For much of the past decade, the Mount Saint Vincent baseball team has not been what you’d call a success story. You would have to go back to the 2011 season to find the Dolphins last winning record in the Skyline Conference, back another two years to see their last overall winning season.
For much of the last decade, the Dolphins have resembled the Chicago Cubs. No, not the ones that finally ended that 108-year World Series drought last season. The Cubs that were often referred to as the “lovable losers” for all those years prior to last season.
So in an effort to stem the losses and turn the program into a formidable one, what did The Mount do? They hired a John Muller to transform the program. Muller, ironically, is a former Cubs farmhand who spent five seasons in the Cubs system.
Muller had been a coach at a very successful program at Division II St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC). So why leave a thriving program to take over a moribund one?
“I always wanted to be a head coach, that was a big thing for me,” Muller said. “Obviously the location of the school is huge and the campus is beautiful. I think recruiting-wise, being right outside the city is great, and the school was also trying to get a baseball field which we will have next year and that’s huge. It’s something that they’ve never had. I just felt there was a lot of upside here.”
Muller said there are similarities between The Mount and STAC, which made the job even more appealing to him.
“The cool thing is I went to STAC and then I signed with the Cubs,” said Muller, who set a slew of records at STAC, including being the school’s all-time leader in hits, doubles and runs scored while also being inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. “Then I played pro ball for five years and then went back and coached at STAC. So I’ve been around STAC when they weren’t that good to where we were pretty good when I left to go play with the Cubs to them winning everything when I got back there. They didn’t have a field, either. So it’s kind of like the same deal here. I’m very excited about this opportunity.”
One of the first things Muller went about changing was the losing culture at The Mount, one that developed following seven straight losing seasons that saw the Dolphins post a cumulative 106-177 overall record. So, Muller spent the fall evaluating what he had to work with on his roster and he went from there.
“In the fall, for the first week we tested guys out to see what they knew and after that it just became about fundamentals,” Muller said. “We were teaching them how to play the game—bunting, fielding, running the bases. We basically taught them everything we knew about how to play the game. In the winter, we gave them a workout program on how to train their bodies. How to become bigger, faster and stronger.”
And the results?
“They came back from winter break looking like different humans,” Muller said with a laugh. “I think you’re going to see a very different team and I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people. I tell this to the team every day, ‘A lot of teams are going to look past us.’ That’s how it’s been for the past 10 years here. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Muller said one of the key components to building a successful program is to first build a “team” mentality. So to that end Muller and his staff, including pitching coach Brian Tompkins and hitting coach Andrew Romanella, scheduled a variety of team activities to help forge the bonding experience.
“We eat together, we’ll watch a movie together, we’ll watch a game together,” Muller said. “We do a team event every Friday night and they love it because they never had it before. Now they’re believing in what we’re preaching. They want in, they’re hungry and they’re motivated.”
The Mount’s roster is just 23 players this season but Muller already has 20 recruiting commitments for next season. It’s a process, he said, building a program virtually from scratch, but he plans to build the Dolphins into a winning program the only way he knows how.
“I treat this like it’s a Division I program, like it’s a big-time school because it’s my big-time school,” Muller said. “This is my first time as a head coach and I wouldn’t treat this any differently than if I was at a big-time Division I school.”
While Muller said it was difficult giving up his dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player, coaching has filled his baseball void and he enjoys the opportunity to mold young players.
“When I was done playing pro ball it was very hard because you lose your dream and you think you let everybody down. But coaching filled that competitive void for me,” Muller said. “I love working with young kids. It’s not just about baseball. We talk about being successful in life. That’s really the No. 1 goal for me. We’ll win because we will have the right people and we’ll teach them to be motivated in the classroom and on the field. The baseball is great and the competition is awesome but helping a young man become a man? That’s what we want to do. These guys are not going to play pro ball. They’re going to go out and get jobs and have families and have kids and they need to be a successful adult and kill it in the job world. We will help them do that.”
Muller won his first game as head coach, 10-7, over CCNY. He gave the game ball to his dad. Now the Dolphins have headed to Florida for five games with a win under their belts and a new winning attitude. So far the John Muller Era is off to a terrific start.
“I think we have changed the culture already. I think the players have gotten better and the culture has gotten better and I think it will continue to grow as the season goes on and they really start to believe as we win games,” Muller said. “I know it’s been rough here but now there is a different mindset. There’s a different aura about them. The kids are excited about what’s going on.”