BY STEVE KRAH
Link Jarrett has spent this fall putting in his team system as the new head baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame.
Jarrett, who was named to the position July 12, is bringing his Fighting Irish to the end of its first phase of the fall. After this weekend comes a month that is more individual-oriented.
“You’ve got to have a way you do your fly-ball communication, bunt defense, first-and-third, cutoffs and relays, pickoffs and rundowns,” says Jarrett from the dugout at ND’s Frank Eck Stadium. “Those require the whole team. We wanted to make sure on the front of team practice that we implemented those things and the guys understood it.
“As you put those team concepts in play, you start learning your personnel a little bit. We’re very close to really understanding all of that, which I wanted to do by the end of this week.”
Notre Dame plays an exhibition game Saturday, Oct. 19 against NCAA Division II Southern Indiana at historic Bosse Field in Evansville. The game will benefit the fight against Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA), a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that affects one in 50,000 people in the U.S.
Sam Archuleta, son of USI head coach Tracy Archuleta, has FA.
Many pitchers are not throwing live right now and won’t make the trip to Evansville. Others will give Jarrett and his assistants (Rich Wallace, Chuck Ristano, Scott Wingo plus director of baseball operations Steve Rosen) a chance to see the program’s culture grow.
“You learn your guys as you are around them,” says Jarrett. “The No. 1 component is how we perform together out here (on the field).
“But getting to know the individuals and trying to figure out personalities and what buttons to push comes through being around them. It comes through time and working at your relationship with them.”
Jarrett sees the relationship with each athlete as an organic thing that grows naturally.
“Learning what they need as players and trying to help them individually, that also helps your relationship building because they know you’re in it for them and for the right reason,” says Jarrett. “We’re trying to find a way to make the team better and win more games. That’s the bottom line.”
The rest of the fall and winter will also include looking at potential recruits from current high school sophomores (Class of 2023) and buttoning up travel budgets and equipment details.
“Once you get back (from Christmas break) and start preseason practice, you really don’t come back up for air until June,” says Jarrett.
A native of Tallahassee, Fla., Jarrett played at Florida State University for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Martin for four seasons (1991-94 with all but 1993 being College World Series teams) and then five in the Colorado Rockies organization (1994-98).
Jarrett was an assistant coach at Flagler College (1999-2001), Florida State (2003), Mercer University (2004-05), East Carolina University (2006-09) and Auburn University (2010-12) before serving as head coach at the University of North Carolina Greensboro (2013-19).
Jarrett had an appreciation of Martin while playing and coaching for him and taps into that knowledge now.
“(Martin) gave me an opportunity because I can go on the field and function in his system. I could play the game,” says Jarrett. “I reflect on our (Florida State) teams and we were good, versatile baseball players. You can essentially keep yourself in most of the baseball games if you can pitch and play defense. It started there for us.
“(Martin) was a very good game tactician. I’d like to think I took some of that with me.
“You recognize when you’re around somebody who’s very special at what they do. I knew at one point that coaching was a possibility for me so I tried to soak in as much as I could.”
Jarrett says Martin had a knack for putting people in the right spot on the field, managing the game and putting guys on the mound who could function in college.
“It didn’t mean they had the best velocity or had the best draft potential necessarily,” says Jarrett. “But they were people he trusted to go out there and execute pitches and win college games with good baseball players behind them.
“That’s how we played. That’s how we won. I’m trying to do the same thing with our team here (at Notre Dame).
“We’ve got some arms that are experienced and talented. We have not played near good enough defense to compete consistently.
“You can look at the statistics and the ball in play wasn’t handled well here last year. We have to do better.”
As a former middle infielder, Jarrett tends to view the game through the lense of his shortstop and second baseman as well as his catcher and center fielder.
“I put a lot of pressure on our middle guys to run the game,” says Jarrett. “I expect that center fielder to run that entire outfield to take charge and lead.”
