By John Jackson, Staff Writer
On Jul. 19, the Manhattan Jaspers Twitter account tweeted out enormous news regarding Manhattan College’s baseball team. The tweet indicated that Head Coach Jim Duffy had accepted a position at Rutgers University. With classes set to begin in a little over a month, the Manhattan College Athletic Department was handed a difficult situation.
For players like third baseman Alex Cerda, this news came unexpectedly.
“At first I was in total shock,” said Cerda. “It was something I was not expecting at all. I didn’t know what to think. It was kinda crazy. So we didn’t know what direction this program was gonna go in. But I just kept hoping for the best. Hoping the administration was going to pick the best guy to lead us.”
Manhattan College wasn’t the only school in the MAAC to be in this situation. Mike McRae, Canisius’ head coach of 14 years, stepped down on Aug. 29. Matt Mazurek was just named his replacement on Sep. 6.
Though Manhattan was not alone, this definitely put the program in hot water for a few weeks. That is however, until Mike Cole was named head coach on Aug. 16.
For middle infielder Matt Forlow, Cole was viewed as an excellent choice.
“I understood that the [athletic director] here and administration [were going to] do the best they can to find the best fit candidate,” said Forlow. “And they definitely found it ‘cause Coach Cole was the best possible fit for this position and everyone underneath him is extremely happy and doing well since he’s been here.”
Cole isn’t new to Manhattan. He was an assistant coach with the baseball team from 2005-2008. During that time, the school had some of the best years in the program’s history. That included a MAAC Championship in 2006 as well as two wins in the NCAA Tournament: the best year Manhattan has had to date.
“To come back to a place that I’ve been before is great. Manhattan’s a special place and to be familiar with the surroundings around here, I think it’s going to help the transition. Just excited about getting back.”
Throughout his 16-year coaching career, Cole has also spent time with The University of Vermont (UVM, 2002-2004; 2009), The University of Maine (2010), New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT, 2011-2012), and most recently Fairfield University (2013-2017).
In his first three years as an assistant coach at UVM, the program saw winning seasons each year. He helped lead the team to a program-best 32 wins in 2003.
The most difficult year of his coaching career came in his second campaign with UVM in 2009. That year the students learned that the program was being cut. For Cole, it was challenging to coach a group of athletes who were worried about where they would play the following year. That season his team went 23-33.
He brought his winning ways to Maine in 2010 as the baseball team achieved 34 wins that season while he was an assistant coach.
He didn’t stay at Maine for long as a head coaching opportunity arose for Cole at NJIT in 2011. Cole led his team to a 20-35 record in 2011 and a 25-27 record in 2012. At the time those were the best single-season records for the program (since 2005) behind the 28-17 record achieved in the 2006 season. While at NJIT, Cole mentored Mark Leiter Jr. who currently plays at the MLB level with the Philadelphia Phillies and is the nephew of former big leaguer Al Leiter.
While an assistant at Fairfield, Cole continued his trend of success as he helped lead the team to some of the best seasons in their program history. In 2014 and 2016, the team won a program-best 32 games. His most recent year was also successful as the team went 31-24. In 2016, Fairfield also won the MAAC Championship.
Among Cole’s many accomplishments are the amount of players he has coached who have continued on in their playing careers. There are 25 players he has coached who have signed contracts with Major League teams. Seven of those 25 players were Manhattan College student-athletes. Two of those 25 have made it the big leagues.
Cole will be bringing an aggressive, yet fundamental baseball philosophy along with him.
“My philosophy is: ‘we’re gonna be fundamentally sound,” said Cole. “We’re not going to reinvent the game of baseball. We do the same thing at this level that you did when you were ten years old. You got to catch it and throw it. Our pitchers are gonna throw strikes. We’re gonna play fast offensively. I like to be aggressive on the bases. I like to put guys in motion. Put some pressure on the other team’ defense. Most importantly we’re gonna play fundamentally sound.”
Players like Cerda may have been caught off guard at first, but like what they see with Cole.
“So far I’ve had nothing but good impressions,” Cerda said in regards to Cole. “He seems like the right guy for the job, pushes us to the absolute limit, and I think we’re gonna to win.”
Change is hard in many aspects of life. However, change can be good. As a fifth-year senior, Forlow spent four years with Coach Duffy. While he was very close to him, he handled the change very well.
“Sometimes players are a little uneasy when there’s a big change like that in a program,” said Forlow. “But the school and the administration did a tremendous job with hiring the best candidate.”