PULLMAN — Surrounded by family and the cheers of hopeful Washington State baseball fans, new Cougars coach Brian Green couldn’t keep the tears away as he took to the mic at his packed opening press conference Wednesday at Martin Stadium’s press box.
The former New Mexico State boss called receiving the job the biggest moment of his life. Now, Coug fans will wait to see if he can bring the good old days back to Bailey-Brayton Field like he did for the Aggies of Las Cruces, N.M.
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind I was not going to cry and I was going to be tough and then I rolled in and saw this stuff and here come the tears,” Green said. “I can hear people saying, ‘Here he goes again.’ But I am going to cry today and I’m going to be proud of those tears, about what this place means to me and what this place is going to mean to my family.”
Green spoke to fans and reporters for nearly 30 minutes, outlining his offensive philosophy, recruiting vision, plans for community involvement and the culture he hopes to instill in the program.
Turning WSU from an 11-win team into a Pac-12 contender is a tall order, but Green has proven he has a knack for quick turnarounds. After a 11-38-1 season in 2015 in his first year at NMSU, Green’s team improved to 34-23 in 2016, more than tripling its win total.
“All I want to do is get better immediately,” Green said. “I think most important for me is knowing it can be done and it can be done quick.”
One of the first people to congratulate Green on his new gig was the first player he recruited, Joey Ortiz, who led the nation in hits and runs last season. The NMSU shortstop was selected by the Baltimore Orioles with the first pick of the fourth round of the MLB Draft on Tuesday — the highest ever pick by an Aggie.
“Joey Ortiz was the first player I ever called at New Mexico State,” Green said. “He was a 145-pound player out of (California). Nobody was recruiting him, and he could really, really hit without much power. He had really good hands.
“He committed to New Mexico State and at 160 pounds as a freshman, and then maybe 170 and then at 185 this year, led the country in hits.”
Hitting was one of Green’s biggest successes at New Mexico State — something the Cougs lacked this season, ranking last in the Pac-12 in runs (247) and eighth in batting average (.263).
Green said he’ll be the hitting coach at WSU.
But before Green’s Cougs get too entrenched in the fundamentals of baseball, the team will go through two to three weeks of culture training, Green said.
He said not to be surprised if you walk by the field and see the team just talking or jumping around.
“That’s what I believe is the turnaround aspect of a program,” Green said. “I don’t believe it’s offense strategy or recruiting for that matter. I believe it starts foundationally with culture.”
Green’s culture training will include activities like having players take a photo with their professors on the first day of classes, doing service in the community, having vulnerability talks to build trust and a hike at a sunrise or a sunset.
“I think if you can create a little more confidence, a little more comfortability before you get on the field, then I think we’ll get off on the right foot,” Green said.
Although Green comes to WSU from the mid-major ranks, he isn’t new to the Pac-12. Green spent time as a volunteer assistant at Oregon State in 2001 — when he got about $40,000 in debt but “enjoyed every minute of it” — and UCLA from 2006-08.
“It’s an unbelievable bear,” Green said of the conference. “We have a chance to put a little chip on our shoulder, take our sleeves off when it’s cold — I won’t do that, but hopefully our players will — and go beat somebody.
“What an unbelievable opportunity.”
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at email@example.com, by phone at 208-883-4629 and on Twitter @stephansports.