A Coach’s Journey: Jad Prachniak

A Coach’s Journey: Jad Prachniak

  Jad Prachniak
Head Baseball Coach
West Chester University

Like just about every kid out there, Jad Prachniak dreamed of going pro, playing in Game 7 of the World Series, maybe even winning a Cy Young. And like 95 percent (give or take depending on who’s doing the stats) of those kids, there comes a time when reality hits you in the glove and you realize it just ain’t gonna happen.

Some people spend a lifetime lamenting the what ifs and the coulda beens, and others, like Jad Prachniak, get out there and put their time and talents to good use.

Jad was a sophomore at University of Rhode Island when he realized there weren’t many MLB teams calling for an undersized right-hand pitcher throwing 83-86 mph with command issues. He began looking at the game through a different lens, taking in every facet of the field and absorbing as much as he could.

Jad spent his fifth year at URI student teaching and working as an undergrad assistant under Coach Frank Leoni. When Leoni accepted the Head Coach position at The College of William & Mary, he asked Jad to join him as the pitching coach. Knowing what a great opportunity it was for a 23 year old, Jad fully embraced the experience, spending the next six years listening and learning as much as he could.

As an assistant, Jad traveled a good amount, working camps, and attending conventions and clinics. While in each of those different coaching environments, he kept his ears open. And, because he listened, he developed as a coach AND regressed as a coach. He learned along the way that along with the great strategies and killer drills, there’s a plethora of good information out there. But, he also learned that coaching baseball is not a one-size-fit all. The best of the best wasn’t necessarily going to be the best fit for him or his team. When Jad took ownership of finding what was right for him and right for the team is when he took his biggest step forward as a coach.

In the summer of 2011, Jad was offered the head coaching job at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, and he’s been there ever since. He started building a positive team culture immediately and knew instinctively that for every individual to be taken care of, he had to figure out exactly what they needed in order to thrive. He knows that players need to know that they are cared about, by the coach, and by each other. When he sees his guys taking care of each other away from the field, that’s when he knows the team is in a good place.

From day one he’s always asked his players to DO THE RIGHT THING, which means in the classroom, on the field, in the community, and everywhere else. He tells them, “Be at your best,” when dealing with adversity, and circumstances aren’t the best. And, “Be at your best,” when dealing with success, when it seems like everything’s going the right way.

When Jad was asked what he believes to be the most important quality of a coach, he took a line from the late sports psychologist, Ken Ravizza:

“What is the most important moment of your season? ….Answer: Right Now.”

While it’s important to learn from past experiences and to look ahead to see what the future may hold, the best way to get to where we want to be is to take care of the NOW.

For Jad Prachniak, NOW also includes his wife, Kelly, and daughter, Emilia, who as she toddles about, demands, “Ball, ball, ball!”  They are his biggest fans, along with his parents and siblings who supported his baseball endeavors throughout his journey.

With the now that Jad Prachniak is living as a husband, a father, a coach, and a friend, it’s abundantly clear that his future is also going to be pretty darn bright.

Jack Hawkins: Our Friend and Founder

Jack Hawkins: Our Friend and Founder

Back before some of us were even born, Jack Hawkins was laying the foundation for the rest of our baseball lives.

Just a regular guy who loved the game, Jack came up with an idea. Why not build a base for coaches to come together and share their knowledge, skills, and friendship? Well, that idea became a reality and out of his vision, Be the Best You Are Coaches Clinic was born in 1972.

From the beginning, Jack was committed to making this annual event a clinic run by coaches FOR coaches. And, that’s exactly what he did for 43 years. He was a charismatic creator who, every year, put together unparalleled lineups of professional, college, and local coaches for a few days of instruction, interaction, and a whole lot of fun.

Be the Best has endured the test of time despite the ever-changing culture of youth sports.

Jack was a three-sport athlete at Princeton High School who went on to play quarterback for the West Chester University (PA) Golden Rams. After graduating, he took a job as a Physical Education teacher and remained a predominant figure in the Manasquan community for over 30 years. In 1968, Jack became head football coach at Manasquan High School where, in ten seasons at the helm, boasted six division titles, two undefeated seasons, won the NJSIAA CJ Group Two State Championship, and was a three-time Coach of the Year.

