Jan 29, 2015Q&A with Jack Marucci
Louisiana State University
Like most athletic trainers at NCAA Division I schools, LSU’s Jack Marucci, MS, ATC, was pretty busy when late February rolled around. His men’s and women’s basketball teams were gearing up for postseason runs, and the indoor track squads were on their way to top-10 finishes at nationals. The baseball and softball teams had started their seasons, both eyeing NCAA championships. And spring football was only a few weeks away.
But that wasn’t all LSU’s Director of Athletic Training had on his plate. Marucci was also traveling around Major League Baseball spring training facilities, talking to big leaguers about something far removed from sports medicine: baseball bats.
On top of his work in the athletic training room, Marucci runs the Marucci Bat Company, which manufactures baseball bats for a long list of MLB all-stars, including Manny Ramirez and David Wright. Marucci began making baseball bats seven years ago as a hobby, and before he knew it, major leaguers were calling with orders.
Today, Marucci balances his business with overseeing 20 Tiger sports teams, supervising a staff of eight full-time athletic trainers and 10 graduate assistants, and managing two athletic training facilities. He has been at LSU for 13 years, after working eight years as Assistant Athletic Trainer at Florida State University.
In this interview, Marucci talks about developing a loyal staff, working with a new athletic director, and the current state of curriculum programs. He also provides advice on communicating with student-athletes and starting your own business.
T&C: What are the key elements of managing a large staff in NCAA Division I?
Marucci: It’s all about communicating well and treating people right. You have to create a positive work environment, let them do their jobs, and reward them accordingly. I’ve always fought hard for staff raises and I think we are paid very fairly for what we do.
I also don’t let people work too many hours–we run flex hours in the summer and pick up the slack when something comes up. I encourage people to have other interests outside of the job–like I do with the bats. It’s important to have outside activities because that keeps you from getting burned out.
How important is staff stability?
Really important. Our stability as a staff breeds confidence, and confidence is key in this profession. A lot of our staff members have been here for over 10 years.
We truly enjoy each other’s company. We spend a lot of time together, so that’s essential. For example, [Senior Associate Athletic Trainer] Andy Barker has been with me since 1988 when we were at Florida State–and he’s been my roommate on the road for the last 20 years.
My staff and I get other job offers all the time, but we know it would be difficult to replicate what we have here in terms of support and camaraderie.
What do you tell staff members who are tempted by a job with a larger paycheck?
That the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Realize what you have and appreciate it. Also, how much more do you really need? Obviously, people want financial freedom, but does that mean you’re never satisfied where you are? People can’t find peace in their lives if they’re constantly chasing a better paycheck.
How do you strike your own work-life balance?
Every day I go home for lunch and see my family. Also, I’m not on many committees. When people ask what committees I’m on, I give them my home address. On weekends, my son plays baseball and my daughter plays soccer, and I try to attend all of their games. Their sports and school functions are my top priorities.
In order to make that happen, I need to be surrounded by good, hard-working people. My athletic training staff is great about helping out whenever I’m pulled in another direction.
How do you find good people to hire?
I look at more than just GPA and work experience. I want people who are genuinely passionate and work well with others.
To me, the most important things on a resume are the references. On a reference check, I’ll ask if that person is a team player and what kind of work ethic they have.
It really comes down to whether he or she is a good person–you can’t teach that. You can teach somebody how to tape or work modalities, but you can’t teach them to be a good person who works well with others.
LSU recently hired a new athletic director. How did you get him up to speed on your program?
I was one of the first people he called into his office when he started work. He had heard about how well our staff works together and wanted to hit the ground running with me. In our meeting, he acknowledged the role of the athletic trainer in the department and clearly understood what needed to be accomplished in the athletic training room. He knows we are effective at taking the temperature of the entire department and that we hear everything that goes on behind the scenes. Starting off on the right foot, the transition was an easy one.
Do you spend much time working one-on-one with student-athletes?
I do, and that’s what I really enjoy about this job. If I didn’t, I would probably lose touch. I believe it’s important to treat each athlete as an individual. We don’t take any cookie cutter approaches.
What is your basic strategy for communicating with student-athletes?
How you present an injury is important. When an athlete is injured, we don’t say, “You tore something, you’re going to be out six weeks.” Instead, we might say, “It looks like a strain,” which is what a tear technically is. “We’ll take it day to day.” It’s amazing how much more motivated a kid can be when you present things in a positive light.
And it’s always so rewarding when years later, former players come back and tell us how much they appreciate what we did for them. I’ve developed some great relationships with our athletes, and there are guys I’ll keep in touch with forever. A lot of them go through different coaches in their time at LSU, but we’re always the mainstays for them. We’re their comfort zone, so when they come back, the first place they visit is the athletic training room.
Tell us about the scholarship program you’ve set up.
We started a fundraising program for purchasing new equipment, and providing money that athletic training students can use if they need books or airfare home in cases of emergency.
We have a wall in our athletic training facility with plaques honoring former athletes who have donated to us. It’s nice knowing players want to give back to our athletic training program because of how we treated them when they were here.
How hands-on are you with your athletic training students?
We only have 24 undergraduate students at a time, which gives our athletic trainers a chance to really develop relationships with each of them. That way, when we provide a reference, we can give a true representation of what they bring to the table. I enjoy helping all our kids find jobs. I will fight tooth and nail to make sure they have every opportunity, because I remember how hard it was for me to get my first job. What are your thoughts on the current state of athletic training education?
I think the curriculum has gotten a bit off-base. When you talk to some NFL guys who work with interns, you hear that the work ethic isn’t what it used to be. And it’s not the kids’ fault–it’s the current curriculum philosophies. The way many curriculums are set up, students are constantly supervised and they aren’t encouraged to take any initiative or ownership of their work. Those limitations have really hurt the profession and I think some of the curriculum guidelines need to be re-evaluated.
How did you get started in the bat-making business?
Getting bats in the Major Leagues was never my intention. When my son Gino was seven years old, he wanted a wooden bat. I called some bat companies but couldn’t find any that made them small enough. Matt Mauck, who was our quarterback at the time and used to play minor league baseball, talked me into buying a lathe and making my own. After I made Gino some bats, a friend of mine in the big leagues, who played at Florida State, asked to try one. After that, other Major Leaguers started calling, and it took off from there.
We don’t have a marketing department–everything is done by word of mouth. Having guys like Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, and Jose Reyes swinging our bats is the driving force behind our success.
How much has Marucci Bats grown?
Threefold over the last couple of years. We’ve upsized to new facilities four times in the last four years. We’re now making about 4,000 bats for Major League players and about 20,000 total when you count Little Leaguers and high school players.
What is your role in the company?
I still do all the drawings for every bat we make. We use an AutoCAD program, which allows me to do computer drawings and e-mail them to our production facility. I also turn some bats, but not very often because of my athletic training time demands. However, I still enjoy it and try to get out there as much as I can. Going into the shop is great therapy and a nice escape. Do you see any parallels between bat-making and athletic training?
I do. In athletic training, you want to get your guys back out on the playing field and help them be their best. Gaining that competitive edge gives you a sense of accomplishment and pride. It’s the same thing in bat-making. We’re competing with big companies like Louisville Slugger and Rawlings and working hard to gain an edge. And just like with the athletic training department at LSU, the bat company is successful because of the good people I’ve surrounded myself with.