Dave Serrano figured out a long time ago that college baseball was a major part of the culture at Cal State Fullerton.
Augie Garrido put the program on the map by experiencing a wealth of success during his lengthy tenure at the school. Then George Horton took over and guided the Titans to a national title in 2004. He left the program for Oregon a couple of seasons ago, but certainly left the Titans in great shape.
That's when Serrano entered the equation. And he hasn't let the program slide.
Serrano will coach his third season with the Titans in the spring, but already has experienced a great amount of success with the program. He guided the Titans to a super regional appearance in his first season and the College World Series last season.
Serrano, though, believes a national title is the only expectation at Fullerton.
He's still looking to accomplish that goal.
Serrano answered questions about his program and a variety of other topics.
Dave Serrano has had zero trouble continuing the proud tradition at Cal State Fullerton.
Q: You guided Cal State Fullerton to the College World Series in your second season with the program. Your thoughts on that and last season in general?
A: There's not much difference making it to Omaha as an assistant or head coach. It pretty much feels the same. It's the same honor to get there. The '09 season was a disappointment for my coaching staff and team. I feel like we were a much better team than what we showed in Omaha. Of course, I'm sure some other teams can say that, too. But we didn't handle the situation right out there. We didn't handle being on the big stage correctly from a personality standpoint. It left a sour taste in my mouth and the mouths of our players. Every member of the coaching staff and each player back in the spring is working extremely hard to climb back up the hill and get back to Omaha. The upcoming season is particularly special because it's the final season at Rosenblatt Stadium. This is a great campaign to get to Omaha. It's a special occasion.
Q: You're obviously still frustrated with the fact your team, a favorite going into the CWS, went 0-2 and didn't play well. What exactly happened to them in Omaha?
A: I think it was pretty much on par with what happened with our team the entire season. When things went our way, we were really good. But when things went sideways or the limelight was on us, we didn’t handle any situation very well. Over the course of the year, there are plenty of instances, such as the UC Irvine series, where we didn't handle things very well. We won a regional and super regional and things kind of went our way. It was easy for us. But then we get to Omaha and Arkansas jumps on us early in that first game. We were shocked. The team didn't know how to react to that. As a team, we just didn't have the mental toughness we'd like to see. I take full responsibility for that. We just didn't have the mental toughness to overcome adversity. It caught up.
Q: The 2010 season is on the horizon and your club once again will be highly ranked. Your early thoughts on the upcoming campaign?
A: This team is very talented. There are many coaches out there that can say the same thing, so you don't really know what you have until you play another team. But I like our chances right now. We have a chance to have several preseason All-Americans. That's certainly positive for a few individuals on our team, but it also puts an even bigger target on our back. We have special players back, but the biggest thing for us is to overcome ourselves. If we aren't unselfish and play together, we're going to be just fine. On the mound, we're going to be very deep with the return of several key arms. We're going to have power and some good execution at the plate. Still don't really know about our overall team defense. We lost a lot of key defensive guys, so we're going to have to make some adjustments between now and the spring. Pitching and hitting are in solid shape, but defense is a question mark. I always tell our coaches that defense wins titles, and that's a huge reason why we were so good last year. We must commit to defense.
Q: Going back in time a bit, you found a way to turn UC Irvine into a national name a few seasons ago. How exactly do you believe that happened?
A: I think the biggest thing is to be able to put your kids in an arena to be successful. But to do that there must be mutual trust between the coaching staff and players. That was vital in getting that program going. It took some time at Irvine because of the change in coaching staffs, but it always takes time to get acclimated to new people. I think our staff had a strong trust amongst ourselves, so it was just a matter of getting the kids on board. You have to be able to teach the players that it's not just about the wins and championships. It's also about the development of people. We had great people at UC Irvine.
Q: What is more fun: Building UC Irvine into a national power or continuing a big-time tradition at Cal State Fullerton?
A: I think the two situations are equal in terms of fun. I've been very blessed throughout my coaching career. These are two programs I've had an opportunity to lead and be around great people, both from a coaching staff and support staff standpoint. I've also been grateful about the fact I've dealt with some great kids, too. The biggest thing I feel fortunate about is to be around great people. Anytime you can get a team to Omaha, it's a great feeling, no matter where you are. You also feel great for the people you're taking to Omaha. The main difference between the two instances is that the kids and everyone involved at UC Irvine had that twinkle in their eye when we got to Omaha. Only a few people at Fullerton had that twinkle in their eye last season. It's expected.
Q: You've had the opportunity to play for Texas coach Augie Garrido and coach with Oregon coach George Horton. What did you learn from those two?
