Spartans program gets an injection of youth, energy
Michigan State baseball coach David Grewe has learned from the best -- and is using those experiences to rebuild the Spartans program.
David Grewe has had a busy year. The Michigan State head baseball coach, who is entering his second season, has spent most of his time trying to convince high school recruits to play for a baseball team that hasn't reached an NCAA regional in 26 years instead of turning pro.
Grewe's ability to attract great players and develop personal relationships is paramount to the young coach's success. At the University of Dayton, Grewe played first base, catcher and third base, but his biggest impact might have been as an extra coach on the field.
"I knew before I got to Dayton that I wanted to be a baseball coach," Grewe explained. "I was always that type of player on the field. I had a knack for coaching and was a pretty good educator."
Grewe comes from a long history of educators; both of his parents are teachers. He learned at an early age the value of good communication and a strong work ethic -- two characteristics needed in his demanding role.
He also attributes his age -- he took the head coaching position in 2005 at the age of 29 -- as a factor in his success. Recruits are able to relate to him and feed off of his energy.
The Royal Oak, Mich., native spent his collegiate summers like most baseball players, playing for summer-league teams. Grewe, however, also made time to hone his coaching skills by working with area high school teams. As an assistant with the Motor City Pride in 1996, he helped coach the team to a 29-7 record. Nearly every member of that team went on to play baseball in college.
Besides coaching area teams, Grewe was aggressive in learning everything he could about collegiate coaching. He contacted coaches around the country for advice and tips, and even drove to Michigan to attend a high school coaches conference, where legendary LSU coach and current athletic director Skip Bertman was speaking.
"After listening to Coach Bertman, I knew I wanted to coach in the worst way," he said. "Just being around the other coaches was a learning experience. They were doing what I aspired to do."
After graduation, Grewe took a job in downtown Chicago and called local colleges, asking whether they needed a volunteer assistant coach. He offered to help out in any way he could -- throw batting practice, work with the pitchers, etc. -- and had former coaches and other contacts making calls on his behalf.
One of the coaches Grewe called was Brian Baldea, the coach of the University of Chicago. "I called and offered to help out," Grewe recalled. "Coach Baldea said, 'I'm not ready to talk to you.' I didn't understand what he meant, but he went on to explain that he had heard about me and was trying to put together a paying job. He called back a week later with a position."
Grewe spent two years at the University of Chicago, molding the team into one of the nation's most potent offenses. Under the tutelage of Baldea, Grewe learned the ins and outs of the college baseball profession and found a mentor for his burgeoning career.
"Coach Baldea was such a good leader for me. He is a man of strong values and character, a tremendous family man and a great coach," Grewe said.
After working at the University of Chicago, Grewe moved on to Central Michigan, where he coached infielders, catchers and managed winter camps and clinics. He also spent time working for Dave Keilitz, the executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, as an intern and administrative assistant.
While recruiting, Grewe worked on making connections with both players and other coaches. He impressed many along the way; perhaps none more than then-Notre Dame coach and current LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
Grewe spent three years at Notre Dame, where he solidified his reputation as a top-notch recruiter and catching and hitting instructor. During Grewe's tenure with the Irish, Notre Dame baseball attracted two Top 10 recruiting classes. In his three years in South Bend, the team won three consecutive Big East Championships and made the NCAA Tournament regional round three times. The 2006 Irish squad, which featured a number of Grewe's recruits, extended those streaks to four.
"Having strong values is the biggest thing," Grewe said. "The desire to win right away, build players through hard work, discipline, and leading a program with the right focus -- these are all things I've learned. When you look at the true leaders of successful companies -- from Fortune 500 companies to mom-and- pop operations -- you see that all of the top people have strong values and believe in certain characteristics.
"I was so fortunate to work under those gentlemen [Keilitz, Baldea and Mainieri]. They solidified my belief that I was doing things the right way."
Even though Grewe has learned from some of the best in the business, rebuilding a Michigan State program that has struggled in the past decade presented a tough obstacle for the young coach.
"When you're building a program, there are two ways to look at it. You have great upside: There are so many positive contributions you can make over time. The other way is, you have to overcome a lack of success over the past decade. MSU has given us a lot of support, but this is a team that hasn't been to a regional in 26 years. If we can get to that point, it would be a major success."
Although recruiting at Michigan State is far different than at Notre Dame, Grewe says he learned a lot in South Bend that can be applied to his current role.
"I'm not going to get a lot of the kids here that I got at Notre Dame. There, I had kids say yes all of the time. Now, kids say they want to go to a warm-weather school or a program with more history. I tell the kids, 'We're going to get to that. Do you want to be a part of it?'"
Grewe said solid recruiting provides a strong foundation for building a successful program, and he and his staff work extremely hard at it.
"I learned you have to work at recruiting every day. You have to be extremely thorough. You have to get players who have a passion for you as coaches, for the program and the university. If they believe in you and the direction you're going -- no matter if you're in the top 10, the middle 10 or the bottom 10 -- if you get players that want to be there, you're going to win. They'll run through that wall right there with you."
Although Grewe had learned a lot about recruiting and coaching as an assistant coach, there were a few head coaching responsibilities that were foreign to him in his first year at Michigan State.
"At Notre Dame, my job was so baseball-oriented," Grewe explained. "I didn't have to do fund raising, media events or meet different people. Here, [as a head coach] you have to be able to do all of that stuff and delegate other responsibilities to your staff. I learned a lot about marketing, promotion and ticket sales. There are so many different people involved, so many different aspects -- it's a great challenge. I developed strong relationships with people, which was really awesome. At Notre Dame, all of that was done for me. As the head coach, it's all up to you."
Grewe's first year at Michigan State was an instant success: Off the field, the players made a large stride in academics, earning their best GPA ever, and had the most players ever to earn Michigan State's academic honors award, according to Grewe. On the field, the team improved its win total and its standing in the Big Ten. The Spartans improved from 22-31 (10-18 in Big Ten) in 2005 to 26-30 (13-19) in 2006.
"It was a great year," Grewe said of his first year as the head coach. "But I never want to go through it again. Luckily, I'll never have to."
In a profession that is notoriously hard to break into, Grewe has found success quickly. Although he is decades younger than many of his peers, he has a deep understanding of the game and his role. He knows surrounding himself with capable people and trusting his decisions will be critical as he meets obstacles down the road.
"You have to surround yourself with people who can take your job," he explained. "If you have those people, you know you have a talented staff. You can let them do their jobs."
His advice for others looking to rise through the ranks quickly? "Put your head down and work as hard as you can. Things will work out for you. People who can judge character well will look out for you."
Lauren Reynolds is a college sports editor at ESPN.com. She can be reached at Lauren.K.Reynolds@espn3.com.
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