March 1, 2011
By Randy Policar - One of the rising stars in the coaching world of college baseball, assistant coach Travis Jewett has taken a non-traditional path through the coaching ranks. The only coach on the ASU staff who didn't play Division I baseball, Jewett has used his experiences in the coaching world to learn and adjust his coaching style to help him become the best coach he can be.
Jewett is in his second season with the Sun Devils as Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator. He coaches first base and also works with the Sun Devil hitters and catchers.
Prior to joining the staff at Arizona State, Jewett had spent his entire coaching career in his home state of Washington. He began in 1994 as an assistant coach at Tacoma Community College. After only one season as an assistant, he was named the head coach, a job he held for two seasons before moving on to Edmonds Community College as the head coach for two seasons.
He quickly established his coaching credentials at ECC, earning both Conference and National Coach of the Year honors in 1998, only his fourth year as a head coach.
"Any of those things that I was anointed with, I give all the credit to the players and the people who worked with me at the time," Jewett says. "It was a collective effort. At those places where I got started, I didn't know if I was going to be an astronaut or a garbage man. I had no idea. Here I am, and I got a call from TCC asking if I would be willing to help out with the hitters. I said to myself, I love baseball, I had a background with it, sure I will give it a whirl. And then I caught the bug. Fortunately for me, just like in anything, sometimes you get lucky. The guy that was there and gave me a great opportunity, suddenly he wasn't there. The AD called me and offered me the position, and I was young and I knew the game, but I didn't know how to coach. I remember thinking to myself, you better have a plan. You better know that plan like the back of your hand. And you better be able to communicate that plan effectively to your staff and players so everyone knows the expectations. I think that helped me."
The more he learned the more complete of a coach he became. And as the process went along, his confidence grew and he began to think on larger scale for his career.
"I started learning all the finer points of the game from a coaching aspect, recruiting, practice, etc.," Jewett recalls. "After a few years I thought, hey, I can do this. Then I started thinking about Division I and how great it was. Then in 1996 a friend and I went to Omaha for the College World Series. It was the year Warren Morris hit the walk-off homer to win the title. I went for the entire thing. The workouts, the games, and I thought to myself, this is unbelievable. And that just made my coaching itch even worse."
Opportunity came knocking in the form of a job offer from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.
"The opportunity came from Gonzaga and Mark Machtolf says Jewett about the then assistant and now head coach at GU . "He told me, `I want to hire you, that's the good news. The bad news is I can't pay you much'. I'm married and I have a brand new baby and I almost swallowed my pen. At the time I was at Edmonds CC and I was teaching some classes, coaching baseball, had a camp business, we had it going and we were doing fine. But coach Machtolf told me something that resonated with me. He said `you are a really good junior college coach and I think the next challenge for you is right here and I am presenting it to you. You can be the best junior college coach in the country and stay at Edmonds for the next 20 years. But if you want to get in the game, you have to get in the game, and the game is Division I'. I talked to my wife and she was all for it, so we packed up and off we went. Each year they started giving me more responsibility and we started winning more games."
Gonzaga may not have been the Mecca of college baseball, but for Jewett, it was the perfect jumping off point for his Division I career.
"You make the big time wherever you're at. I mowed the grass at Gonzaga before games. I'd mow the infield myself with a push lawnmower. That was my big time. What a great starting point for my career. I learned a lot."
The Bulldogs also found success on the diamond during Jewett's tenure, culminating with a division title and a trip to the West Coast Conference championship series against perennial power Pepperdine in 2001. Though they lost in three games to the Waves, Jewett's career continued on its rise. Prior to the WCC championship, he was paid a visit by Washington Head Coach Ken Knutson.
"Prior to (the WCC Championship) starting, we had played at Washington. Ken Knutson actually picked me up at the team hotel and offered me a job with the Huskies in the car. I remember after we lost to Pepperdine in the last game, I said to myself this is the last time I'm going to put on this uniform."
Soon Jewett was on his way to Seattle and maybe the toughest conference in the country, the Pac-10.
"The thing that I always try to tell myself is that baseball is baseball. First base is going to be 90 feet from home," says Jewett. "I've always had a pretty good sense of my own coaching ability, so there wasn't a huge transition for me personally. The biggest thing I had to adjust to was the competition. It was more level across the board. It was a constant grind because of the level of each team. At Gonzaga it was good, but at Washington it was a little more. I was still doing what I love to do; it was just wearing a different uniform. "
The Huskies found great success during the three seasons Jewett was there, advancing to the NCAA Tournament in all three seasons and sending numerous players to pro baseball. In keeping with his track record, as Jewett found success on the diamond, he would also find more opportunity.
"I knew about the history and the tradition here. When an opportunity to be a part of something great becomes an option, well, I want to be a part of something great. It was a no brainer."
