the off season for you as an assistant coach?

"The first thing I do is get to the stadium and get a workout in. After I work out I come upstairs about 8 or 8:30 am to check emails or do any paperwork I need to do. So I will return emails and I am in charge of the pitching statistics for our fall scrimmages. That is something that is tedious and takes some time depending upon how many pitchers you have that day. I manage our hours to make sure we are compliant with NCAA Regulations. Then a lot of times we will have recruits come in and Coach Jackson or Forbes will be busy and I'll show them the stadium, campus and take them to the academic center. Then you grab a quick sandwich. Mine is a peanut butter and jelly that I bring every single day and then you get on the field for three or four hours. That is about it. It is pretty straight forward and similar about every single day."

Being a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina and a student-athlete how do you relate to the players under your guidance?

"One of the things that I have already noticed that has been helpful for some of our players is that I have had a lot of the same professors that they have. I have been in the same major and field of study as a lot of our guys have had. It is good because they could come to me with a bunch of questions that I wish I knew about when I was a student-athlete. For instance you shouldn't take this class in the spring, you should take it in the fall. I can help them make judgment decisions based on where they are at. That is important. I wish I had someone just out of school who could have helped me with those things. Our academic support [staff] do an incredible job but I think you really benefit from having someone in your shoes very recently."

How is the team handling all of the competition for playing time and to get on the spring roster?

"They have handled it extremely well. I think that is why our scrimmages and practices have been so exciting for us as coaches. They know how competitive it is and that we have nine spots that we are going to field each and every day. They continue to work extremely hard every day and they play hard every day. I have been so impressed with the attitude that our guys have come out with each and every day. It takes a lot to motivate yourself for three to four hours a day, especially when we are scrimmaging on the weekends and everything else. So our guys have taken it extremely well and they are hanging with it and buying into the program. It certainly will make for a fun and exciting season."

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