Sunday Morning Chat Part II: Nova’s Pat McQuaid
Today, we pick up our Sunday Morning Chat with legendary Nova Manager Pat McQuaid. Enjoy!
Rick: Going back to coaching, the obvious comparison when talking about some of the best coaches in Broward, is Coach Rich Hofman, who you are chasing for the state all-time wins record. But are there other coaches out there that have gained your respect over the years?
Coach McQuaid: Well, first of all I don’t think I am going to be around to get a thousand wins and catch Rich. His record speaks for itself. He is a Hall of Fame Coach and he has just been very, very successful. There are a lot of great coaches in our county, but when I started coaching there were some guys that were very special: Pete Cavarian at Stranahan High, who was my football coach, and he was the baseball coach at Stranahan for years. He was one of my mentors. A name from the past is Jack Trainor at Fort Lauderdale High, and his son is an orthopedic surgeon now. He was one of the best coaches in the county when I came up. Those are the people that I learned from.
In our county now there are a lot of good coaches. I mean, Coach Ray Evans at Flanagan has done a great job with that program. The one guy that I always look to that has done a super job, is Terry Portice at Fort Lauderdale. He has average kids and he gets the best out of them, and he is a baseball lifer. Coach Frank Bumbales at Coral Springs, he has been there a long time and he does a good job. There is Dan Rovetto at University School, who coached with me here at Nova, and Pete Colabella was another one. There are just a lot of good baseball guys in Broward County.
Rick: Every coach has a different philosophy about scheduling. What is your personal philosophy regarding scheduling?
Coach McQuaid: Well, you have got to play the teams in your district, and then as the season goes on you want your schedule to get tougher. But I don’t believe in over-scheduling. I don’t think you go out there every day to play a team when you know you don’t have a chance to win. Our schedule is usually six or seven teams on our schedule that you think are better than you, and the majority of the rest of them, if you have the choice, are teams that are at your level. I think you have got to play a couple of games that you know you are going to win so that you can get the young kids in.
But in Broward County you only have 22 games, so eight or nine of them are you district and that is almost half your schedule. Then we go on a trip, and we try to schedule two tough teams. That only leaves you with six, seven or eight games, so it just depends on whoever fits your schedule.
I always like to play guys that I know and programs that are close to our school. I know a lot of people ask, ‘Why does Nova always play home games?’ Well, we have a nice stadium; plus, being the Athletic Director, I can’t always be away when we have other activities. Like tonight we have a track meet and boy’s volleyball practice. So if I am away at a game we don’t have anybody with eyes on in case something happens. So that is one of the reasons why I like to play at home is because I am the AD.
We will travel, but it has to be a night game where nothing is going on at Nova. I know I get that reputation sometimes as, why does Nova always play home games? But if you have a facility like we have, I think people like to come here and play, and of course I like to play at home. But as far as a schedule, I think early in the year I like to build our confidence up in the sense that I want to build up by playing teams at our level and then get tougher as the season goes on.
For a bunch of years we used to end the year playing Flanagan, but now they end the season by playing Archbishop McCarthy. We might not be at the level of those two schools right now like we were in the past. But at the end of our schedule we end the year with West Broward, Cooper City, Western Branch from Virginia and Western, who I think is very good. St. Thomas is mixed in there, so I think five of our last six are with teams that are as good, or even better, than us. Then that is what you want to end the season.
Rick: Every year, there are rumors of you retiring, yet every year you keep coming back. What brings you back year after year?
Coach McQuaid: The kids. I think that is why you coach is for the kids. It is still enjoyable. The first person that is going to know I am retiring is going to be my wife. You hear it, ‘When are you going to quit?’ Well, one more year, and one more year ends up to be three or four. But if you still enjoy the kids… It’s not about the wins and the losses, and the championships. It is really about helping the kids grow up, and if I still have a positive influence on the kids where I can help them grow up and give them a little guidance somewhere, I think that is the reason you coach more than anything. Maybe when you start your career it is about wanting to win a championship, but the longer you coach you do it for the relationships and to help kids grow up. You get rewarded on that when the kids come back and they say thank you. They bring their family back and those are the times that are special.
Rick: If you could change one thing about the current state of high school baseball down here in South Florida, what would it be?