Travis Jewett about Arizona State
"Donnie Marbut and I had developed a relationship through baseball. He went to Washington State as an assistant and eventually got the head job," recalls Jewett. "The Huskies were playing Irvine at home and Donnie called coach Knutson and asked for permission to speak with me. Ken told me that and said his first impression was that I had to take it. He didn't want me to leave, but he knew I had to take the job. I respected him for that. Ken saw it as a chance for me to be a recruiting coordinator and do things that could springboard my career."
In addition to the offer of recruiting coordinator was the title of associate head coach and chance to be the hitting coach for the Cougars.
"I had kind of done a little of everything at every stop I had made, but the one thing I had never done at the Division I level was be the hitting guy, and this allowed me to take that next step," says Jewett. "I felt like I was developing as a coach, so I went to Washington State. At the time, it certainly was not a better program, but it was the right move for me from a professional development standpoint."
At Gonzaga, Jewett had come within one game of a conference title and an NCAA berth. At Washington, he was a part of three Regional teams. Now he was going to Washington State, a program that had finished last in the Pac-10 and was mired in an NCAA Tournament drought that went back to 1990. It was certainly a challenge, but one he was ready for.
"The biggest challenge at WSU was to upgrade personnel. Donnie Marbut was a young, aggressive coach and he was not afraid to have success in recruiting," Jewett says. "He was a workaholic. He was as much a part of it as anything. It was a team effort. We had to start over and have a crystal clear plan as to what we were doing. It was nothing other than getting good kids who worked hard, got after it and bought in. These are the goals and this is what we are going to do. But we also had to internally be ready to go through some hard times."
Jewett's hard worked finally paid off for the Cougars in 2009, when they snapped their Regional-drought with a berth in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Jewett was a big part of the reclamation project in Pullman, helping to rebuild the program and take them back to respectability. And as had been the pattern, after finding success, opportunity again knocked.
This time it was a shot at the big time, a marquee program on the national landscape. The Arizona State Sun Devils and their five national championships and over 20 trips to the College World Series.
"I got a call from ASU and certainly my ears perked up," says Jewett. "I knew about the history and the tradition here. When an opportunity to be a part of something great becomes an option, well, I want to be a part of something great. It was a no brainer."
On July 27, 2009, Jewett was named the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Sun Devils, but a few months later, his life would be full of upheaval. An unexpected coaching change left Jewett as the only member of the baseball coaching staff under contract with just a few weeks to go before the season began.
"I had never experienced anything remotely close to that," recalls Jewett. "I've kind of always been on the good side of things and then all of a sudden here I am and you are just thinking, what now?"
The answer to that question was former Sun Devil player and assistant coach Tim Esmay, who was named the head coach in December. Despite all the uncertainty, Jewett found a silver lining.
"Sometimes life is about putting yourself into an environment that will challenge you," Jewett says. "I guess inside I trusted myself and just decided to do what I could to help the program and if it works it works. I think it has made me a better person and it has added to my appreciation for what we do on a daily basis. You can't take anything for granted; you have to be ready for the day. I will be something I can lean on in the future, believe me."
When the season began, Jewett got to witness first-hand what Sun Devil Baseball is all about. ASU finished the year 52-10, Pac-10 champions and the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"The one thing that was different for me was being involved in the postseason as a host," recalls Jewett. "That to me was big. When Regional time came around and we were the #1 seed, we got three conference champions at our place. That wasn't an easy regional. I liked that because I believe that competition makes you better. We get through that and we get a really good Arkansas team. And for us to win those two games the way we did and celebrate the fact that we are going to the pinnacle of college baseball and the College World Series I thought, this is exactly why I came here."
The Super Regional victory also allowed Jewett to return to the place where his coaching itch really began in 1996.
"I remember coaching first base at Rosenblatt and I literally could see where I was sitting in 1996," Jewett remembers. "I could see me and my friend sitting there, and now I'm here, on this field coaching. I came to the World Series in 1996 because I wanted to see what it was about, and know I am in a team photo in front of the statue. Being a first timer, everything from the charter flight, to the police escorts, to the autographs, however many thousands of people were there watching me throw batting practice. It was amazing."
Although he is focused on the 2011 Sun Devil season, Jewett knows that the next opportunity could come knocking at any second. He also knows that the next opportunity could be the big one, a head coaching job.
"Coaching in Division I wasn't really on my plate when I first started," says Jewett. "Coaching at Washington wasn't in my plans when I was at Gonzaga. But as you go along, you think, yeah, I can take the next step. I'm in no hurry to leave. I am in a great spot working with great people, so if the next opportunity comes along it would have to be the right situation. I'll know when it's time. I just want to continue to do good where I'm at, and whatever doors open after that, we will have to see."
But for now, Travis Jewett is thoroughly enjoying his life as a Sun Devil, and the success that he has found in the Valley of the Sun.
"Winning the Pac-10, hosting the regional and super regional, getting to Omaha; that's why I came here. Those are the expectations and that's why I came to Arizona State. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to do those things. I think the one thing I can pride myself on is that I am a winner. I expect to win and those are the same expectations that we have here at Arizona State."