When former Irish hitting coach David Grewe accepted the head coaching position at Michigan State this past season, Irish head coach Paul Mainieri zeroed in on a young and enthusiastic coach, Cliff Godwin.
Godwin, a former standout catcher for East Carolina, came to the Irish from SEC country where he held the Director of Baseball Operations position at Vanderbilt. Prior to landing a position with the Commodores, he held an assistant coaching position at UNC Wilmington.
"Cliff brings a lot of energy to our baseball program," Mainieri said of the newest member of his staff. "He's a guy who loves to put in the extra hours. He's always there for the players, and they've responded to him very well. He's really gone out of his way to make an early impact, and I'm thrilled to be working with another great young coach."
Godwin feels the same about working with one of the game's most respected coaches in Mainieri.
"It was one of those things where you're not expecting a call, and then you get the call and you kind of step back and say ‘wow,'" Godwin said of getting his first call from the Irish "The next thing you know coach Mainieri's calling and wants you come up for an interview. It was unbelievable. I was really excited about possibly having the opportunity to be an assistant coach at Notre Dame where the program has had so much success.
"I've been lucky that I've played for great coaches, and now I work with great coaches. My dad was a high school basketball coach, and he kind of instilled work ethic in me and discipline. When I got to work with other coaches, I found out they were tireless workers, and that's one thing I've really learned. You have to put everything you have into this job to be successful."
Another thing Godwin is attracted to is winning, and he saw plenty of winning going on at Notre Dame.
"That's one thing that I've learned. I've just wanted to win," he said when asked what attracted him to Notre Dame. "The chance to work with (Mainieri) and win. I've taken opportunities for less money because I wanted to be around great coaches who win and learn from them. I've been blessed with opportunities to do that."
Godwin believes in winning so much that he's resisted the temptation to enjoy one of baseball's greatest events, the College World Series, until he can earn his way there.
"I told myself I wasn't going until I help coach a team to get there," he said of the annual June event. "I won't go until I take a team there, and hopefully that will be this year with this team."
The Snow Hill, N.C. native says he's taken a slow but deliberate approach to his new position.
"The first couple of weeks I just sat back and watched," Godwin said of his first days while at Notre Dame. "No hitter wants to hear a coach tell you what you're doing wrong after you take a couple of swings.
"The first thing I do is evaluate and see what's going on with each one of our hitters. Each individual is different. Some guys might have really quick hands but aren't as balanced as other guys, but they can get away with it because they have really good bat speed.
"You try to take their strengths and make them stronger and try to hide their weaknesses, whatever that is. The biggest thing is to get your kids to believe in what you're doing and what you're teaching them. If you can do that I think you have a chance to be a successful coach."
Getting them to believe is always the tallest obstacle for any coach, and when it comes to hitting, it's a pretty high hurdle to overcome.
"People throw around 90 percent, but I can tell you it's a big percentage," Godwin said when asked how much the mental part of the game plays a part in hitting. "Obviously you have to have the physical tools, but the mental part is so huge. The biggest part of the job is to keep them to stay positive because this is a game of failure. In hitting you're going to fail seven out of 10 times and still be a great hitter. The mental part is huge. If they don't believe in themselves and believe in your approach, it's going to break down somewhere."
The Irish will have to replace two-time All-Big East player Matt Edwards and his big bat in the lineup, but Godwin says he thinks this Irish squad will be more than up to the challenge.
"We have a veteran squad here," he said. "I think we have a chance to hit more home runs as a team than we did last year. I think that when we put together a lineup, one through nine, this has a chance to be one of the strongest offensive lineups in the country. Not one guy is going to stand out necessarily, but we're going to have some guys hitting seventh, eighth and ninth that are some pretty good hitters."
Edwards' departure means the Irish will have to count on two other seniors to provide some power in the middle of the lineup.
"Matt Bransfield has really worked hard this fall," Godwin said of the Englewood, Colo. senior. "He worked to get back and hit a couple of home runs this fall. I think he's definitely fully healthy and we're expecting big things out of him. Craig Cooper, he's led the Big East in hitting the past two years. He's had a great attitude and work ethic also. Those two will have to hit in the middle of the lineup for us, and I think they'll hopefully put up some big numbers for us—probably more doubles than home runs, but they definitely can help us replace (Matt) Edwards this year."
The Irish struggled to find themselves last season and that winning team chemistry the great teams have, but Godwin feels that this squad has the right leadership to have a great season in 2006.
"I think these seniors have really rededicated themselves and taken this team on their shoulders," he said. "We haven't played a game yet, but they've proven it through conditioning, weight workouts and skill work. Just watching their interaction with the younger guys, they've really made an emphasis that we're not going to have the lulls through the season like we did last year."
"I think it starts on the mound for us because we have guys who have proven they can do it," Godwin said when asked what the key to a successful season would be this year. "If those guys do what they've done in the past, we should be very good. I think we're going to be better offensively than what a lot of people think we will be. I think the guys are really competitive and they're grinders. If we just play like we're capable of playing, we'll be fine, we'll have a great season, and hopefully go farther than they did last year."
With the season just a month away and his feet firmly on the ground now , Godwin says he's excited about his future at Notre Dame and thrilled to be a part of the Notre Dame community.
"It's a great place to be," he said of Notre Dame. "I know everyone says that, but it really is. We have unbelievable kids here. They're self-motivated or they wouldn't be able to hack it here academically. They play hard on the field. We have a great coaching staff here, and they've accepted me with open arms. I couldn't imagine my first six months being any better than it has been."