Few people have had the opportunity that Dave Tollett received, beginning in August of 2001. After a 10-year stint as head coach at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Florida, during which he guided the Tarpons to five appearances in the Florida High School Athletic Association state playoffs, the Tusculum College graduate was named head coach of the baseball team at Florida Gulf Coast University, a program that existed only on paper. To his credit, few people could have built the program Tollett has created over the past 13 seasons. A four-time Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year, he has led the Eagles to four A-Sun championships. Equally impressive is the fact that Tollett guided the team through the NAIA and Division II ranks before moving up to Division I in 2008. While such a move would have contained a fair share of misery for most programs, the Eagles won three straight A-Sun regular season titles and 112 games overall during their first three campaigns at the D1 level. Employing a blue-collar approach that demands dedication both on and off the field for every member of the program, Tollett will enter the 2016 slate with an overall record of 464-264-3 and at least 25 wins in all 13 seasons at the Eagles’ dugout helm. Along the way the team has developed a handful of players who have advanced to the major leagues, beginning with Chris Sale and Casey Coleman in 2010. Equally important are the former players who have gone on to become successful in walks of life not associated with baseball. The growing legacy is one in which Tollett is deservedly proud, as he discussed in his conversation with Baseball The Magazine’s Bill Ballew. BBTM: How is everything going with the program now that fall practice has concluded? Tollett: Everything is going very well. I have no complaints about our work ethic. We’re getting better and looking forward to seeing what the 2016 season has in store for us. BBTM: You’ve built the Florida Gulf Coast program from scratch over the past 14 years. Despite the obvious challenges you’ve faced, has the process been a rewarding one to date? Tollett: Without question. It’s been so much fun but it’s also something that I would probably never ever do again. It’s something you might do once in your lifetime, starting a program from scratch. What makes it tough for us is that we don’t have the alumni base and the alumni donations and things like that. Everything we do here, we have to raise the money for it. A lot of my job is fundraising. We’ve built most everything we have through private donations and relationships that we have built and that will last a lifetime. I’ll be forever grateful for those relationships. It’s nice knowing that we did this with our own money, but it would also be nice to just be able to coach. BBTM: You coached 10 years at the high school level before making the jump to Florida Gulf Coast. That type of move is rarely made in the coaching ranks nowadays. Was that a tough adjustment from a coaching standpoint? Tollett: People ask me that all of the time and, no, I don’t feel like there was a big adjustment. I think the biggest adjustment was the time restraints, because in high school we didn’t have any. If we needed to practice four hours on a Saturday, we practiced four hours. But here we only have 20 hours (a week) and at some points during the year you only have eight hours, with only two hours on the field. That was probably the toughest part, particularly in terms of development. We developed some great players at Charlotte High School, including three big leaguers. BBTM: Having worked with both high school and college student-athletes, in what area do you feel the players have to make the biggest adjustment upon stepping on a college campus for the first time? Tollett: It has to be time management. The structure that they have to be under to be a good student and to be a good player is the key. Proper time management is the biggest challenge that our freshmen have. That’s also the biggest challenge of being a college coach. When they first get here, we get only eight hours (a week) with them and only two hours on the field. In high school, they’re used to going to first period through sixth or seventh period with a lunch and then practice afterwards. Their life is pretty structured. When they get to college, they have a 30-minute skill session on Monday, one on Tuesday, one on Wednesday and one on Friday. They also have to find time to come to the batting cages on their own if they really want to get to the next level. We tell them every day that if they only work eight hours a week, they’re probably not going to be successful. We try to instill that in them, to do whatever they need to do for their specific position on their own in order to separate themselves and make themselves a good player here and hopefully at the next level as well. BBTM: It seems that being a freshman baseball player at a Division I school requires a lot more maturity than the typical 18- or 19-year-old student. Tollett: There’s no question. An average student is just going to class. They’re not having to go to weights in the morning and a skill session in the afternoon and study hall in the evening. Time management is the biggest thing that I see that freshmen really need to master. BBTM: Is there anything you learned or picked up shortly after taking over the Florida Gulf Coast program that you still incorporate 14 years later? Tollett: Oh
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