Cleary cements Queen City legacy
Cincinnati’s all-time leader
in victories brings more to the program than wins
Cincinnati Head Coach Brian Cleary had to be told after his
team’s 7-3 victory over Seton Hall on May 15, the 392nd victory in
his UC tenure provided him the honor of becoming the winningest coach in
program history. For those who know
Cleary, the unawareness of the milestone comes as neither a surprise or
In his 15 seasons at Cincinnati, the work Cleary has down on
the diamond is to be commended. At 29-24 heading into the final two regular
season games, Cincinnati has clinched a .500-or-better mark for the
sixth-consecutive season, a vast turnaround from the 12-46 and 15-38 start
Cleary endured in his first two campaigns.
“I’m proud of where we are compared to where we started,”
Cleary said. “Winning that many games is a product of being here for some time,
and certainly we have come a long way since I’ve started but at the same time I
feel like we have a lot to do that we have yet to accomplish.”
The relentless pursuit of getting better and advancing the
program burns as intense in present day as it did in 1997, Cleary’s first season
as a Division I head coach.
“I haven’t focused that much on that on the achievement,”
said Cleary who surpassed Glenn Sample for the record, a coach of 21 seasons at
Cincinnati. ”In a lot of ways I feel that we’re still plugging away still
trying to do a lot of the same things I started when I first got here 15 years
ago. It’s nice to look and realize we’ve won that many games, but we certainly
do not feel as if the job is done yet.”
Though the attention this past week was focused on Cleary’s
win-loss total with the milestone, Cleary’s job and the work he has done, far
surpasses just whose favor the score is in at the end of the ballgame. At the
end of the day, the Cincinnati program should not be able to be any more proud
of the baseball coach they have in what he has done within the community.
While coaches are paid pricey sums to direct programs to as
many wins, conference and national championships, they too are in a position of
leadership over student-athletes 18-23. Just as important, if not more, than
having an All-American pitcher, is ensuring that Friday night ace is provided
the opportunity to have a career after school
and be a positive member of society. In that area, the wins Cleary has tallied
far outweigh the on-field total.
The effect Cleary has on former players, and those in the
community could be seen time and time again this spring.
As the coach uses Twitter, with the username CoachClearyUC,
just as often as the daily pictures of that day’s lineup, one can see just how
much impact Cleary has. Tweets that one can find include updates on former
players in the minors, how former players such as Boston Red Sox star Kevin
Youkilis give back to the school and program, of baseball legends such as
Johnny Bench speaking to the team, or the teams visit to the Walter Reed Medical
Center in Washington D.C. or the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Cincinnati.
Cleary knows baseball is just a game and that he has a job
to show that to his players.
“I’ve really come to love Cincinnati and I’ve really come to
enjoy the university,” Cleary said. “One of the things that I think is
important for our players to learn, and important for us to do, is try when we
can to give back to the local community because they support us quite a bit.”
Just as finding ways to improve a pitcher’s mechanics,
instruct proper turning of double-plays, or helping a player get out of a slump
at the plate, the never-ending instruction as a coach is doubled by the
never-ending want to give back by Cleary.
“We can talk about giving back, but in reality, what we do
is so minor in the give back to the community in comparison in what our players
enjoy from the community. As I talk to a player, I tell them no matter what you
or I might do for the University of Cincinnati, the university is always going
to do more for us than we could possibly do for it. One of the things we have
to try to do is repay that debt to the university, and one of the things we can
do that by is being active in the community.”
Being active in the community and presenting a bigger
picture to his players is fairly simple for Cleary, all that needs done is a
simple walk down the road which the team has paced this spring.
“The Veteran Affairs Hospital is a half-mile from our
campus, where we can go thank those people who have served,” Cleary said.”
“Personally early in my time at UC, I was able to know and
get involved with the officer candidates in the Marine Corp program on campus.
Many of the guys that I would know as undergrads became officers and went to
Iraq and Afghanistan, and that is something I have always had a soft spot for,
they get to understand some of the sacrifices they have made.”
In the game of baseball where a sacrifice can bring home the
winning run, examples of sacrifices made on the battlefield not playing
field, provides a well-rounded meaning
to the word coach, the title Cleary carriers.
“We got to go to Walter Reed Medical Center when we played
Georgetown and that made our guys realize that when you think you’re having a
bad day because you went zero-for-four, there is a guy your age having a much
tougher day because he’s in a foxhole somewhere,” said Cleary.
A lot of attention has been on Cleary and the Cincinnati
program this week. Two days after the coach collected more wins than any other
coach in Cincinnati’s 124-year baseball history, 2008 graduate Tony Campana made
his Major League debut for the Chicago Cubs as the Kettering, Ohio native
played in nearby Great American Ball Park. Also the Bearcats are playing host
to Big East champion and nationally-ranked Connecticut.
But as the regular season is in its final weekend, and
Cincinnati seniors play their final game in Marge Schott Stadium, the job
Cleary has done beyond the diamond should be recognized and appreciated just as
his 392 wins have been.