Andy Merchant might only be entering the second season in his role as head baseball coach, but his school spirit, passion for baseball and most importantly, excitement to build relationships with his players, make him a stand out in the OC family. For Coach Merchant, OC truly is family, and his wife, Megan, even serves as head volleyball coach. With just a few short weeks until the baseball pre-season begins, and the first conference match scheduled for March 24 against Albion College, Coach Merchant is setting big goals for his team and inspiring his players to rise to the challenge.
Why do you love working at OC?
I love OC because it gives me the opportunity to work with great young men in my program, to have a positive impact on their lives, and to do so in the context of a game that we love. I know we offer an outstanding and unique student experience and I love seeing young people take advantage of those opportunities. I enjoy getting to know our guys and genuinely enjoy the time we spend together. I also love the family feel and the great people I work with. Since my wife, Megan, is also a head coach at OC, I have the opportunity to get to know her players as well and get to share in many of their experiences.
What are your responsibilities as head baseball coach?
My responsibilities are to build quality relationships, to build and maintain a championship-level baseball program, and to work to ensure the development and ultimately the success of the young men in our program. We do this by setting high standards and expectations, recruiting and retaining quality young men, and creating a culture of outworking the competition. I have one of the top assistant coaches in the state, Shelby Dixon, who assists in all aspects of the program and makes my job a lot easier.
What is your coaching style?
Adaptive, competitive and intentional. A lot of very smart coaches struggle because they fail to change with the times or fail to adapt their style of play to the guys they have. My first year as head coach at a nearby community college, we had a fast team, so we played small-ball and set the school record for stolen bases. My third year, we had outstanding hitters but weren’t as fast, so we stopped running and became a slugging team and set school records in those categories. Recruiting often doesn’t go according to script and sometimes very good players fall in your lap that don’t match your coaching strengths. We ask our guys to be able to adapt and find a way to win, and I think sometimes coaches don’t take their own advice. We can win a million different ways.
We also compete in everything we do and we make sure that we are practicing most the things that happen most in a game. We don’t do anything just because that’s always how it’s been done. There has to have a specific reason and benefit. We also believe that the best baseball anyone has ever played has been in their backyards when they were carefree and having fun, so we try to encourage guys to not be afraid to make mistakes and to play hard, have fun, and allow themselves to be athletes and play-makers.
What is the number one piece of advice you share with students?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stay positive, work hard and keep moving. A lot of people care about you and want you to do well. Only dead fish go with the flow.
Why is it important to build personal relationships with students?
Two reasons. First, if you don’t build personal relationships with the people you spend the most time with, you are going to be miserable and people probably won’t enjoy being around you. Humans are relational creatures and meant to interact with each other, to enjoy each other’s company, and to challenge each other to grow and get better. Secondly, the generation of young people we work with are very smart and can tell if a coach isn’t invested personally. They first and foremost want to know that we care about them as people before they will allow themselves to be invested in what we’re trying to do. It is also very important to get to know people to know what motivates them, so that we can be effective teachers and motivators.
Why do you encourage high school students to attend OC?
In my experiences, I have found that the people of The University of Olivet are more invested in the success of our students than many other institutions. Part of it is the intimacy of being a small school and part of it is a lack of distractions that allows everyone to focus on why they are here. Many of our nation’s great institutions are in small towns, without skyscrapers or sandy beaches. If our students fail, we fail as professors, coaches, and administrators. If a student wants to be successful, our people will go to the ends of the earth to help them to succeed and prepare them for their time after Olivet.
Athletically, we have coaches and administration that are committed to an excellent experience for our student-athletes and are committed to being successful on and off the field. Whether it is the opportunity to be on an MIAA championship team, traveling overseas for training trips, or just spending quality time with teammates, our student-athletes love their time representing OC and it’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. We compete in the oldest athletic conference in the country and there’s nothing like representing OC on game day.
What do you look forward to during the upcoming season?
First of all, we have a great group of guys and I really look forward to going to battle with them in the MIAA. The “compete gene” is very good with this group. We have 25 guys on our roster that weren’t here last year. Last year was a rebuilding season and we took our lumps, as we expected. We have brought in some outstanding young men and tremendous baseball players that are as talented as anyone in the league. Several of our guys have played high-level college baseball at other places and many of our freshmen come from some of the best high school programs in the state. We expect to make the MIAA Tournament this year and will take a big step toward our goals of an MIAA Championship and a top-25 national ranking.
What is an interesting or little known fact about yourself?
I have a bucket list of visiting every Major League Baseball stadium. I have been to the home park of 22 teams and visited 26 MLB stadiums. I also would like to travel to every state and have currently been to 33.
Visit or apply to OC to learn about academic and athletic opportunities, and be sure to request a meeting with Coach Merchant to learn more about Comet baseball. Contact the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Check out the baseball schedule too!