Ascending aspirations

Michael Hewitt

Seven years removed from his playing days on the baseball diamond at Quinnipiac, which led to a short stint in the minor leagues, John Delaney has started his tenure as the tenth head coach in program history.

Delaney graduated with a degree in marketing and eyed a career in professional baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers, but always sought to return to coach at his alma mater.

And after spending three years learning under former baseball head coach and program wins leader Dan “Skip” Gooley, Delaney finally has his chance.

“I’ve always wanted to come back,” Delaney said. “I knew whenever I finished playing, I wanted to get back into coaching. Having the chance to play at this school and see what the school can do academically, knowing the character of the employees, I knew this would be a place I’d like to return as an assistant or head coach. I was lucky for the opportunity.”

Upon returning to college baseball, Delaney carried the title of assistant coach for five years, making stops at Sacred Heart University and the University of Hartford prior to rejoining the Bobcats in 2013.

Since being named head coach, Delaney has noticed some significant changes in his day-to-day tasks, which includes less time spent on the field.

“It’s different, but the one thing I wanted to make sure was that my relationships with the kids wouldn’t change,” he said. “As an assistant, you have the access to be on the field. You’re doing the development side of the players everyday. The head coach doesn’t have the access to be on the field everyday because there’s so much to handle in the office.

Delaney said the new obstacles won’t change his interaction with the players, though, which he thinks is a high priority.

“Regarding trips, time gets taken away from the field, that aspect is harder for me to learn,” Delaney said. “But I’m in a position I’m grateful to be in. I do have to be sterner in certain areas and make sure our club is held at a high level, but the relationship with the players on the field will never change.”

Not only has Delaney adjusted to extra time in the office, he has also faced the challenge of supporting struggling players.

“That’s the hardest part,” he said. “Especially with the youngest kids, the freshman. They come in and this is the first time they have not been successful, at least for most guys.”

Delaney said that he makes his players think in terms of long-term goals in order to get through tough stretches in their performance.

“Getting them to understand that you’re going to fail a lot in your early years and understand there is a process you have to go through is key,” Delaney said. “I have them try to meet a goal over the course of a season and push themselves to get better, and ultimately things will click and take off for them.”

With the head coach making the ultimate choice, assistant coach Kyle Nisson is often an outlet for the players to air their grievances and give their perspective on Delaney’s choices.

“John and I are both young guys, but when players come to me to talk about team decisions or life in general, I’m always open and try to give the players an understanding on why Coach Delaney is making the specific decision,” he said.

One person that influenced Delaney, particularly in handling the relationship between the coach and player, was Gooley. ‘Skip’ coached Quinnipiac from 1977-1987, and resumed the role from 2002-2014. Gooley collected a program-best 427 wins at Quinnipiac.

Lying underneath the record win total was Gooley’s ability to understand and communicate with his players, a trait Delaney admires and learned from.

“He’s got players from 50 years ago and from last year’s roster that he can still call up and talk to,” Delaney said. “He can relate to any player coming here. That’s a characteristic of what kind of person he is. He taught me how to handle myself on the field and off campus.

Delaney said Gooley helped him think about things beyond baseball when he was a student-athlete at the university, which ultimately led him to the position he holds today.

“When I was 18, all I wanted to do was play baseball, improve my game and play in the big leagues,” Delaney said. “He made me understand the importance of academics. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”

Moreover, Gooley’s enthusiasm for academics led Delaney to create his own academic policy for the team.

“If they’re not on top of their studies, they don’t travel with the team,” Delaney said. “They understand the repercussions of not doing the academic side. The more work they do in school, the more work they can spend on the field. The majority of our roster is probably going to be graduating with a degree and getting a job, so the education is important.”

While Delaney has taken similar steps in socializing with his players, the presentation in practice is more of a demonstration than a lecture.

“I’m a lot younger than Dan [Gooley],” he said. “So, when I’m on the field, I’m not just talking to the guys. I’m doing the drills with the guys. I not only tell a kid how to change his swing or field a ground ball, but I can show him how to do it. From a player development side, it helps the players even more when he can see you physically do what you want him to do.”

Nisson said Delaney’s presence on the field brings ‘good competition’ during practice.

“He competes against the players in practice,” Nisson said. “It is important especially in the fall when we’re not playing opponents. The internal competitiveness drives our group.”

Delaney is not the only one competing with his players during practice. The oldest member on the coaching staff, assistant Patrick Egan, graduated from Quinnipiac in 2006. Kyle Nisson, another assistant and class of 2012 graduate still has teammates on this year’s roster.

Since the coaching staff is so young, it allows them to all participate in practice. Delaney also values the university familiarity with his assistants, in addition to the staff’s young enthusiasm.

“I think it’s a huge asset to a program to have three coaches who are alums at a school,” he said. “The parents get a good feel of what the school is like and how much we are entrenched in the school and how much we believe the program can be better.”

There is ‘nothing better’ for Delaney than hearing one of his players dream about playing in the pros. Their aspirations are what drives Delaney’s program because of the competition created to get better.

“The kids that want that goal push the kids who are ahead of them on the depth chart and are being pushed by guys who are trying to take their job,” he said.

Taking that approach, Delaney has led the Bobcats to 5-15 record in his first campaign as head coach. He sees brighter days for the program.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Delaney said. “My goal is to be the top team in New England. I don’t want this program to be able to compete against big programs. It’s about beating them.”

“I want this program to reach a point where any team we face, not only will we make it a battle, but we can walk on the field and say we can beat them.”

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