University of Mississippi infielder Chris Coghlan was kind enough to take time for a SCS.com exclusive interview a short time ago. The junior, who was drafted by the Diamondbacks out of high school, was an All-SEC Freshman in 2004 and earned Second Team All-SEC honors last summer. He has been named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List and selected as a Collegiate Baseball Preseason All-American leading up to the 2006 campaign. Coghlan and the Rebels, who are looking to host a Super Regional for the second consecutive year, open up the season on February 17 with a three-game home series against Saint Louis. (photo courtesy olemisssports.com)
CHRIS COGHLAN, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI
SCS.com: You were a star at East Lake High School in Palm Harbor, Florida, hitting for a .573 average as a senior and earning First Team All-State honors. When it came time to choose a college, what other schools did you consider, and why did you ultimately opt to attend Mississippi?
Coghlan: "Before my senior season, I originally signed at St. Pete Junior College, even though I had always wanted to play Division I baseball. After I got drafted, Division I schools started to call me. In the end, it came down to UCF, USF, and Ole Miss. After I visited Ole Miss and visited (with) the coaches and saw the facilities, I knew that I wanted to go Ole Miss."
SCS.com: In the summer of 2003, the Arizona Diamondbacks selected you in the 18th round of the MLB Draft, and so now you had a new decision to make: pro baseball or college baseball? Talk about the pros and cons of each that you considered, and explain why you decided to attend UM in the end.
Coghlan: "Since I had been drafted in the 18th round, Arizona wanted me to play catcher and go to junior college. I had to sit down with my mom and talk about the decision I had to make. I have always wanted to play in the Big Leagues, and this was a great oppurtunity for me. After talking to some other people, I decided the best decision for me was to go play for the Rebels. I knew that if I was actually good enough to play in the Big Leagues (at that time), then I was (still) going to be good enough in three years."
SCS.com: You came in and made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2004, earning SEC All-Freshman honors after starting 54 games at third base for the Rebels. You batted at a .302 clip that first season and got a hit in 40 of the 57 games you played in. Talk about the adjustment between high school and college, both on and off the field, and also talk about how you were able to make such a huge impact in your first season on campus.
Coghlan: "The difference between college baseball and high school baseball is a lot more difficult than many people think. I have always been a very confident person in baseball, but after my second SEC series, I started to doubt myself. I was batting .227, and I was no longer starting. I finally decided that I needed to stop worrying every at-bat and realize how long the season really is. In college, you're playing 56 regular season games, whereas high school where you're playing 30 games. That was when I finally started playing like I knew I could. Even though I finished the season batting a little over .300, I knew that the next year I could do a lot better. Also, as a player in the SEC, you also have to learn how to play on the road in the hostile enviroments that everyone has."
SCS.com: The 2005 season was another good one for you. You had 99 hits, third most in the SEC, and finished with 22 doubles, the fifth highest number in the conference. At season's end, your batting average was more than 60 points higher than it was your first season, and you were named Second Team All-SEC by multiple sources. Talk about the major improvement you made between your freshman and sophomore seasons, and also tell us about a few things you've worked to improve on over the past offseason.
Coghlan: "The biggest difference between my freshman year and my sophmore year was my hitting in the non-conference games. In my freshman year, I hit around .250 in non-conference games, and I fortunatly hit aroung .330 in conference games. With the SEC having so many good pitchers, it is very difficult to hit good in the SEC. I knew in order for me to have a better offensive year, I needed to capitalize on the oppurtunities in the non-conference games. Last year I hit around .360 in the non-conference games, but below .300 in the SEC. In order to have a good offensive season, you need to take advantage of the weaker pitching you face. In this off-season, I put in a lot more time in the weight room. I have been trying to put more weight on, trying to be more physical."
SCS.com: As we near the start of the 2006 season, your accomplishments have begun to be recognized by a number of national publications. You were one of about only 120 players nationwide named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List as a candidate for national player of the year honors, and Collegiate Baseball recently selected you to its Preseason Second Team All-America. Talk about what this national recognition means not only to you but also to your team and your school.
