June 9th of last year was an anxious time for the Maryland baseball community.
Head coach John Szefc had just announced his departure to take over the helm at Virginia Tech, making him the second skipper in five years to leave College Park after a few seasons (the other was Erik Bakich, to Michigan, in 2013). Not only that, but pitching coach Ryan Fecteau and assistant coach Corey Haines were joining Szefc in Blacksburg. Suddenly, everything seemed to be in limbo.
The first thought running through this writer’s mind was “Is associate head coach Rob Vaughn going to stay at Maryland or go to Virginia Tech with his mentor?” Vaughn started out as a volunteer assistant coach at Kansas State while Szefc was there, and came with “The General” to Maryland as an assistant coach.
His success as a recruiter and in working to develop the Terrapins’ batting prowess was becoming buzzworthy. It was only a matter of time before he became a head coach, even given the fact that he was just shy of turning 30. However, taking over at a D1 school in a Power Five conference that had been to the NCAA tournament three out of the last four years seemed a tall order.
No problem, as the search committee made swift work of selecting Szefc’s successor. The position was offered to Vaughn, making him one of the youngest head coaches in the country.
Vaughn, however, wasn’t coming into his new position without a solid grounding.
“After working for Coach Szefc over the last several years, there really wasn’t an unexpected part of taking over the new position,” he said. “I was very familiar with the behind-the-scenes aspects of the program, which allows for a smooth transition.”
Promotions were in store for assistant coaches Anthony Papio and Matt Swope, both Maryland baseball alumni. Brandon Erbe, a Maryland native and former Triple-A pitcher, also joined the coaching staff. All are under 40 years of age.
When Vaughn was an assistant coach, he spent almost all of his time with position players. As head coach he was now responsible for all players, including pitchers.
“In the past, all I had to do was figure out how to score seven runs and get lots of hits,” Vaughn told me. Thus, finding a highly-regarded pitching coach was of the utmost importance. Fortunately, Vaughn had frequently crossed paths with Corey Muscara, St. John’s pitching coach, when both were actively recruiting players in the northeast.
Muscara was in no small part responsible for St. John’s impressive play over the last few years, with NCAA bids in 2015 and 2017. Red Storm freshman sensation RHP Sean Mooney grew under Muscara’s tutelage, and is on Collegiate Baseball’s preseason All-American Second Team. Muscara accepted an offer to come to College Park, and together with the other coaches, gave the Maryland baseball coaching staff a decidedly young look.
Anthony Papio finished up his commendable career as an outfielder for the Terps in 2015. When becoming a student assistant coach, he found himself in a challenging spot, since he was a former teammate of a number of the current players. Papio told me that last year in his first season as an assistant coach that “I was a little bit unsure how coaching my former teammates, and good friends, was going to go. Actually, the transition went a lot smoother than I anticipated. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I had built a strong relationship with a lot of these guys as a player, and they understood that everything I said had their best interest in mind.”
While short on experience, the Terrapin coaches are long on forming the type of relationships with their players that will pay dividends for years to come.
“One of the first things I learned as a coach was a John Wooden quote that Coach Vaughn shared with me,” Papio said. “‘They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. This was something that really stuck with me and something that has driven my decisions and actions as a coach.”
Add in an abundance of enthusiasm and last June’s panic is history.
“The biggest change is realizing what my new position entailed — being responsible for setting a vision and direction for the environment that we want to foster,” Vaughn said. “Now, my main responsibility revolves around creating a vision — I’ve loved every single second of it!”