On June 22, 2015 Matt Heath was promoted to be the head coach of the College of Charleston baseball team when news broke that former head coach, Monte Lee, was leaving to coach the Clemson Tigers. Since the 2011 season, while Heath served as the pitching coach to Lee’s Cougars, the team won an impressive 197 games (197-103) including trips to the Lubbock Super Regional in 2014 and the Tallahassee Regional in 2015. Heath’s familiarity with the College of Charleston along with his experience and leadership makes him the best choice.
This will not be Heath’s first time as a coach at the College of Charleston. He worked as the hitting coach from 2006-2008 and, more recently, as the pitching coach since 2011. Heath is one of the few coaches in college baseball who has had immense success both as a hitting coach and a pitching coach.
“I have had good players that have bought into a system and the systems I have learned are the systems for the guys that I played for,” Heath said. Heath believes in himself and his players wholeheartedly.
The transition from pitching coach to head coach will be smooth not only because of the systems that he has in place that have proven to work time and time again, but because of the rapport he has with the team.
Heath is the right hire for the College of Charleston not only because he has the credentials to show that he can coach, but also because of the relationships he has formed while at the College of Charleston. Both senior outfielder Alex Pastorius and star pitcher Bailey Ober echoed sentiments that they were excited about Heath’s promotion.
“After watching what he has done with our pitching staff for the past four years and how successful they have been, I realized how great of a coach he is and how great a person he is in building both a team and character,” Pastorius said. “And to me, he was the best person for the job. I was happy that he got it.”
The excitement from the players shows that Heath is someone for whom the team is able to get behind and play. Ober echoed these comments. “I was excited, I really wanted him to stay. I actually got in contact with our athletic director, Joe Hull, telling him I believe he is the right fit for us since he has been around this program and knows what it takes to take us where we need to go and I felt like he has done a good job so far.” It allows him to come back with a coach who has helped him develop into a great pitcher.
Heath’s roots in college baseball go back to his days playing under great college coaches Andy Lopez and Skip Bertman. He first attended the University of Florida in 1999 to play under Lopez. In his 33 seasons as a head coach, Lopez won two national championships and compiled an impressive record of 1,177-742-7. Heath left Florida after two seasons to play at Louisiana State University where Bertman was the head coach. Bertman, known by many to be a great coach had mountains of success during his tenure at LSU. In addition to winning five national championships, Bertman also took the Tigers to 16 NCAA tournament appearances in his 18 year stint at LSU. He was also inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame on July 4, 2006. Both coaches had major success and played a role in developing Heath as a future head coach in college baseball.
Heath flourished as a player at LSU; he was selected as a two-time ALL-SEC Tournament Selection in addition to being selected to the All-Tournament Team at the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional. Health played at LSU from 2001-2002, when, in both years, the team reached the NCAA Super Regionals. The accomplishments that Heath had at LSU allows him to understand what the Cougars need to do in order to have that type of success.
Being a great college player and also a successful assistant coach for many years warranted praise from many of his former coaches and current players when Heath was named the head coach at the College of Charleston. Ober, along with former coach of Heath, Bertman, are among the many that made positive comments about Heath’s article.
“Matt was always a great player for us at LSU,” Bertman said in an interview with CofC Sports. “I’m not surprised that he’s a head coach now, having put in the time and hard work as an assistant during his coaching career. I believe he will do a really good job of following Monte (Lee) and continuing to lead the College of Charleston to more success.”
When asked about how he felt about the praise he was getting from his players and former coaches, Heath said, “Those guys are unbelievable guys and any compliment that you get from them whether it’s Andy Lopez who has won national championships or Skip Bertman it’s a great honor.”
Heath believes that he can take things away from both Lopez and Bertman. “The one thing I would say is both of them were very different and unique in their ways but the things they brought [is that] Andy Lopez is a stickler for doing things fundamentally sound and Skip Bertman was more into the emotion and high energy that the game brought. Both taught in different ways but were both extremely successful. Hopefully somebody says I have taken something from both of them. If anyone ever says I’m like Andy Lopez or Skip Bertman I am pretty dang good.”
Even as a first time head coach, Heath has high expectations going into the season. “My expectations are that I want these guys to just come out and compete,” Heath said. “I want them to give great effort and I want them to stay focused if they do those things I will be happy with them. I don’t think you walk out and say I want to be 56-0 at the end of the regular season. My goal is that these guys are getting better and growing as men and I think they are and I have been extremely impressed with the effort and the tenacity that they are showing.”
Heath has the mindset to be a great head coach as he is focused on the development of his players and the success that the team can have. He is eager to establish winning ways in the new era for Cougars baseball. “I told our guys we are preparing for opening weekend and we are preparing to sweep. We don’t know [what will happen] but that is what we are preparing for. We are going out like we are going to sweep that series and I think our team is very capable of doing that.” The College of Charleston has found their coach of the future and Heath looks to come out swinging in his first season.
*This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of The Yard.