Coach McQuaid: Travel baseball. Travel baseball is ruining the kids, from a couple standpoints. First of all it is a money sport, so the biggest thing is that the kids that can’t afford it don’t play. We have a lot of kids in this county, more than you think, that can’t pay the $1,5000-$1,600 bucks to travel and play during the summer, and they are excellent ball players and I think that hurts them.
My whole complaint against travel baseball is the kids don’t get a break. In high school we have to get them out there in October to get them ready for our season, and then our season is over and they jump into travel baseball. It’s not so much that it is travel baseball; it is that summer in South Florida is tough. In my mind, you have the heat, which you can overcome the heat. But it rains every day, and kids get hurt when they don’t have the same routine everyday. When the pitchers get away from you and they are not throwing their bullpen on this day and not pitching on this day, and then it rains all week, and they are going to a tournament on the weekend and they haven’t thrown a bullpen and they are throwing for the radar gun. That’s when the kids get hurt.
I liked it years ago when it was American Legion. It was Big League baseball and the kids stayed home. They played, and I thought that was so much better. But that was a different era, and I would love for it to come back, because I thought it was great when they had the Big League World Series here, and you had all the kids in Broward County playing. You would be like, ‘OK, Nova and another team is on this American Legion team’, and it was just an extension of the season. The high school baseball coaches coached it, and most of them did it for no pay. I just thought it was a better time, but, you know, things change and now it is travel baseball.
I just see it in the young kids who are ten, eleven and twelve years old who are playing too much baseball. By the time they get to high school their arms are shot. You hear of all these kids with Tommy John this and Tommy John that, and you are talking about kids who are thirteen or fourteen. It’s just different now. It used to be when I first started coaching, and you look at all the records that we have at Nova, we had kids throw complete games and we had kids throw 80 or 90 innings. We played 30 games.
When I started coaching you had no games limit. You had ten weeks to get as many games in as you wanted, and you really couldn’t play four games a week unless you got permission, so everybody played three. Your kids would get the innings. Now, a high school kid thinks 40 innings is a lot of innings. The kids just can’t throw like they used to, and I don’t know what that is. I know I have seen it. I used to hand the ball to a kid and it would be a complete game. Now you are using two or three pitchers in the game sometimes. Like Anthony Swarzak, he is pitching in the big leagues and he pitched 100 innings in high school. He wasn’t abused; he pitched one time a week. I can go on and on with kids like Kyle Ruwe, he pitched 100 innings. Kyle Tabora, who played for me, he was 85-90 innings, but everybody in the county did that and nobody ever abused their arms.
The kids were healthy and you didn’t hear about all the injuries. So I don’t know if it is happening early because the kids are playing too much baseball and they are putting too much wear and tear on their arm that when they get to high school they just can’t do it. I don’t know. I just think we can do something to make travel baseball better. Everybody thinks that they have to play travel baseball to make the big leagues, and that isn’t true at all.
Rick: A lot of times, being successful makes people in other programs mistake success with arrogance. It starts at the top in pro sports, where guys like Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells are viewed as arrogant. Why do you think that is?
Coach McQuaid: Oh, I don’t know. I think some people think I am stand-offish sometimes. But you just get caught up and sometimes you get tunnel vision. You want your program to be what it is, and you don’t want any outside interference. Sometimes you just get caught up in your job and you do it. I know one thing; I always want my kids to act first-class all the time. I want them to respect the game of baseball and to work hard. I just know that when I am coaching baseball, I am coaching baseball and I am worried about the health of my program. I think everybody does that. I think Ray Evans does that at Flanagan, and I think any good coach does. Sometimes it might come off as ego or arrogance, but that is never the intention because I am no better than anybody else. The program speaks for itself, but it is really no better than anybody else. I never really want to go out there and embarrass anybody; I want to play baseball and I want my kids to do it the right way. You don’t want to be perceived that way. I think sometimes you are, but when you get so engrossed into your job you try to do it the best you can.
Rick: Give me the one time when you were on the field and made a decision, and immediately realized it was the wrong decision. I am not talking about second-guessing yourself later on; I am talking about you immediately knew you just made a mistake.