Jack also served as head baseball coach at Manasquan from 1968-1976. In those eight seasons, the team had a 100-35 record, won four division championships, one state championship, and two Monmouth County Tournament titles.

Jack was inducted into the Princeton High School Hall of Fame in 2008, the Manasquan High School Hall of Fame in 2009, the New Jersey Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1991, and the New Jersey Scholastic Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2012.

Jack Hawkins was a formidable presence both on the field and off. He was a coach, a character, a visionary, and a friend.

Because of him, Be the Best continues to thrive, making it the longest-running baseball and softball clinic in the country. The people you meet, the lessons you learn, and the skills you share each year in Cherry Hill are the direct result of one man who had the courage, the commitment, and the chutzpah to make it all happen.

John “Jack” Albert Hawkins
August 21, 1941 – October 26, 2019

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson

A Coach’s Journey: JT Maguire

A Coach’s Journey: JT Maguire

JT Maguire
MiLB Player Development
Cleveland Indians

So often in life, we get an idea that pops into our mind and just keeps on brewing. We think about it, dream about it, but it doesn’t really take hold until we get outside affirmation. When we do, that’s when we go for it, full-force, never letting go until we get where we were meant to be.

For JT Maguire, the coaching seed was planted his junior year of college. While picking the brain of his assistant baseball coach, JT was told he had the drive and characteristics that are essential for success as a coach. Those casual conversations were what shifted JT’s focus and propelled him toward a coaching career.

JT’s coaching journey began at The Park School of Baltimore, a private high school in Maryland. Two years and one state championship later, he took an assistant coaching position at his alma mater, North Harford High School, about 30 miles up the road. From there, he landed at Harford Community College, working on the side as a personal trainer to make ends meet.

JT left HCC for a volunteer assistant job at Wofford College, a Division I school in Spartanburg, SC. He stayed at Wofford for two years, then followed Wofford’s pitching coach to Lander University in Greenwood, SC. JT became the recruiting coordinator and worked there another two years until he was hired by the Cleveland Indians.

Along the way, JT admits he’s had his share of coaching disasters, mostly stemming from making adjustments based on what he thought he knew, rather than figuring out the why behind what was happening. Baseball is a game of constant learning and listening and watching, and assimilating qualities of those you most admire.

Todd Interdonato is one of those coaches JT most admires. While working under him at Wofford College, JT realized Todd was the kind of person he most wanted to emulate. The kind of coach who doesn’t have one single thing that stands out as the “it” factor, but rather a million little things that make him someone everyone wants to be around. The kind of coach who builds a team every player wants to be part of.

The Cleveland Indians’ team culture, from the big leagues all the way down through the minors, falls under the acronym, G.R.I.T., which stands Growth Mindset, Routines, Individual Plans, and Team First Approach. Its “we’re all in this together” culture generates a positive player-coach relationship better than any other JT has seen.

But, as far as specific coach qualities, JT believes there is nothing more important than trust. If a player doesn’t trust you, you’ll never form a true bond. When a coach is in the game for himself, players smell it immediately and are turned off. When a player knows that you are in it for them, and their career, that trust builds a strong and lasting relationship.

When those relationships go beyond the diamond, that’s when JT knows he’s made a significant impact on a player. A text announcing the birth of a baby, a player getting drafted or promoted to the next level, a request or a reference letter, or a call from a former player just wanting to catch up.

That’s when JT Maguire knows he’s done his job.

A Coach’s Journey: Butch Chaffin

A Coach’s Journey: Butch Chaffin

Butch Chaffin
Head Baseball Coach

Cookeville High School

For most nine year-olds, Little League means cracking jokes in the dugout, eating hot dogs at the concession stand, and dreaming of becoming the next Cody Bellinger. But, Butch Chaffin had a different game plan. He was so fascinated by his coaches, their practice plans, and their game strategies that as a nine year-old Little Leaguer, he knew, unequivocally, that one day he’d grow up to be a baseball coach.

And, that he did.

Currently, Butch Chaffin is Head Baseball Coach at Cookeville High School in Cookeville, TN. He is entering his 32ndyear in baseball which includes a four-year stint as a Division I assistant coach at Tennessee Tech, three years as a Special Assignment Scout for the Kansas City Royals, and 13 years with USA Baseball.