Jarrett is grateful to David Barnett (who has 952 career wins) for giving him his start in coaching. As athletic director and head baseball coach at Flagler, Barnett made Jarrett his first-ever full-time assistant and gave him plenty of responsibility with strength and conditioning to field maintenance.
“I learned how to run the entire operation,” says Jarrett. “He didn’t hire a coach. He gambled on hiring somebody who had some good experience as a player.
“(Barnett) taught me how to do some of the things you took for granted as a player. I’m very fortunate Dave gave me a chance to get into it at Flagler. Those were three great years in St. Augustine.”
After a season on Martin’s staff, Jarrett was hired by Craig Gibson at Mercer in Macon, Ga., where he was recruiting coordinator and helped with the field.
Randy Mazey brought Jarrett aboard at East Carolina in Greenville, N.C. But about a month into the job, Billy Godwin became his boss.
Jarrett describes Godwin as a hard-nosed baseball person.
“We worked very well together,” says Jarrett. “He’s a pitching coach by trade, but is adept at coaching a lot of different parts of the game.
“He gave me Gave me tremendous flexibility to do what I wanted to do with the offense and with the recruiting.
“In my four years, created a College World Series caliber team.”
After scouting for the New York Yankees, Godwin is now head coach at UNC Greensboro.
“I hope I left him a program that’s in good shape and he’ll enjoy coaching there, too,” says Jarrett.
After Eastern Carolina came the opportunity at Auburn, where John Pawlowski was head coach.
“J.P.’s a good guy,” says Jarrett of Pawlowski. “He’s a very organized leader. He’s very detailed in what he does. He gave me an opportunity to coach in the SEC and I’m very thankful for that.
“Navigating the draft was a tricky thing at Auburn. So many recruits were drafted every year. Sometimes we out-recruited getting them to campus.
“To win the (SEC) West and host a regional was phenomenal.”
Jarrett’s first head coaching gig at UNC Greensboro produced a 215-166 record in seven seasons, including 34 or more wins the past four seasons.
As a minor league player, Jarrett was a teammate of Todd Helton, who went on to play 17 big league seasons and hit .316 with 369 home runs, 1,175 runs batted in while striking out 1,175 times in 7,962 at-bats (or about 15 percent of the time).
“Pitch for pitch, he was the toughest out I’d ever seen,” says Jarrett of Helton. “He may not have been the biggest physically or had not the most power. But his ability to manage at-bats was phenomenal.
“I started to take some of what I watched him do and kind of filed it away knowing that these are things I need to teach as a coach. Some of it was swing stuff that he did, but it was based more on his approach to the at-bat and how he was being pitched.”
Jarrett says Helton had the ability to think through how he was being pitched really well and apply that knowledge during his at-bats.
“What separated him and made him a Hall of Fame-type hitter was his innate ability to pinpoint what he was looking for, focus on it and hit it or take it if it wasn’t within his approach,” says Jarrett. “Had he been less disciplined, he would have hit for less power. He gave himself a chance to get good pitches to hit.
“Putting the ball in play pressures people and Todd was obviously very good at it.”
The way Jarrett’s breaks down the count for hitters, there’s hitting with two strikes and less than two strikes.
“The goal when you get two strikes on you is not to strike out,” says Jarrett. “The goal with less than two strikes is to drive balls and hit balls really hard.
“The strikeout is the worst thing offensively that can happen to you. You’re not putting the ball in play. In the college game, it’s even worse than in the big leagues because the defense isn’t quite as skilled or positioned or talented.”
Link, 47, and Jennifer Jarrett have two children — J.T. and Dawson. J.T. Jarrett is a junior on the North Carolina State University baseball team. Like Notre Dame, the Wolfpack are in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
While on fall break, J.T. was able to see his father and attend the USC-Notre Dame football game this past weekend. Dawson Jarrett is finishing her senior year at Northern Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C.
Link Jarrett is the head baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame. The Florida native comes to northern Indiana after serving as head coach at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. (University of Notre Dame Photo)