Ontario Terriers continue to emphasize coaching in 2017

Terriers 18-U pitching coach Billy Martin talks with Jack Anderson prior to the 2016 Sandlott World Championships in Nashville. (Photo: Tyler King/Canadian Baseball Network)

Terriers 18-U pitching coach Billy Martin talks with Jack Anderson prior to the 2016 Sandlott World Championships in Nashville. (Photo: Tyler King/Canadian Baseball Network)

3 Jan 2017

By Tyler King

Canadian Baseball Network

It must be tempting for elite amateur programs to dump the majority of their resources into player scouting. From a business standpoint, it appears to be a no-brainer: if you have more talented players you should, in theory, be able to churn out more draft picks and college commitments, thus elevating the status of your program.

But for Mike and Nicole Tevlin, co-owners of the Ontario Terriers, they have always approached things a bit differently. Rather than focus their energy on scouting players, they believe that scouting coaches is the way to build a truly successful program - one that creates the optimal environment for players to actually learn and improve (which then of course leads to draft picks and college commitments).

“It’s kind of the way this organization can stay credible,” Mike Tevlin told the Canadian Baseball Network prior to the new year. “We are really, really particular with who the head coaches are on our teams ... There can’t be any coaching like ours in Ontario.”

When you look at their roster of coaches for the 2017 season, it’s clear the Tevlins aren’t simply boasting. They currently have 19 coaches with over 200 years of combined experience, spread across just four teams (the number of coaches jumps to 25 if you count the various floating coaches and advisors that regularly pop in to a Terriers practice).

“As a result,” Tevlin said, “You don’t have any of our teams without a powerhouse coaching staff.”

It is the quality of the coaches, however, that matters most to the Tevlins. And their already impressive Terriers staff got a big boost last July when it was announced that former major leaguer Greg O’Halloran would be joining the 16-U team.

After reviewing his resume, it would be difficult to find a more qualified Canadian coach than O’Halloran, especially when he’s working with kids at such a transitional age, when the young 16-U Terriers players are beginning to travel and learn to be on their own, often for the first time.

O’Halloran played professionally with three big league organizations - the Toronto Blue Jays, the Florida Marlins (where he made it to the majors), and the Chicago Cubs - as well as internationally in the Taiwan Major League. He became a MLB scout in 1998 and coached for Team Canada at the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

In November, when the Terriers invited Scott Thorman - a former first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves who know manages in the Kansas City Royals system - to their 15,000 sq. foot training facility known as the Baseball Zone, nearly 70 Terriers players, parents, and coaches showed up, including O’Halloran.

“Scott Thorman did his thing talking to the kids about so much,” Tevlin said, “about all the big league stuff, good habits, good fundamentals ... but every once in a while, Scott would turn [to O’Halloran] and say ‘Well, you remember what it was like Greg!”

They all apparently had a good laugh at that - two ex-major leaguers now shooting the breeze as coaches at a Terriers event (Thorman now serves as a Special Advisor for the Terriers). It was a scene the Tevlins joked about, but there’s no doubt they take great pride in the staff they’ve managed to assemble.

The new manager of the 16-U team, and the man O’Halloran will be working closely with, Joe Iannuzi, may not have the same track record as a player, but he’s been managing at the national level and in NCAA programs since the 80’s. He’s coached youth baseball throughout the province for the past 10 years, winning five Ontario championships.

It is therefore no surprise that the Tevlins consider their 2017 coaching staff their most exciting group yet. However, they are also quick to dismiss any credit for bringing in the big names, instead choosing to pass their gratitude to co-owner and long time Terriers staff member Rick Johnston, and, of course, Dan Thompson - or DT and RJ as they are more commonly known around the Baseball Zone.

“DT is kind of the cog in the wheel that is baseball in Ontario,” Tevlin claims. “But he doesn’t like being in the limelight ... he has something like 400 contacts for schools. He and RJ are pretty good judges of who can do what” from a coaching perspective.

The credentials of RJ and DT are simply too long to list. Between them they have over 50 years of coaching experience, including various stints with Canadian Junior National Team and Team Ontario. RJ was even named Canadian coach of the year in 2005.

But despite having to devote much of their time to the management side of the organization, DT and RJ have never lost their love of teaching the fundamentals of the game. Currently, Johnston is the head coach of the 17-U team and Director of Player Development, while Thompson is an assistant coach with the 16-Us and the Director of Planning and Logistics.

Although it’s obvious with guys like RJ and DT at the helm, it is not just baseball experience the Tevlins are seeking from their staff. They know that managing these age levels requires a certain unique skill-set and personality type. After-all, the Terriers mission statement explicitly stresses player development both on and off the field.

“I hear sometimes that the competition will bring some kid back from a college program and he will be vying for the head coaching job on one of the teams,” Tevlin said. “You know, it’s just not the right thing to do. Coaching is about dealing with a lot of things you never had to deal with as a player.”

At this, Nicole Tevlin pipes up, “It’s dealing with a lot of teenagers!” (The Tevlins are well-versed in that field. They had two boys go through the Terriers program; both are now playing at colleges in the US).

The importance of being able to level with players in a non-baseball environment was on full display when I accompanied the team to Nashville for the Sandlott World Championships last summer.

It was as if each coach took on a different social and disciplinary role, one that played to their individual strength (and, dare I say it, their age), in addition to their own particular area of baseball expertise. As the old saying goes, ‘boys will be boys’, and anytime you get 30 teenagers together on a road trip, you are going to need more than a few capable mediators.

This was one of the many reasons why people like Scott Van de Valk - the former 18-U head coach who now acts as a senior advisor - are such a perfect fit for the Terriers organization. Apart from his 20 years of coaching experience (he was inducted to the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame in 2010), Van de Valk also has a background in social work and teaches high-school phys-ed. 

The ability of their coaches to develop both baseball skills and life skills is a major reason why when many programs are cutting back on travel to save on costs, the Terriers continue to organize trips to Florida and the rest of the US.

“There are programs that have said ‘We don’t want to go to Florida anymore’,” Tevlin admits. “Florida’s expensive. It’s very tempting to make Florida optional, but we’ve decided not to because we think it’s an essential learning experience for the kids ... This is the first time a lot of these kids have ever been away from their mom and dad. And as RJ might say in a more candid moment, it puts a little hair on their chest. 

“This is the way we run our program, that’s all it is ... We do this because we love it and we believe it’s the right way to help the kids become good young men.”

And with their current roster of coaches, it likely won’t only be “good young men” they’ll develop.

Chances are they will continue to churn out some pretty good baseball players too.