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Gekko Chats: Q&A With UW Baseball Hitting Coach, Donegal Fergus

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Fresh off a tour through the College World Series and a few weeks hitting the recruiting trail hard, Coach Fergus stops by the 'Pound to talk about his surging Washington Husky Baseball Team.

Coach Donegal Fergus is the hitting coach for your Diamond Dawgs.
Coach Donegal Fergus is the hitting coach for your Diamond Dawgs.

Updated:  We had a follow up question in the comments, so I'm posting Coach Fergus's answer at the bottom of this post.

Unless you were a Husky fan sleeping under a rock this past Spring, you were likely engaged in an activity that you probably hadn't engaged in for a very long time:  you were following the ranked University of Washington Baseball team as they navigated a brutal Pac 12 schedule on their way to a thrilling trip to the College World Series Regionals tournament in Oxford, Mississippi.

A key element to the successful turnaround for a UW team that had been panned across the board by the pundits before the season was the sharp increase in offensive output out of their starting lineup.  First year hitting coach, Donegal Fergus, whose bio can be found here on the GoHuskies site, was the man in the middle of triggering this turnaround for Head Coach Lindsey Meggs. He joins us here for a little Q&A about himself and his Diamond Dawgs.

Please welcome Coach Ferg to the Dawg Pound.

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Coach Fergus, congratulations on an amazing first year as the Huskies hitting coach. The run that you made in the CWS was one of the most exciting things to happen in Husky Spring Sports - and this includes national championships in the world of Crew, Softball and Cross Country - in a long time. If you could use one word to describe the personality of the team that made this incredible run, what would it be and why?

Coach Fergus"Willing".  Our guys this year were willing. Willing to try new things. Willing to get up off the mat and go at it again. Willing to take the heat and keep going. Willing to tackle any challenge the schedule or the game threw at them. It’s fun to coach guys who are up for any challenge.

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Your club had a UW record eight players drafted in last month's MLB Draft. That's a remarkable accomplishment for the individuals as well as the coaching staff. What does this kind of success mean to the program in terms of getting remaining players to buy in as well as in recruiting?

Coach Fergus: It is certainly a cool thing for our program to have that many players drafted in one year. It’s tied for 2nd most in the country this year, and we’re really happy for those players to be able to go chase their professional dreams. It’s a great thing to put on a recruiting brochure too, but the flip side of it all is now we have to replace all that production! It’s a sign though that we can develop players in this program, which we believe as a coaching staff is what really sets this program apart. It also helps ingrain in our current players how important it is to trust the plan and work the process so that they can have that same opportunity as those alums that have come before them.

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In your first year, the Dawgs showed significant improvement in several key stats in the area for which you are responsible: hitting. For example, this year's club averaged over 1 more run scored per game while seeing increases in both overall team batting average and slugging percentage. What changes did you make to the hitting program when you started that led to such notable improvements?


Coach Fergus
: I was lucky to join the staff at a time when there were really good players ready to take off, so all the credit really goes to them. They were incredibly focused on being more productive and reaching their potential. My job was simply to help them through the inevitable stumbles that

We coach every day to dominate. Bottom Line. - Donegal Fergus, UW Hitting Coach

all hitters go through. We spent a lot of our time on the more cerebral side of hitting honestly. Approach, concentration, intent and toughness. If there’s one thing I want our offenses here at UW to be known for it’s simply being a really tough out. We want our hitters to be ferocious competitors. If we do that well, our players’ natural abilities will come out. Coach Meggs also deserves a tremendous amount of credit for allowing me be myself and trusting me to help our guys in my own style. I’m not always the most traditional baseball coach!

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On the heels of winning the Pac 12 Coach of the Year award, Coach Meggs recently signed one of the most significant coaching extensions that I've seen UW award to a baseball coach. What does this kind of recognition mean to the staff overall and how, if at all, does it affect how you approach your role going forward?

Coach Fergus: It’s a really cool thing for him and, obviously, for the entire staff.  He’s absolutely the right guy to lead this program to national prominence and I know all of us on the staff are proud and excited to continue to help him do just that. I don’t think anything really changes in the way we approach this deal though. We started from Day 1 with the mindset that we were going to be an annual Omaha contender. None of us know how to dial back expectations or settle in any way, and Coach Meggs is our leader in that regard. We coach every day to dominate. Bottom line.

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One of the goals we have on this blog is to help UW fans get to know the athletes and coaches that represent them a little more intimately. Can you share with us an anecdote from this last season that most fans wouldn't know about but is a good representation of the character of your baseball team?

Coach Fergus: Well if anyone follows us on Twitter (which if you don’t already – you should! @coachferg) they would have gotten a taste of the "hospitality" of the Ole Miss fans out in right field. They can really heckle! The student section out there really got after our guys but our fellas handled with huge smiles and just the right amount of fun. The whole atmosphere down there was unlike a lot of places our players have experienced, and it could have intimidated a lot of teams, but not our bunch. They went in and played with confidence and with respect for the incredibly tough opponents we faced. To lose two one-run games to Ole Miss, our host and a team that ultimately went to the College World Series, while thoroughly enjoying the Regional experience, was really the perfect example of what kind of team we had.

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Follow up question from the UWDP members: Could you comment more on your "non-traditional" approach to coaching and hitting preparation?

Coach Fergus: I suppose that people say I'm not "traditional" for a number of reasons. The easy one I get saddled with is my look, especially my hair. I've got quite a bit of "flow" up top and the red beard to go with it. I've got some ink as well, so I suppose I don't quite match up to the typical baseball coach profile. I'm fine with it. Comfortable in my own skin.

On the field, we just try and look at all areas of how we connect with our players and how we communicate with them. I try very hard to give my guys the "Why" of what we're teaching so they can own the process of development. I also try to find unique ways to connect with my hitters that fits their learning style and personality. It doesn't mean I'm not tough on them or don't demand their attention or focus; it's more about creating a trust level where I am able to get on them or demand more of them because they know I'm committed to THEIR development. We are also open-minded, I think, about examining how we do things from a technique and practice standpoint. Just because I was taught this or that or because we've always done it this way doesn't mean there might not be a better method. Anything from breathing exercises to control our heart rate and internal "volume" to visualization and imagery to vision training is on the table for us. We just want to find whatever edge we can to give our guys the best tools to succeed. My ego isn't so big I can't explore new things to best prepare my hitters. I certainly don't have the market cornered on hitting knowledge so I simply try to look at everything I can to find an edge.

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Thanks to Coach Donegal Fergus for taking some time off the recruiting trail to do this Q&A for the 'Pound. Coach Ferg is really active on Twitter - give him a follow @coachferg.