The Under the Gun series rolls on with a visit from North Carolina Central University assistant coach Neal Henry. Coach Henry brings a number of experiences from around the southeastern portion of the country to his position with the Eagles.
What have been the stops in your coaching journey and how have they provided you the experiences and skills to becoming a D1 assistant?
My first job was right out of college and I was named interim head coach at Starkville Academy in Starkville, MS. I was the head coach there for 4 years. After those 4 years, I wanted to share the same passion for the game as the players and knew that I had to start somewhere in college. I moved everything I had (which wasn’t much) to West Palm Beach, FL and worked at Palm Beach State for 2 years. During those 2 years at Palm Beach State, I learned more baseball than I could have ever dreamed of. I would work in the morning, head to practice in the afternoon, and then go watch a HS game that night. During the time I was at Palm Beach, the area I was recruiting was littered with high draft picks. What a lot of people do not know is that a vast majority of MLB teams have an amateur scout just for the South Florida area. Whenever I would attend those games, I would ask baseball questions to baseball people to get their perspective about what they see and how everything works. After those 2 years at Palm Beach, I was offered the job I currently have at North Carolina Central. Being around the game more and asking various baseball people baseball questions has definitely helped me grow. I always try to learn something about the game or about recruiting or about scouting. You are either advancing or getting passed by.
In considering your current position, share with those joining us what are some of the responsibilities D1 assistant coach may encounter while on the job of working with collegiate student athletes?
The first thing that comes to mind about this question would be making sure everything is about the student athlete. With that being said, we as a coaching staff try to make sure that every individual that decides to come to NCCU will be taken care of off the field as well as on the field. We try to make sure that we are turning boys into men and preparing them for the next 40 years of their life.
As a member of the MEAC, the Eagles play a schedule that has challenges both in and out of its conference. And homes games are at the historic Durham Athletic Park. What insight can you give us on playing some of these programs in addition to the chance to coach in such a tradition rich venue?
We are very fortunate to have every practice and be able to play every home game at the DAP. Our grounds crew, who has a relationship with the Durham Bulls, does a tremendous job every year. It is a huge advantage to us on the recruiting side as well, especially for infielders. The playing surface really is second to none.
The high school coaches in state of North Carolina have done a great job in producing some fantastic ball players. With that being said, having a tough midweek schedule against historic programs has some great benefits. Being able to play Duke, NC State, and/or UNC always makes our program and team better. Between North and South Carolina there are 28 Division 1 baseball programs, so a lot of our midweek travel is very accessible.
All baseball coaches have their favorites when it comes to instruction. Give us your favorite skill to teach and what drill do you use to help the player develop it?
With so many drills for specific skills running through my head, my favorite one to teach would be any drill for any skill development that deals with high intensity. What our coaching staff does a great job of is making practice harder than the game. We want a high intensity and fast practice so that during the game, the game does not speed up but slows down. If players are comfortable practicing at high intensity and being able to slow the game down, then they would be successful during the game.
Provide a brief message to youth baseball on where you’d like to see some emphasis or focus as it continues to be a starting point for players who aspire to one day play collegiately or beyond.
Make sure that kids have fun playing the game. It is very cliché but if you asked any coach or any player that has been fortunate enough to make it to a high level, every person would be able to tell you what Little League team they played for. I played for Shell Oil and Georgia Carpet Outlet amongst others. After the game, we would always get a snow cone. Do you want to teach them competitiveness and teach them the game and how to be a good team-mate? Absolutely, but just make sure kids are getting a snow cone or ice cream after the game.
We at Dirtbags Baseball want to thank Coach Henry for his time to share with us about himself, as well as his views on coaching and the game. Best of luck Coach!