Jan 26, 2018
One Heartbeat

Randy Putnam has spent the past 28 years helping baseball players at Wallace State Community College win games and reach their goals. With a career record of 973-450, he has led the Lions to 25 postseason appearances, seven Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) state championships, six Southeastern Regional championships, and six trips to the NJCAA World Series.

In 2006, Putnam was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame, and he entered the Alabama Coaches Hall of Fame three years later. He has also been named ACCC Baseball Coach of the Year seven times. But for Putnam, the greatest reward is seeing the success of his former players, 33 of whom have gone on to play professionally, including major league pitchers Derek Holland and Craig Kimbrel.

In the following, Putnam talks about his “one-heartbeat” philosophy, rules for building trust, and why he has stayed in the same job for so many years.

What is your philosophy for successful practices?

Putnam: I want to help players understand that they need to get a little bit better each day if they want to reach their goals. At this point in my career, I give more encouraging talks than I used to, and I always try to start and end every practice on a very positive note. Although I believe baseball should be a game of having fun, I know practice is not always going to be fun. I especially like to share positive stories about former players who have found success either playing professionally or in another career.

The other key is to be prepared. Players are confident when they know they’re totally prepared for whatever they may face in a game. I firmly believe you win championships in practice. The way you train is the way you’re going to play and our practices are intense and enjoyable — as long as the players are working hard.

What are your strategies for building relationships with players?

Trust and loyalty are big. You have to build a culture where players respect you and you respect them. When that happens, they trust you to help them not only become better baseball players, but also better men.

How do you build that trust?

From the first time I meet a young man, I am fair but also firm. Those two words are essential to successfully building relationships. I start developing trust with them during the fall practices by showing the players I have their backs as long as they’re doing what they’re supposed to.

There are three main rules I follow and expect them to follow that develop trust: Always be on time wherever you go, be where you’re supposed to be, and always give maximum effort in everything that you do. These apply to baseball and academics, and there are consequences for players who don’t follow these rules. I stress to players that if they follow these rules, they are going to improve in both sports and school.

How do you build a sense of team and a unified culture?

Everybody has to be on the same page. The success of the team has to be more important than the success of any individual. I tell them that we have to have synergy and that starts by caring more about their teammates’ success than they do about their own. That’s a lot harder to do than it used to be, but in time it happens.

You have to develop what I call a one-heartbeat philosophy. We have a rule that every time a runner scores, every player on the team has to get up in the dugout and touch the guy, regardless of the score. This can be a slap on the shoulder, a high five, or a pat on the head. It really helps bring together guys from different programs and types of cultures. My championship teams have always had that one-heartbeat philosophy.

What advice do you have for high school coaches about the recruiting process?

A lot of high school coaches like to sell their players — and there’s nothing wrong with that — but they often want to send their players to a four-year school knowing that they’re going to spend a couple years on the bench. A lot of times, the player would be better off going to a junior college or other school where they’re able to play more often and have success.

I advise high school coaches to be totally honest about their players. I wish more of them would let me know when a young man simply isn’t talented enough to play in our program. But they hardly ever tell you that. They almost always tell you that the player is good enough and then you go see him play and find out otherwise.

What’s it been like coaching players that have gone on to the pros?

It’s a great thrill when you see players you’ve coached reach the big leagues. I get a kick out of watching Derek Holland with the White Sox and Craig Kimbrel with the Red Sox, both of whom played here. I brag on those guys a lot. They don’t realize the lives that they’ve touched just by reaching the level they’re at. But I’m just as proud of the guys who are succeeding in the business world or driving a truck, as long as they’re good husbands and good fathers.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in coaching over the years?

Young men lose their confidence a lot quicker now than they used to. Sometimes you have to be a psychiatrist as well as a baseball coach and allow those guys to gain their confidence back before you try to put them in situations where they can be successful.

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