Conversation with Coach Bianco Part One

Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco sat down with The Ole Miss Spirit to discuss the recent fall practice and the upcoming spring season. This is part one of the two-part interview.

Writer's Note: In this portion of the interview, Bianco talks about the upcoming uniform start date for baseball and the team in general. Tomorrow's second part will focus on individual players and positions.

What does academic intersession do positively or negatively for your team?

Ole Miss used to start school in the spring a lot earlier than most schools we compete against. I know students didn't like it, but it meant we got the kids back earlier and could do skill work and begin some form of practice. Now, we can't do that until about ten days later. It is more difficult but for the guys, especially the draft guys, take a kid like Satterwhite. He has had the opportunity to take nine extra academic hours during intersession in January. I don't think it has as much to do with not being able to take classes in the spring because of being busy, it is more beneficial because our team doesn't get the opportunity to take summer school during June or the May intersession. So, January gives them the chance to make that up. Other sports like football and basketball can take summer school. Because we have been a nationally competitive team, that isn't possible for us. Intersession has positives and negatives.

Can you explain the uniform start date taking place this season?

Before, you had 132 days, which is 22 weeks for six days a week. So, you figured out your fall start date by counting back from the conference tournament. You count back from that Sunday of the SECs in Hoover. We used to play four weeks of nonconference, so a week of SEC Tournament play and then ten weeks of conference play. That is 11 weeks plus four more weeks in the nonconference. That left six weeks to decide how you wanted to practice in the fall and spring. We usually did four in the fall and two in the spring before the season. The days have to be consecutive except for the holiday break.

When this legislation was pushed, it was meant to affect teams like Miami and Arizona State, and I really didn't have a problem with it, but there is an inherent problem. Miami is a team that would start on Jan. 26 or whatever and had the same number of days, but they would get started early, thus they could be creative with when their regular season actually ended. You compare that to a team like Michigan, who can't begin their season to March 1. They miss out on a lot of midweek games. Even if they come south for a three-game set, there is nothing during the week, and it forces them to play games in bunches during the conference season. Once Big Ten play starts, they do two midweeks and then four conference games every weekend because their schedule is set up Friday, doubleheader on Saturday and Sunday. Miami and ASU starting so early would just play weekends and only throw those starters. If we were doing that, I would run Lynn, Satterwhite and maybe Baker out every game. That makes a team's record a lot better than playing five games a week. The new start date assures that all teams begin March 1 and face the same type of schedule.

What is the difficulty you face with scheduling because of the start date.

We lost a week and that doesn't seem like much, but it is four games that must be fit in somewhere else. It puts an extra emphasis on pitching depth because it creates more Wednesday game throughout the season. Where we used to play lots of Tuesdays and the occasional Wednesday, two games in the midweek will now be the norm. Also, we like to play an away weekend in the nonconference. We will have to evaluate whether or not to continue this because it leaves only two early season home weekends. And when you schedule two years ahead, I have to think about all factors when making that call.

Everyone talked offense, how did you rate the pitching in the fall.

It is hard for some to understand, and sure runs are the important thing at the end of the day, but it can't be the only measure or way to judge effectiveness. Did we give up more runs than expected? Sure, and most of them were through home runs. But the batting average wasn't that high. There have been falls with higher averages. When I look at the pitchers to evaluate, I look at velocity, strike percentage, ability to locate different pitches. There are a lot of positives to take away. It is the most strikeouts we've ever had even if you prorate the number of at-bats. It is the least amount of walks. Our strikeout-to-walk ratio was almost four-to-one. That is unbelievable. Overall, I am pleased especially considering this was done without the top guys in Lynn, Satterwhite and Bukvich. The pitching staff is going to be fine.

Defensive play in the fall?

Solid, we weren't as clean later in the fall. By that point, some of the younger guys seemed to not be as aggressive and be tentative in some spots leading to errors. But it wasn't bad, I am being overly critical trying to find faults.

Is there a certain mentality you look for in your closer or is it a confidence?

I think confidence is part of your mentality. They don't go hand in hand, but it is hard to have that mentality without confidence. You don't have to be terribly emotional. Guys get it done different ways. You like to see guys all amped up, but it isn't necessary. Mariano Rivera doesn't have that. He doesn't pump his fist around the mound. However, the closer does have to want the ball and want to be out there. He also has to believe he'll get it done, and the belief has to be transferable. His team has to believe in him and know that he can do it. We never sent that message last year. It is a shame. Bittle closed them out early. Satterwhite had his share of saves. But we could never send that message to ourselves. It starts with us. We didn't have that belief that we would do it in the end. We can say the other team believed, but it is transferable. They see your belief and your body language. We need to send the message to the other team that the game's over, but it starts with yourself.

Doubles were down last year. Did that cause offensive struggles?

The biggest thing was runs. Doubles were down, but it was runs. The year before, we had more doubles and more stolen bases. Their biggest difference was that they scored when they had to. Good teams rally when needed. The 2006 team did that at the end. Mark Wright hit the home run when needed. That sounds simple, but teams have that going for them. Last year, we didn't. We struggled to score. We were fourth in the SEC in average but at the bottom in runs scored. Over the last couple years, we have gotten away from what we wanted to do offensively. We played into the media after losing Head and Pettway. Where would the power come from? Everyone was looking for the next Deuce or Eli. And sometimes as coaches, you don't put that on the new guy. So, we gave coaches talk and said we would spread it out and score different ways. But our offense is built to do everything well. It is built to run, hit home runs, doubles and for a good average. Maybe not lead the conference in any one category, but be up there in all of them. We got away from that. We talked about not being physical, so subsequently, we weren't very physical. The first five years, all we talked about was being physical. We are back to that this fall. We broke down to basics and worked on things we had gotten away from for not particular reason. It was a coaching mistake on my part.

There seems to be speed and scoring ability throughout the lineup this year.

Yeah, everybody talks about the lack of home runs. We had a guy hit 15 last year and another hit 11. But how many guys hit from four to eight. It was crazy. You either hit 15 or you hit two. The teams with power are the ones who have a lot of guys hit five to nine home runs. They don't just come from Overbeck or Power. If the seven-hole guy and the leadoff hitter can do it, all of a sudden you are a powerful team and can generate runs every inning. We aren't waiting for the one inning with Overbeck and Power up. And then last year, Cozart went from 10 to four home runs. Looking at this lineup whoever plays, the ability to go deep is throughout the lineup even if no one hits 20.

At what point do you consider redshirting?

You are always thinking about it, but don't say it unless it is a lock. Why label a kid right now when it isn't necessary? You have a guy like Alex Presley, who in the back of my mind was going to redshirt, and then he becomes a Freshman All-American. I told Nick Bradshaw he was going to redshirt, and then he pitched in the first weekend of the season. There is no reason to make those decisions right now.

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