In his 25 years of high school coaching, Butch  boasts 13 District titles, 6 Region title and one State Championship appearance. He has led 19 All-State and five High School All-Americans and coached 126 players who went on to play college baseball.

Maybe it has something to do with the team culture Butch has created. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing with kids and parents sometimes pushing back, derailing the headway he’s made in building a solid, stable culture. And, while he freely acknowledges that it’s a work in progress and takes forever to get it going in the right direction, once it’s there, it’s there.

Butch believes in challenging his team every day. In treating boys like men. In pushing to the breaking point, and then going beyond. In giving his kids an experience they will remember forever. In creating a culture based on trust, honesty, and love.

Though he’ll never forget the post-game dog pile when his team made it to the Tennessee State Tournament for the first time, or winning a Gold Medal in Taiwan, perhaps his most rewarding moment was when a player asked him to be best man at his wedding.

It’s not always easy being a coach. But, when the game plan works, it works.

A Coach’s Journey: C.J. Gillman

A Coach’s Journey: C.J. Gillman

C.J. Gillman
Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
United States Air Force Academy

The guy C.J. Gillman most respects is his boss, Mike Kazlausky. The dude who’s been the biggest influence in life is his dad. And the best part of his journey has been getting to coach his little brother, Tommy.

Sometimes, the important people in our lives motivate us. Sometimes, they mentor us. Sometimes they change us. And, sometimes they do all three.

If we take even the quickest of looks at these MVPs, we get a pretty good idea of who C.J. has become as a coach and a man.

Mike Kazlausky, who was a walk-on to the Air Force Falcons’ baseball team back in 1988, ended up as a four-year starter who graduated with eight career records. With a couple of assistant coaching stints back at his alma mater between active service and deployments, he became full-time head coach of the Air Force Falcons baseball team in 2012. That’s following 20 years of service to our country.

Chuck Gillman, who served 40 years on the diamond, is a long-time Colorado high school baseball coach. He coached both of his sons at Columbine High School, winning the 5A title in 2006 when C.J. was a junior. When his younger son, Tommy, graduated in 2016, he retired as head coach to free himself up to watch Tommy play in college.

Tommy Gillman, with stints at Texas A&M and Midland College under his glove, decided it was time to fly higher. After he was accepted at the Air Force Academy, he found he had to start over academically and though a junior on the field was only a freshman in the classroom. But, all that basic training and hard work has been worth it, because he’s getting coached by his big brother.

And, of course, Papa Gillman couldn’t be happier. With his two sons together right up the road, he can continue to be a daily presence in the lives of the kids he coached from the time they could first hold a bat.

C.J. graduated from the University of Dayton in 2012 with a degree in Leadership. He lead the Flyers to their first conference tournament championship and NCAA Regional appearance in school history He is the season record holder in hits (91) and ranks among the top five for single season RBI, doubles and stolen bases.

After college, C.J. played two years of professional ball with stints in the Colorado Rockies minor league system and the Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League before returning to Dayton to help coach for a year.

From there, he headed to the United States Air Force Academy where he is entering his sixth year as Assistant Baseball Coach. C.J. works with the catchers, base running, and running the offense as well as heading up the recruiting efforts.

C.J. Gillman’s coaching philosophy is Do Damage.

Head Coach Mike Kazlausky’s motto is Take Care of Your People.

And, that just about sums it all up.

A Coach’s Journey: An interview with Karen Bidwell

A Coach’s Journey: An interview with Karen Bidwell

Karen Bidwell
Head Softball Coach,
Susquehanna Valley High School
Conklin, NY
16U and 18U Club Coach
25 years of coaching

What’s the best thing about being a coach?
The best thing about coaching for me is being able to coach with my husband! Since 1999, I have been so lucky to have had an amazing coach by my side, throughout it all! My husband, Ken, and I are co-head coaches on the club teams, and although I am technically the head coach of our high school team, Ken is way more than an assistant. He is an invaluable asset and as much a coach as I am. My successes are certainly his as well.

Who is your biggest motivator or influence?
My husband, Ken, has actually been my biggest motivator. He is a fantastic coach who relates to his players. He is knowledgeable, fair, caring, dedicated, and puts his heart and soul into coaching. He is everything I believe a coach should be.

