Wednesday, March 16, 2011

From Football to Softball, Coach Jackson Vaughan just keeps winning.

It’s spring time in Oregon which means three things on Linfield’s campus: Spring Football, Linfield baseball chasing down another NWC title, and Linfield Softball once again demolishing pitcher’s ERA and leaving in their wake teams in the NWC that think this could be their year. Linfield Defensive Coordinator Jackson Vaughn is not only one of the best D.C.’s in Divison III football but for the past 10 seasons he has transformed Linfield softball from a solid NWC program into a National Powerhouse.

In the past ten seasons Vaughan’s teams has amassed a glossy 317-83-1 record while ripping off 7 straight NWC titles, 3 Regional titles, finishing as National Runner Up at last year’s D3 College World Series, and winning it all in 2007 as the D3 National Champions. This season the ‘Cats are off to a great 8-1 start and currently ranked #1 in the country. Along the way Coach Vaughan has been named NWC coach of the year the past seven years and the west region coach of the year 5 different times. Dang Impressive for someone that was first exposed to the game in the late 90’s.

As you would imagine it could be a rather hectic transition from coordinating the Wildcat defense where he primarily works with the defensive line and then goes to coaching on the diamond but as Coach Vaughan expressed to Wildcat11 it’s not as hard as it would seem “The transition from coaching football and coordinating the defense in the fall to coaching softball in the spring is not as tough as some would think (aside from the lack of time off). Particularly with my work with the defensive line and then to our hitters in softball. Both aspects are very detail oriented where any little flaw can lead to a lack of success on a certain play/swing. With the defensive line we are constantly drilling first step, strike, hand placement, pad level, etc. and with hitting it is our load, timing of the swing, balance, angle of the hands/elbows/bat/core, extension, etc. They are unique to their individual sports but demand the same attention to detail.”

WC11 can testify to the amount of detail that Linfield football puts into the position work and as someone who was a terrible hitter in high school for my baseball team I can appreciate the fact that Coach Vaughan puts that much effort in the details with his softball’ers. But what about the difference between coaching big tough football players and women? WC11 is not trying to get all sexist here but I’m sure that is a question the people have for Coach Vaughan that maybe hesitant to ask him.

However, Coach Vaughan had zero issues in letting me know just what his thoughts are between coaching the two sexes “As for the transition from coaching men to coaching women there are certainly some differences but not as drastic as many think. Some people quickly come to the conclusion that the football guys must be tougher and work harder. In all of my experiences I have found this to be far from the truth. We have several players on our softball team who would work many of our football guys into the ground and last year one of my softball players broke her jaw, had it wired shut, sat out for a week, and then started the rest of season while losing 18 pounds because she could not hardly eat anything and there are football guys who will sit out with a sprain or jammed finger at times.

So in my mind is not about guys and girls – it is just about people. In both sports you are going to a variety of athletes: those are highly motivated and driven players, athletes with a lot of talent but average work ethic, and some of those “glue” players that may not play a lot or have big stats but bind the team together with their commitment and team first attitude. So I really don’t look at a player in either sport and see a man or a woman – I just see a person and then from there I really want to know is what kind of character do you have, what kind of work ethic do you have, what is your commitment to excellence, and can I trust you both on and off the field.”

Amen to that line of thought. I know just firsthand about the stereotype of dismissing a female athlete as not being as tough as their male counterparts. Mrs11 was tougher and outworked any athlete I knew while I was attending Linfield so I can appreciate what Coach Vaughan is saying.
In knowing Coach for a number of years I know that he loves coaching the ‘Cats defensive line and the preparation aspect of the game of football. Coach has a very bright mind and is perfect to head up the ‘Cats complicated defense. “I would say that the one thing that really stands out for me about football is the strategy part. Football has so many different variables involved that the strategy part of the game has always really appealed to me. Having to scout and analyze an opponent – find their strengths, weaknesses, and try and identify the thought processes of the offensive coordinator and QB - then coming up with a plan that will put your players in the best position to succeed within the structure of the scheme. Then starting this whole process over the next week is a mental challenge that I really enjoy and I don’t think you can really find in any other sport.

The other thing that I enjoy about football is specifically coaching the defensive line because of the technique and toughness required at the position. There are not a lot of sports where you are going to line up across from another man and physically attack each other every play for a whole game – but that is O-line vs. D-line in the game of football. It is a constant battle for 60 minutes and the winner of that match-up usually determines the game. The development of that mental toughness in my defensive lineman is something I enjoy as well as the general comrade, jokes, and film sessions with my guys.”

Comrade, hard work, and of course jokes; essentially building relationships and trust with his players. That is what Coach is doing on the gridiron and what stands out to him during the spring. “With softball the one thing that stands out is probably relationships. With only 20-24 players on the team, the slightly slower pace of the practice, and all of the road trips you really get a chance to know the athletes and their families pretty well during their four year career. 

Also, with a new daughter in my family we have been able to bring in three or four softball players to help baby-sit and this adds a whole new level of trust with some of my returning players. It is the relationships and the development that you get to see over a four year career that make softball special for me to coach. Then similar to defensive line play it is the one-on-one confrontation between pitcher and hitter that goes on during the game. This battle is on display for the entire crowd to see and there is no place to hide when you fail – it is on you. So helping players deal with with the strategy, psychology, and physical skills required to be succeed and overcome failure in this arena is also something that has always appealed to me.”

With Softball being such a different sport that football you would think you would have to tear down your coaching approach in order to be successful but Coach Vaughan has been able to draw parallels between the two sports that have helped him lead one of the best defenses in DIII and a force on the softball diamond. Best of luck to Coach Vaughan and his team in 2011. ‘Catdome!


d1shima said...

Awesome post WC11!

doc said...

I wonder if Coach Vaughn would like a softball line-up of all left handed hitters....

Dennis Anderson said...

Watching video of Linfield's softball team in the NCAA Finals, it is quickly apparent that they are VERY WELL COACHED. One tipoff is their attention to detail -- they are reminiscent of Ad Rutschman-coached teams in that respect. Every player's head is in the game at all times. When a runner scores, she quickly turns to see how she can help other runners on base. Twice they have stolen a base that was left unguarded. One of those led to a run and the ultimate unravelling of the opponent, which began to question itself. Defensive players are always where they should be, backing up, cutting off, every play. Rarely does a batter get fooled by a pitch or swing when they should take. And they go with the ball better than almost any team I have seen. THEY ARE IMPRESSIVELY DISCIPLINED. This is a very well-coached team by a staff that is dedicated to detail, and as Coach Rutschman proved for 24 years, that leads to championships.