BY STEVE KRAH
“Every coach has a story.”
It’s a line that comes early on the Top Coach Podcast hosted by Jack Warren.
“If we’re able to listen to what people are saying, everybody’s got something to say,” says Warren, who published his first episode in 2013 (with then-Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith) and No. 421 Jan. 30, 2023 (with State University of New York-Oswego’s Scott Landers). “I love to hear people’s stories.”
Mostly baseball interviews though he has featured other sports (including a talk with Jeffersonville, Ind., High School coach Danny Struck), the podcast features conversations with coaches at all levels. The focus is not X’s and O’s, but the relatable stories they tell.
“The absolute best way to learn — bar none — is a good story,” says Warren. “If I can get someone to tell a memorable story I’ve done my job.
“Who’s got something to say to other coaches to instruct, encourage and edify them? Bottom line: If someone’s got a compelling story, I want to tell it and I want to hear it.”
Discussions are not about bunt defense or gripping the curve, but things like organization, management, communication as well as career and staff development.
Over the years, Warren began consulting and career coaching.
“I’ve picked the brains of 1,000-plus coaches,” says Warren, who advises youth coaches to beware of money issues.
“If you go into college coaching right now you better hope you don’t have a lot of debt so it’s not something you’ve got to worry about,” says Warren. “You’ll be working 60-70 hours a week with the baseball team.”
Warren coached at the high school and youth levels in Indiana, Illinois (including Normal’s Calvary Christian Academy) — and briefly — California and worked for three decades for State Farm Insurance. The job gave him the flexibility to coach.
A Tennessee native and 1976 graduate of Gary (Ind.) Wirt High School (he was a Troopers classmate and teammate of future big league slugger Ron Kittle and began coaching at Gary’s Miller Little League as a junior) Warren was one of the early podcasters.
In the mid-2000’s, he and friend Tom Jackson started a baseball podcast in central Illinois.
Warren landed back there while working for State Farm Insurance. He attended Illinois State University in Normal for two years, got married and later graduated from Middle Tennessee State University.
“Bloomington-Normal is a baseball hotbed,” says Warren. “Within three miles of each other you’ve got Heartland Community College which is one of the top junior college baseball programs in the country, Illinois State University which has done very well and Illinois Wesleyan which won the (NCAA) D-III national title.”
At the time, the head coaches were Nate Metzger at Heartland, Mark Kingston at ISU and Dennis Martel at Illinois Wesleyan.
In a 30-mile radius there were about 70 high school graduates playing on college diamonds.
“We decided to take advantage of that and we started a podcast dedicated to local baseball,” says Warren of the show which aired weekly from a local restaurant from March to September or October.
In 2013 while living in Towanda, Ill., Warren got the idea to try to take it national. He contacted Kingston and some other coaches in his inner circle. He learned about third-rail topics to avoid and began to send invitations to potential guests.
“I still thank Tracy Smith for being willing to step out there on faith and do the podcast with me,” says Warren.
His fourth episode in 2013 was with then-Purdue University head coach Doug Schreiber. He followed up with Schreiber in 2014 at Purdue and 2021 at Purdue Fort Wayne.
The first several minutes of the first interview was mostly about Ken Schreiber, who won over 1,000 games and seven state titles as head coach at LaPorte (Ind.) High School.
“Growing up in northwest Indiana there was LaPorte and everybody else who wanted to be LaPorte,” says Warren.
The podcast pioneer has filled guest map from coast-to-coast. Other podcast chats with ties to Indiana include Notre Dame’s Mik Aoki (2015), Saint Joseph’s College’s Rick O’Dette (2015), Indiana’s Chris Lemonis (2016), Noblesville High School’s Justin Keever (2017) and Butler University’s Blake Beemer (2022). He’s shined the Assistant Coach Spotlight on Munster (Ind.) High School graduate and Trinity Christian College’s Adam Enright (2017), IU-Kokomo’s Jason Leone (2018) and Culver (Ind.) Academies’ J.D. Uebler (2022).
At first, Warren went after the biggest names he could find and it was “easy pickings.” He was able to land folks like Florida State’s Mike Martin, Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, Louisville’s Dan McDonnell, Texas Christian University’s Jim Schlossnagle and even American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ron Polk and former Kentucky head coach and SCORE International/Inside Pitch Magazine publisher Keith Madison.
“In other sports those kinds of guys are impossible to get,” says Warren. “(Baseball coaches) love to give back. Baseball coaches are some of the most giving people there are.
“One of the reasons I think both baseball and softball coaches are this way is because you have to do everything yourself. You don’t see high school golf coaches mowing the grass or track coaches lining the track. You don’t see football coaches (lining the field).
“Baseball coaches have to do it all.”
So while not all show guests are the most well-known, they all have a story to tell.
“Top Coach is not just about the biggest names in coaching,” says Warren. “It just means you add something to the sport.”
Warren retired from State Farm, worked briefly in North Carolina and landed with wife, Pam, in Fernandina Beach, Fla. That’s where Corn Belt Sports and its media arm — Top Coach — now calls home.
He records his podcasts and is able to make TC Tour stops around the Sunshine State.
Metzger, who now pitching coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, encouraged Warren to attend his first ABCA Convention.
He’s now at regular at the ABCA, where he spends three days in early January going from one person to the next absorbing their stories.