Ralph and Karen Weekly hold a special place in my softball heart. As another husband and wife coaching duo, they are my idols and role models. Also, Carol Hutchins and Scott Whitlock are always so inspiring. We love to hear them speak and when we do, we learn so much and come away excited and motivated to start our season.

How did you get your start in coaching?
I knew I wanted to coach about five minutes after I got roped into my first coaching position back in 1989. I was “volunteered” to coach my son’s youth soccer team. And while I loved the coaching aspect, the sport was definitely not my passion. But, I kept going and went on to coach his t-ball and basketball teams.

I got my start in softball in 1993 when I coached my daughter’s 12U team. At the same time, I had gone back to college to get a degree in Physical Education. While I got my first high school coaching job later that year – it was in cheerleading. It wasn’t until 1999 when I finally landed a high school softball coaching position.

What do you see as your best coaching memory?
There are so many great moments in coaching. My high school highlights would include winning the NYSPHSAA Championship in 2007 and being named NYS Coach of the Year and then becoming Championship Runners Up in 2018, after losing the final game 2-1.

In club ball, we won tied the Triple Crown 18U East Coast Nationals in Myrtle Beach in 2015 with rain preventing a final game. And I’ll never forget in 2013, coming back from an 0-3 Saturday to win five games back-to-back with one pitcher on Sunday, to win the Tournament Championship.

But, it’s not the wins that make the memories. It’s the opportunity to coach some absolutely awesome young ladies who are not just dedicated and talented, but truly amazing people.

What was your biggest coaching disaster?
In our first year coaching a club team, we didn’t take into account the importance of team bonding and team play. We chose very talented individuals for the team, but they were just that – individuals. A team with that much talent should have been winning game after game, but we couldn’t get out of our own way. We had cliques and “mean girls” and sadly, some of the parents were just as bad as the girls.

The experience was so unpleasant that it was almost our first and last year of coaching travel ball. Fortunately, we sat down with a seasoned travel coach who gave us some great advice. We reassessed how we chose players (and parents!) the following year and it made a tremendous difference. Here we are, 16 years later, still loving it!

What is your coaching philosophy?
When our athletes leave, we want them to say their time with us was a positive, rewarding experience. We want them to not only grow and develop their skills as an athlete, but also as responsible, caring citizens and leaders. We want them to learn. To laugh. To love.

Our hope is that our athletes feel a love of the sport, as well as to feel our care and love for them as players and individuals.

How did you nail your team culture?
We learned long ago that team culture is important, but found it difficult to implement some of the things we do with our club team into our high school team. After tryouts, our club team has almost nine months together before we start playing tournaments, as opposed to high school where we have just a couple weeks to teach and practice together before three to five games a week are shoved into a three-month season.

The most significant change in our coaching culture came after listening to University of Michigan’s head coach, Carol Hutchins, a few years ago at Be the Best. Her speech on culture was so tremendous that it motivated me to take a hard look at our teams (particularly our high school team) and make significant changes to our routines and rituals.

We incorporated many of Coach Hutchins’ ideas, finding that even little things like adding motivational quotes to our calendars and hanging inspirational signs in our locker room and dugout helped reinforce the positive culture we wanted for our team.

We also learned that team bonding was essential to achieve our goals, so we made sure we took the time to prioritize it into our busy schedule. We had previously believed we couldn’t afford to give up precious time for team bonding with our high school team, but after listening to Coach Hutchins, we realized we couldn’t afford not to! We found it didn’t take all that much time and the rewards were invaluable.

How do you know when you’ve made an impact on a player?
The impact we have on players is most evident by the relationships we still have with them long after they’ve moved on. Last week we had dinner with a former player who was in town for the holidays, after which she sent this message:

Little did I know 9 years ago that you two would be the most inspiring people I’d ever meet. Thank you for showing me that hard work, a kind heart, and a LOT of laughs are the most important things in life! Can’t wait for the next time! Love you guys!

That’s how you know you’ve made a difference.


In keeping with the tradition that Be the Best is a convention created for coaches by coaches, we’ve asked for inspirations and stories from your contemporaries. Click here to share something about your coaching journey. Don’t worry about making it sound good — you coach the kids, we‘ll work the words.