Coghlan: "First off, I am very happy to be honored in those publications. Yes, it does have my name on the publications, but if it were not for my teamates and coaches, I would not be included in any of those. You try not to pay any attention to any preseason stuff because you have yet to do anything that year, although it does feel good to be recognized for all your hard work on and off the field. Being recognized not only puts you on the map, but your team as well. To me that is very important. In the end, I would much rather be winning games as a team than winning awards."
SCS.com: Not only is much expected from you personally this spring, but the expectations are high for the Rebel squad as a whole in 2006. Along with yourself, other top players like Justin Henry, Zach Cozart, and Tommy Baumgardner are all back from a squad that set a school record for wins with 48 last season. Talk about the goals you have for the 2006 season, both for yourself and for the team as a whole.
Coghlan: "As a team, we have very high goals. We want to win 40 regular season games, win the SEC, host a regional, host a super regional, go to the College World Series, and eventually win the World Series. That is our goal every single season, and personally I don't see why we cannot achieve those goals this year. Personally, I would like to do whatever it takes to do for our team to win. Whether it's hitting .400, driving in 70 runs, making 7 or less errors, or becoming an All-American, then that is what I will try to do. We did lose some players to the draft, but we have Mark Wright, Justin Henry, Zack Cozart, and many others (coming back). I know that they will play better than a lot of people think."
SCS.com: Your head coach Mike Bianco has done great things with the UM baseball program. The team has hosted Regionals for two consecutive seasons, and the squad also hosted a Super Regional for the first time ever in 2005. He put together the best four-year span in school history in his first four seasons on campus and has led the team to top ten national rankings. Talk about what makes Coach Bianco so successful, both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
Coghlan: "For me, there is no other coach I would rather play for in the country. Coach Bianco has so many good qualities about him, as a person and a coach. I believe that is why he has done so many great things for our university. Coach Bianco has brought in great players year after year, but Coach Mac (assistant Dan McDonnell) deserves just as much credit. He is probably one of the best assistant coaches in the country, and soon to be a great head coach."
SCS.com: I know you have the full 2006 season to look forward to, but the upcoming MLB Draft this summer has to be in the back of your head. Several of your former teammates, including the likes of Brian Pettway and Stephen Head, are already playing minor league baseball. Have you had a chance to chat with those guys any, and if so, what advice have they given you regarding both your current career at UM and your future in major league baseball?
Coghlan: "My dream is to play in the Big Leagues one day, so of course I have thought about it. I think that it will be a challenge to play this year and try not to focus on the draft. I think it's hard not to for anyone who has an oppurtunity to play professional baseball that is in college right now. It is what you make of it though. The key is to just concentrate on the seson that you are about to play this year. Play your game, and in the end you will be fine. You are right, I have been very fortunate to play with Head and Pettway, and they just told me to enjoy this year as much as you can because it might be your last in college."
SCS.com: You were an honor roll student in high school, but one of the toughest parts of being a student-athlete has to be juggling the time it takes to do both sports and school. How difficult is it to sometimes get all the things done that you need to in one day, especially once the season rolls around?
Coghlan: "I have always said that I think it is much harder to be a regular student than a student-athlete. As a student-athlete, coaches make sure you go to classes and give you tutors if you need them. As a regular student, no one is making sure you go to classes everyday, and you have to pay for tutors if you want them. So I believe that in some cases, it is harder to be a student-athlete, but in some cases, it is harder to be a regular student."
SCS.com: In recent years, the topic of paying college athletes has come up more and more. Some people say that since the players make so much money for their school, their conference, and the NCAA, they should be paid. Others disagree, saying that paying college players is not right because that is what professional sports is for. What is your opinion on this subject?
Coghlan: "Wow, that is a difficult question! I would love to be paid money to play college baseball. College athletes do bring in a lot of money towards their universities, but I do not think it is right for us to get paid. I believe that college is about education, not money. When you are out of college and a professional athlete, then that is when you get paid money."
SCS.com: If a young player was reading this and aspired to become a successful baseball player, what advice would you give him?
Coghlan: "Remember that your education is the most important thing. I know it sounds cliche, but it is very true. You cannot go to college if your grades are not good. Unless you are a first or second rounder out of high school, I think you should go to college. I had an oppurtunity to go out of high school, and everyday I have been in college I thank God for helping me make the best decision I have ever made!"
SCS.com would again like to thank Mississippi's Chris Coghlan for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Rebels the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.