Coach McQuaid: Never. I usually think things out pretty good, and when I decide to do something I am all-in. So you can’t second-guess yourself. Maybe there was one time as a head football coach when maybe we threw the ball and should have run the ball in the big game. But no, I think you take the information that you have, you do the best you can and you make a decision that you think is best for your kids. It’s athletics; anything can happen, especially in baseball. Whether you take a pitch or you’re going to bunt, or you throw a breaking pitch or throw a fastball; all those decisions can be wrong. You just have to take your information and do the best you can. Once you decide who you’re starting or who you’re going to pitch, or what you’re doing, you stay with it and do it.
Rick: If you could go back and give a young Coach McQuaid some advice, what would that advice be?
Coach McQuaid: Well, number one, never get too full of yourself, which I try to live by. Number two, it is never as good as you think it is and it is never as bad as you think it is. Stay the course all the time. Believe in what you believe, and the system. Those are the things I have always lived by. So with advice, the biggest thing is don’t ever forget your family. Sometimes you might get caught up in other people’s kids. For a young coach, don’t forget you family because they are the ones who support you. Especially your wife, who allows you the freedom to do the things you love.
Rick: What was your greatest single joy in all your years of coaching?
Coach McQuaid: Well I think, like I said before, it is about kids and it is not about championships. There were a lot of different kids coming through the program and being successful. But one kid by the name of Jose Navarro came from Nicaragua and came to the United States and could not speak much English. He became part of our program, and financially the family had no money. It was one of those situations where there were multiple people living in the home. He would walk home after school, or take the city bus. He told me one day that his dream was he wants to be a dentist. He ended up playing for us for four years. He started as a junior because one of our kids got hurt, and he hit over .350 for us.
Then his senior year when that kid came back he became a part-time player, although he still played a lot for us. But that didn’t deter him. He always smiled and he was always happy. He just said, ‘Coach, I’m going to be a dentist.’ Well, we ended up winning the state championship and he had a big at-bat for us that gave us the opportunity to win the ball game. He played college baseball at LaGrange College, got his degree and went to dental school. He became a dentist. To see somebody like that who started with nothing. Nothing. And accomplished his dream to be a dentist when he could have gave up at any time. All the cards were stacked up against him, everything was stacked against him. To see a young man do that; that is special.
Rick: OK, let’s finish with some word association, Ill give you a word, or phrase, and the you tell me the first thing that pops into your head…
Coach McQuaid: OK, I’ll try.
Rick: Nova Baseball…
Coach McQuaid: Tradition.
Rick: Coach Hofman…
Coach McQuaid: Great Coach.
Rick: The most over-coached situation on the field…
Coach McQuaid: Calling pitches.
Rick: The best player that ever put on a Nova uniform…
Coach McQuaid: Oh there is a bunch them; I don’t think you could pick just one out. But I’ll pick a few of them for you. Harry Chappas, who was on the first team and made the cover of Sports Illustrated as the smallest rookie in the Big Leagues. He was a switch-hitter who played at Miami-Dade North, and he played in the Big Leagues for four years.
Of course, Michael Morse and Anthony Swarzak, both of them are in the Big Leagues right now. Michael is with the Marlins, and he had the game-winning RBI for the Giants last year in Game Seven of the World Series.
Doug Johns, who pitched with the Oakland A’s, and there are other guys like Nick Arata, who was probably one of the best shortstops we’ve ever had. Billy Block, who was probably the most competitive kid we ever had, and then there are guys like Warren McFadden and Coach Tabora.
When I first started coaching, there was Mike Nawalany. You can go on and on and I can name 100 kids that were great players, and the biggest thing is that they all had was they wanted to compete and they wanted to win. For me to pick somebody who is better then somebody else, I couldn’t do that. We just had a bunch of kids, like Matt Marold, who pitched us to the Final Four in 1991. He pitched every game for us and he was a kid that was 5’6”, with a lot of heart. So every year, every team there is memories with kids. The biggest thing is that they are good people and they wanted to compete. To me, that is what makes kids special is to be competitive to be the best you can be.
Rick: If I never became a coach, I would have been…
Coach McQuaid: Probably a police officer.
Rick: Something people would be shocked to know about me is…
Coach McQuaid: I’m a nice guy.
Rick: OK, last one; I’ll know it is time to call it quits when…
Coach McQuaid: When I don’t love practice anymore.
Rick: OK, thank you again for all of your years helping players here in Broward County, and good luck to you guys the rest of the season!
Coach McQuaid: Thank you.