Having a successful sports program at the collegiate level is difficult. There are many factors that must be in place to have sustained success, with every team vying for the top spot. The few that experience sustained success are the ones who instill qualities beyond just playing a game.
At Colorado Mesa University, the baseball program has experienced plenty of success over the past several years, and much of that can be attributed to the coaching staff, including Head baseball coach Chris Hanks, who is entering his 20th season as head coach of the Mavericks. Hanks pays homage to the coaching staff, who along with him, have been integral to CMU’s success.
CMU’s baseball club has won six straight Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) Championships, as well as winning 11 of the past 13. The Mavericks have won 12 total RMAC titles under Hanks since 1999, while also earning 15 NCAA Division II Tournament berths. Hanks also brought the Mavericks three Division II College World Series berths, including a runner-up finish in the NCAA Division II National Championship Game in 2014.
“It has been fun watching the incremental development of the program. I have been impressed watching the commitment, loyalty and work ethic of the players and coaches over this time. They have all been willing to give so much of themselves,” Hanks said.
Hanks boasts an astounding 788-328 record and became the program’s all-time winningest coach after recording his 538th win in 2012.
Two decades experiencing success every year is quite an achievement and the beautiful aspect of it is, Hanks still loves what he does.
“I still get excited. It’s definitely a grind, but the excitement is still there.”
After serving six seasons as the assistant baseball coach, Hanks took over as the program as the new head coach in 1999.
“I think I knew I wanted to become a head coach when I was a sophomore in high school,” Hanks said.
That early determination has helped morph CMU’s baseball program into one of the best in the country. Hanks does not strive for perfection. Instead, he strives for excellence, hoping to inspire his players to achieve excellence on and off the field.
Along with Hanks, the coaching staff has made their mark on the program. Assistant coaches Steve Woytek and Sean McKinney are responsible for the bulk of the recruiting process, finding athletes who display great character qualities and responsible work-ethic.
During Hanks’ first years as head coach, the baseball team had six fewer scholarships than they have today and didn’t have a full-time assistant. Due to the dedication from the administration, outside committees and fundraising efforts, the program now has a full-time assistant and close to a full allotment of scholarships.
“Collectively, these assistant coaches have made the difference through their unwavering commitment to our program and CMU,” Hanks said.
Pitching coach Jeff Rodgers and outfield coach Phil McCowen have been with Hanks since the beginning, doing their part to help the players take the next step. Assistant coach Nate Robertson is entering his second year in the position. All the coaches are doing their part on the field, and are making an impact on the Grand Junction community.
Austin Kaiser, a former outfielder under Hanks, won the 2014 NCAA Division II Baseball Player of the Year in 2014. He now currently serves in CMU’s athletic department as Assistant Athletic Director of Compliance and Student Success. Kaiser knows Hanks and the coaching staff contributed to his success.
“For four years, coach Hanks and the coaching staff just drill all these things into your head of how this is what can help you be successful,” Kaiser said. “I was fortunate where my senior year, it seemed like everything that coach told me about hitting made sense.”
Beyond the fundamentals of baseball, Kaiser learned the principles and qualities that Hanks continues to show his players to this day.
“He just has a standard for excellence, not of perfection,” Kaiser said. “He understands that you can’t be perfect. But that doesn’t change his expectation of I expect you to be excellent in everything you do, and that is on the field and off the field, and that is something I really took to heart.”
It takes more than being a brilliant baseball mind to run a successful program for so many years. Success like this takes important principles and qualities a head coach must inspire in every player, something Hanks is aware of.
“I believe the most important qualities of a head coach are to be authentic, flexible, knowledgeable and inspirational,” Hanks said. “They must have a strong work ethic and a never-ending commitment to improving their knowledge.”
With Hanks holding so much value to important qualities and making them a priority, it is no surprise the program continues to see excellent results.
“He’s the best in the business for a reason. He’s successful for a reason,” Kaiser said. “A lot of who I am, a lot of my actions, a lot of my interactions are rooted in some principles that stemmed from coach Hanks, the other coaches and this baseball program.”
It has been a team effort to get the baseball program to where it is today. It’s a storybook journey that Hanks plans to continue for the foreseeable future, and one of which he has been grateful to be a part of.