Jan. 19, 2009
ORLANDO (UCFAthletics.com) - With the UCF baseball program inching closer to kicking off its full team practice schedule Feb. 1, UCFAthletics.com sat down with first-year head coach Terry Rooney to discuss his preseason thoughts. This nine-part online feature continues Tuesday with a look at the Knights' potential starting pitchers.
Part One, Jan. 19 - Initial Outlook/Coaching Staff/Schedule
Part Two, Jan. 20 - Starting Pitchers
Part Three, Jan. 21 - The Bullpen
Part Four, Jan. 22 - Catcher
Part Five, Jan. 23 - First Base/Designated Hitter
Part Six, Jan. 26 - Second Base
Part Seven, Jan. 27 - Shortstop
Part Eight, Jan. 28 - Third Base
Part Nine, Jan. 29 - Outfield
Part One - Initial Outlook/Coaching Staff/Schedule
The number of positive adjectives used to describe the UCF baseball program and its new coaching staff this year has been astounding. Terms like exciting, fun, energetic and fresh surround the Knights on a daily basis. The new attitude that head coach Terry Rooney has delivered to UCF has helped 2009 evolve into one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory.
While UCF has been working feverously at returning to the NCAA Tournament the last few years, Rooney does not want the Knights and the entire program to be satisfied with just a trip to the postseason. He is hungry for more.
And with the fall season a huge success for UCF, Rooney feels very happy with the way his coaches and players have responded entering the spring campaign.
"Overall the transition has gone very well since we arrived here as a coaching staff," said Rooney, who was hired June 12, 2008. "First and foremost, when we came here in the fall we had several goals. Number one was to evaluate our players, and number two was to implement a style of baseball that we wanted to play. I felt like we were able to achieve both of those goals.
"Being in our first year as a coaching staff, we needed to see what we had and what was available to us. And when we started the fall, we didn't want to change anybody. Our whole goal was to see what we had from an evaluation standpoint and then put the basics of the style of play that we want into this team. That style of play is going to be an aggressive, intense, up-beat style of baseball, which is something that's a little bit different for these guys to learn. But I felt like at the end of the fall, these players really understood what we are looking for."
When Rooney took over the reigns of the program, he wasted little time finding three highly-respected coaches to join him. Cliff Godwin was the first to arrive after spending the last three seasons working with Rooney at LSU and Notre Dame. Jeff Palumbo then ventured down to Orlando after three campaigns at George Mason, and Aaron Smith worked at his alma mater, UNC Wilmington, from 2007-08 before putting on the Black and Gold colors.
"We are very fortunate to have this coaching staff at UCF," admitted Rooney. "Cliff Godwin is our hitting coach who works with our catchers, and also is our recruiting coordinator. Cliff and I were together at LSU and at Notre Dame, and when he decided to come with me to UCF, this program just went to another level. A few months ago, he was coaching third base and the hitting coach for a team that went to the College World Series. Without any question, he is one of the best hitting coaches and recruiters in the country, and he will be somebody that I'm going to lean on regularly. When you talk about going to Omaha, Cliff has been there.
"I remember Jeff Palumbo as a player out of high school and college. When he was playing, Jeff was one of the best infielders in all of college baseball. He has taken those skills and developed them into becoming an incredible coach and a teacher of the game. Jeff continues to establish himself as a premier defensive coach in Division I. His focus is on the entire infield while being in charge of our team defense. He also assists Cliff with hitting and recruiting, as well as managing our short game and baserunning.
"Aaron Smith joins us from UNC Wilmington and competed in the NCAA Tournament as a player and a coach. He works directly with our outfielders, assists coach Godwin and coach Palumbo in all areas of the offense and is also our camp coordinator.
"These three guys have been unbelievable during this opening stretch. When you take over a program, you need guys that are on the same page as you and have the same type of work ethic and goals. All four of us together have been working daily to bring UCF baseball back to the national spotlight."
Conference USA and the 2009 Schedule
Premier coaches are very important in guiding a program through a league such as Conference USA. Along with a C-USA slate that includes over half of the teams advancing to the 2008 NCAA Tournament, Rooney realizes the Sunshine State also will continue to test the Knights.
"One of the reasons I accepted this job was because of the conference that we are in," explained Rooney. "Conference USA year in and year out has been one of the top five baseball conferences in the nation. What that means is that we are a multiple-bid league, and that is something that is very important in college baseball. You do not want to put yourself into a position where the chances of you going to the postseason are determined on one weekend. Ideally you want your chances to be a result of the bulk of your work throughout the entire season. C-USA affords you that opportunity if you play well throughout the season.
"Every school in the state of Florida is extremely competitive in baseball. I tell our guys about our schedule, how each game is its own entity and we will focus on the task at hand. Another thing I say to them is that we are going to respect every opponent that we play but we are not going to fear anybody. And that's a big part of our schedule. Our players need to have a short memory in reference to wins and losses, because that's how you maintain or avoid streaks. We are excited about our schedule and playing in C-USA, and we have some great opponents that we consistently play during the middle of the week."