By Louis Addeo-Weiss
When we think of some of the greatest athletes and coaches in the history of sport, we marvel at their longevity; whether that’s performing at a high-level for an extended period of time, or merely at how long they’ve lasted with one franchise.
Examples to this notion include everyone from Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Tom Brady (as of right now), Cal Ripken Jr., Larry Fitzgerald, even down the line to coaches and managers such as Don Shula, Bill Belichick, Bobby Bowden, Bobby Cox, Mike Krzyzewski, and our subject in question, Florida Atlantic University head baseball coach, John McCormack.
Just as sunshine, the beach, and Disney World are symbolic with the state of Florida, so too is McCormack – a man who can best be described as a Florida-lifer.
Florida is McCormack’s home, a home he shares with his wife Katrina, who works as the school’s Assistant AD in communications for the school’s football, golf, spirit, and women’s tennis teams.
McCormack, a former third basemen/catcher, played his collegiate ball at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce starting in 1987 before transferring to Lynn University prior to the 1989 season.
Following the end of his playing days, McCormack ventured down Glades Road to Florida Atlantic, where he served as assistant head coach to Kevin Cooney, a position he held from 1991-2008.
Coach McCormack was gracious enough to spare some time in advance of his twelfth season at the helm down near Glades Road.
Our approximately twenty-minute conservation saw Coach McCormack sight the importance of his roots when it comes to his coaching philosophy.
“As cliche as it may sound, my dad was a huge influence on my values as a person, and I carried them over to coaching,” says McCormack.
McCormack would eventually be promoted to head coach following Cooney’s retirement, winning four conference championships and appearing in the NCAA tournament six times since the start of 2010.
Success, one can argue, can be achieved in a number of ways and to varying degrees.
While former head coach Kevin Cooney was the one responsible for bringing Florida Atlantic baseball to Division I status, a poor successor could very well jeopardize that, causing the team to lose credibility in the process.
Fortunately, this wasn’t the case for McCormack after being named Cooney’s heir to the throne in July 2008.
For McCormack and his teams, while the term “successful” would be one to describe a program with twenty-one consecutive winning seasons, McCormack notes the ultimate goal is to “get to Omaha,” the home of the College World Series.
However, while winning is something players and coaches lust after, grooming players at the amateur levels is another reflection of success.
In 2019, five players, Pedro Pages, Mike Ruff, Eric Rivera, Vince Coletti, and Blake Sanderson, were selected in Major League Baseball’s First-year Player Draft.
The school’s highest-drafted player, infielder/pitcher C.J. Chatham, was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the second round back in 2016. Thus far, Chatham has hit a respective .298/.337/.402 over parts of four seasons in the minor leagues, making it to Triple-A Pawtucket in 2019, where the former Owl hit .302 in twenty games.
Following his selection, McCormack referred to Chatham as “scary good,” in a story published in the University Press.
Like McCormack, Chatham is Florida-born, hailing from Fort Lauderdale and playing his high school ball at American Heritage, home to current San Diego Padres first baseman, Eric Hosmer.
Former assistant coach Robbie Widlansky, who played under McCormack and former head coach Kevin Cooney, also spent time in professional baseball, hitting .283 with 46 home runs over 615 games played. Widlansky is probably best-remembered for his senior season at FAU, when he hit a school-record .430, winning Sun Belt Player of the Year honors in the process.
The longtime coach noted, too, his affinity for Joe Torre, citing his journey to managerial success as a means of inspiration.
“He managed the Mets and didn’t win, managed the Braves and didn’t win, and managed the Cardinals and didn’t win.” Torre would later go on to become manager of the New York Yankees prior to the 1996 season, winning six American League pennants and four World Series titles during his twelve-year tenure under George Steinbrenner.
Like McCormack, Torre spent his playing career primarily as a catcher and third baseman.
The parallels with Torre don’t end there though. Where Torre was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014, McCormack received a similar honor for his contributions to sport and community, being elected to the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame on January 8th.
The concept of community and giving back is something preached by McCormack and his staff.
A quick look at his Twitter account will show recent tryouts for the Boca Raton Little League where players can be seen giving instruction to young, aspiring ballplayers.
McCormack also served as manager for USA Baseball’s 13u Athlete Development Program in Cary, North Carolina.
When asked about whether imparted wisdom on 12 and 13-year old varies to how you’d coach collegiate level players, McCormack boiled it down understanding how younger athletes, or even younger minds in general, process and input information given to them.
The Owls will open their season February 14th, when they host Delaware in a three-game weekend series, as they look to build on a 2019 season which saw them finish 41-21, advancing to the NCAA Regional.