A: The biggest thing I learned from Garrido was intensity. I think his resume speaks for itself. He's a motivator and knows how to get people to do things the right way. For Horton, I learned how to have day-to-day consistency in the art of coaching. How you handle certain situations will allow you to be successful. I've been fortunate enough to be around some great leaders. I'd also throw Wally Kincaid of Cerritos College in the mix, too. He did things right each day and was a great influence on me. All three coaches do a great job of focusing on the important things in baseball. There are some coaches out there that caught up in things that aren't so important. I'll never forget when Arizona coach Andy Lopez told his players a few years ago to stay in the microscope, not in the telescope when it comes to baseball. What is happening right now is important. Not what may happen in a few months.
Q: What has been the biggest difference between being an assistant and head coach at Cal State Fullerton?
A: Something that I notice now that I didn't notice completely as an assistant is how big of a deal college baseball is to the folks at Fullerton and the surrounding community. When I go out in the community I still have to pinch myself and make myself aware of what job I have. This program has been so successful and the head coaches get a lot of notoriety. But there are so many pieces to the puzzle. The level that people put head coaches on here in Fullerton, it's like being a football coach in a BCS conference. It's very humbling to me that people here feel that way. I still have a lot to accomplish to be at that level at Fullerton, but it's something I never imagined before.
Q: You've coached a lot of great pitchers in your coaching career. Which pitchers stand out above the rest?
A: I say this all the time and it shocks a lot of people, but Tennessee's Todd Helton was one of the best pitchers I've ever been around. He was a sandlot type of pitcher. He threw minimal bullpens, but you'd hand him the ball and he'd still go out there and dominate. He was just a natural. Kirk Saarloos was as consistent as any pitcher I've ever been around. He had limited velocity but fantastic stuff. What he was able to accomplish throughout his career was remarkable, and it had everything to do with strong work ethic. Chad Cordero is a guy that I would've never imagined out of high school would have the type of college and pro career he had. He developed into one of the best closers in college baseball and also was a fantastic reliever in the big leagues until an injury caught up with him. I'd also put former UC Irvine Scotty Gorgen on the list. He was another undersized guy like Saarloos that was just outstanding. He doesn’t have a lot of physical attributes, but was a great college pitcher. It also wouldn't surprise me if he made it to MLB someday. I'd also put former Fullerton pitchers Jason Windsor and Ricky Romero on the list. Windsor single-handily led us to a national title in '04 and Romero just worked hard and developed into a great pitcher at Fullerton.
Q: Who are the toughest hitters you've ever had to game plan for?
A: Former Stanford slugger Carlos Quentin comes to mind right away. Carlos swung the bat extremely well and was aggressive in every facet of the game. I'd also say former Long Beach State sluggers Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria also belong on the list. Tulowitzki definitely put fear into pitchers when he came up to bat. I was able to see Longoria for a shorter amount of time, but he definitely was a fantastic hitter. Florida's Brad Wilkerson is another hitter I thought was fantastic, but year in and out Quentin was the guy that swung the bat with such thunder and made you pay for any mistakes. The closest comparison to Quentin that I've seen is Louisville's Chris Dominguez. He was another guy that made you pay for any mistake. I'd also list UCLA's Chase Utley in addition to Arizona State's Andre Ethier and Travis Buck.
Q: When you're not coaching, you're doing what?
A: I'm glad you asked that question. Much of my success on the baseball diamond has a lot to do with the fact I have great balance from baseball to my family life. When I'm not coaching or out recruiting somewhere, nine out of ten times I'm with my family doing something. My family knows how important they are to me, so I try to spend as much time as possible with them. It's important to maintain a good balance on and off the field. My family is very forgiving of the time I put forth into the kids I coach on the field. That's a major key to my success. I enjoy spending time with them.
Q: What is something you use as inspiration each day?
A: Honestly, that's a pretty easy question for me. The thing that motivates me each day is that I want to do things the right way for a lot of people in my life. I want to make the right decisions and help their well being. I put a lot of people in front of me and I like to consider myself a giver. I really put a lot of time and emphasis on our players. These guys are not just baseball players. It's important they're also successful in things such as family, kids and other things they'll deal with in the future. I like to help people.
Q: What is something that you'd change about college baseball?
A: I wouldn't necessarily change a rule that is in place or on the horizon. The thing that I'd like to see changed is that I wish someone out there would pick up more games around the country during the regular season. The country gets so engulfed into regionals, super regionals and the CWS, so I'm extremely surprised some network hasn't stepped up and grabbed more regular season games, specifically a game of the week. I think if someone televised a national game of the week, everyone around the country would realize how special college baseball is. We've come a long way as a sport, but there's still more work to be done.