Clark Athletics announced Mark Magdaleno as the interim head baseball coach on Jan. 13. Magdaleno was originally hired in August as the associate head coach and was offered the promotion after the dismissal of the previous head coach, Brett Neffendorf. According to Athletic Director Ann Walker, Neffendorf’s departure stems from the department’s decision to “take the program in a new direction.” Under his leadership last year, the Penguins finished 21-23 and did not qualify for the playoffs. Magdaleno, 55, comes to Clark with 32 years of coaching experience and a family of five children.
Q: You started coaching in 1983 at Ventura College and have been around between high schools and colleges throughout Southern California and Colorado. I could sit here and go into the numerous titles and accolades you’ve won. It seems like every place where you’ve worked gets better.
A: People have said that about my career. I love to build and obviously we’ve been successful. But you can’t make tortilla soup without tortillas. I learned a long time ago that great coaches are surrounded by great players and people. I’ve also learned that players win games and managers lose games. I’m a firm believer that the game is for players and your job is to put them in a position to be successful. When they win, our players will get all the credit. When we fail, that falls on me, and that’s about being accountable. Our rules for 33 years have been simple. Be on time, which translates into the real world: be on time to the classroom, be on time to work and always be on time for breakfast. Play hard, which translates to study hard, work hard and play hard on the field. Do the right thing, which translates into doing what’s asked of you. That’s what we’re going to base this year’s club on.
Q: Why Clark?
A: My mom is 92 and she was going to move up here with my sister. I got here before they did. This is towards the end of my career. At 55, I didn’t think I would ever take this type of job again. But the situation presented itself, and it’s time to move on and get after it one more time.
Q: How did you hear about the job?
A: I sent out emails and I got a call back within about 48 hours. So here I am, enjoying the rain and figuring out how to work schedules around it. Fortunately, my wife works on campus as well. She’s a fiscal specialist in Early Childhood Development. It’s the first time in my career that I’ve worked on the same campus as my wife. So we meet for lunch and we go for walks. It’s sort of fun. Until we go on a five-game losing streak and they start yelling at us, right?
Q: Last year the team went 21-23. The year before that they were 31-15 and won the division championship. So obviously there’s been a little up-and-down wave. How are you guys looking to move forward this year?
A: We’ve had a strong recruiting class, but we don’t talk about wins and losses here. We talk about preparation, and we are going to prepare. We’re going to catch the bus, and we’re going to be on time to the field and we’re going to play hard. There’s nothing fancy about us. Our players aren’t allowed to wear batting gloves. We’re going to come after you, we’re going to exploit weaknesses, we’re going to play counts and we’re going to play old-fashioned baseball. Earlier in the fall I asked the team if the 1934 Gashouse Gang was resurrected and came to watch you play, could they identify with the style and intensity that you play with? Because that’s what we want. We want to be “throwbacks,” because back in the day they just played the game. Play catch, make the routine play and we’ll be successful.
Q: A lot of your career has centered around hitting and catching. You were a catcher and quarterback in high school. How do you feel that translates into your coaching career? Do you still like to spend a lot of time working with the catchers?
A: I’m a hands-on guy. I still swing the bat at my age. I’ve been coaching this way for a long time.
Q: Do you feel like underdogs at all?
A: We’re not predicted to make the playoffs by any stretch of the imagination. The bottom line is we compete. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’re going to show up and we’re going to play. It doesn’t matter as long as they’re in a different uniform. It’s us against the world. That’s the kind of mentality we want and that’s the way it’s going to be. If you would’ve seen us during the three weeks before school started, we were on the field at 8:30 a.m. for base-running technique. We’d start our offensive scheme at roughly 10:15 a.m. We’d be done with offense at about 12:30 p.m. We’d get an hour-and-a-half break, be back on the field at 2 p.m. for defensive schemes at 2:30 p.m. and then we’d go to the weight room.
Q: So we’re talking eight-hour days?
A: Four to five times a week. That was a consistent thing we did. I thought sure as heck people would walk, and nobody left. I’m a firm believer that the harder you work, the luckier you get. So we grind. That’s when we realized we were starting to build something special. Is that cohesiveness and that grind and that work ethic going to pay dividends at some point? Yeah. Does it guarantee you a championship? No. What it guarantees you is that you’re teaching young men how to grind in a capitalist society. The one thing I told these players at the beginning of the year—and it holds true right now—I’m going to make you comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you don’t like that, this isn’t the place to play. Life is about being uncomfortable. I’m a firm believer that young athletes, men or women, want structure and discipline. So I’ll get on you. There’s no question about it. I understand physical mistakes are going to happen, but mental mistakes can’t happen. Those are self-inflicted wounds.
Q: Looking back at the season once it’s over, what would be the most important thing you think the players could’ve gained? What would be the marker of a good season for you?
A: Well if you throw wins and losses, conference championships and national championships out the window, you always base a season on how our players responded to conflict, how they respond to success and if we taught them life lessons. We’re educators, first and foremost. And our job is to help create a young man who is going to be a responsible, successful adult. And nothing is more important to Mick and I than when our players call us to talk to us about getting married or having babies or getting new jobs. So when you ask me, how would I measure it? Did we use our game to teach life lessons? And if we did, did our kids respond? And if they do, then no matter what, the sun’s going to come up the next day and if it doesn’t then we’re all dead and we did our job. How’s that?
Michael Ceron Contributed to this report.