Tradition. Spirit. Honor. Football is not the only program looking to build some swagger. BYU Baseball looks to return to prominence with the recent hiring of Mike Littlewood as the new BYU head baseball coach.
“As a former player I realize the unique opportunities BYU has to offer,” Littlewood said in a news release. “I look forward to recruiting quality student-athletes, engaging former players in the program and returning BYU baseball to national prominence.”
BYU Baseball has a long climb ahead in order to reach the standard of the past Cougar baseball teams. Littlewood knows a thing or two about BYU prominence. He played third base for the Cougars from 1985-1988 when the they posted 40 plus-win seasons 3 out of 4 years. BYU also had at least 40 wins in 11 out of 12 seasons spanning from 1979 through 1990.
“You want to win championships. That’s the goal when you go out there,” Littlewood said. “But this first year I just really feel I need to bring a positive culture and a positive attitude and a positive aura to the whole program.”
Littlewood’s philosophy embodies tried and true principles.
“Ownership and accountability,” Littlewood said, “Take pride in what you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re on scholarship or a walk-on. You’re part of the team.”
Littlewood’s positive outlook is key to his recruiting plan. The goal is to transform BYU into a sought-after destination for recruits.
“I just want to bring us to the point where we have all these good baseball players who really want to come to BYU,” Littlewood said. “To me that’s going to be a successful season.”
Transforming Dixie State’s program into a desirable destination is something Littlewood accomplished in his 16-season tenure. At Dixie State, Littlewood’s teams appeared in the Junior College World Series in 2001 and 2004 and ultimately claimed the championship in 2004.
“Once we got to the Junior College World Series in 2001 it was pretty easy to recruit really,” Littlewood said, “We’d go identify the players and they’d want to come to Dixie. In 2004 when we won it … we were turning (really good players) away because we didn’t have a roster spot.”
Engaging former players should help build a positive-winning culture in the program. Littlewood said he hopes getting former players involved may cultivate a sense of tradition.
“Anybody who wants to be involved, I want them involved,” Littlewood said, “I loved my time here with Coach Pullins. …We had really good teams when I played.”
Players on the team said they believe Coach Littlewood has the right idea about using former players.
“Alumni is big wherever you are, especially with a (player from a) winning program like Mr. Kendrick, “sophomore pitcher Desmond Poulson said. “He knows how to win.”
Peter Kendrick, former All-American BYU baseball pitcher, is one of many influential BYU alumni. Kendrick is remembered for pitching back-to-back victories in a double-header versus Hawaii to win the 1981 WAC Baseball Championship. He said Littlewood’s approach seems to be hands on.
“I think at this level that’s what the kids need, more hands on coaching and teaching and instruction,” said Kendrick.
Littlewood leaves not only a .702 winning percentage and the most wins in Dixie State history, but also a successful side career as an NCAA basketball referee. Littlewood started officiating for high school football and eventually high school basketball in order to earn extra money as a college student. Littlewood has officiated NCAA Tournament games including three NCAA Sweet 16 and two Elite 8 appearances. His last game as an official was the recent Sweet 16 match-up of Louisville vs. Michigan State.
Littlewood’s experience officiating lends him insight into what is necessary to succeed at the Division I level.
“The hardest thing about the Division I level is earning that credibility,” Littlewood said. “Going deep in the tournaments, you gain that professional respect. Once you got there it was really fun.”
As a new coach, credibility and trust is crucial to starting off right. When Littlewood first interviewed for the BYU baseball head coaching position, over ten years ago, he did not have the experience he does now.
“I thought this was a once in a lifetime thing and it ended up being a twice in a lifetime thing,” Littlewood said.