Fox: UNC baseball embraces expectations
North Carolina never made the College World Series in Mike Fox’s first seven years as its head coach. Over the past seven years, starting in 2006, the Tar Heels have appeared five times.
Fox was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s meeting of the Durham Sports Club and explained how the Tar Heels made the leap to an elite-level program.
“The difference is good players, competitive players, kids with character, and getting enough in there that were ‘we’ kids instead of ‘me,’” Fox said. “It’s not about you, it’s about the team.”
The 2005 team finished 41-19, but Fox said it felt like 19-41. After starting the best players regardless of class, Fox wound up with unhappy juniors and seniors on the bench who were poisoning the locker room.
“(That was) probably the most miserable season I’ve had coaching,” Fox said. “It was extremely difficult. I really felt like I almost lost my team.”
At the end of the season, Fox said he met with seven or eight upperclassmen and told them they couldn’t return. Then he met with the freshman and offered them the opportunity to be the foundation for the program.
“Because they had seen the turmoil, they had two choices,” Fox said. “They can say, ‘I can’t play in this environment and I’m going to leave,’ or ‘I’m going to stay here and we’re never going to let this happen again.’”
The Tar Heels advanced to the NCAA championship game the next two seasons.
Fox’s team is favored to get back there this year — UNC currently is No. 1 in both the Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association polls. The Tar Heels opened the season Friday with a shutout by ace Kent Emanuel and have won their first three games by a combined score of 25-3.
After working so hard to build his program, Fox said he embraces the pressure that comes with being the top-ranked team.
“People say, ‘How are you going to handle those expectations?’” Fox said. “Well, that’s what we want. When I came to North Carolina, I wanted to be among the best. I wanted to recruit the best players and have the best facilities.
“That’s what we strive for, and if you’re lucky enough to get there you can’t say, ‘Whoa, I don’t want that.’ I want all those preseason expectations. Why would you do all that work to get to that point and then shy away from it? We want to embrace it, but we also know you have to go out and play.”