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University of Minnesota

An empowering leader

March 25, 2010

John Anderson talks to his players.

About 15 years ago, John Anderson took a hard look at his coaching style and decided to make some changes. Now he sees himself as more of a "consultant," and encourages his players to motivate themselves.

Photo courtesy University Athletics

John Anderson carries on rich tradition of Minnesota baseball program

By Rick Moore

In his office at the University Athletics complex, John Anderson keeps a tiny snapshot commemorating his pitching debut for the Golden Gophers in 1975. He threw two innings that day—his only stint in a playing career cut short by arm trouble.

“My problem was I hit too many bats,” Anderson jokes. “The idea was to miss ’em, and I wasn’t very good at that.”

What Anderson may have lacked in pitching prowess he’s more than made up for in coaching success at his alma mater. Heading into this season, his record was 1,006-645-3, a winning percentage of .609. He’s 39th all-time in victories and 11th among active Division I coaches. Perhaps more impressive, he’s the winningest coach in Big Ten history, and in 2008 he was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Fame. 

The ace… of his baseball class

Anderson came to the U as a walk-on baseball player—a transfer from Hibbing Community College, where he also played football and hockey. His smartest move may have been taking the baseball course taught by his U coach, the legendary Dick Siebert. The class was so intense even baseball players would flunk it, but Anderson scored the highest grade ever on its test.

Siebert asked him to be a player-coach that year, and Anderson continued to assist the man he calls “Chief” until Siebert’s death in 1978. George Thomas then took over the program, with Anderson remaining as an assistant. When Thomas left after three years he recommended Anderson, at age 26, to replace him.

Anderson earned his position by being an astute student of the game, and he hasn’t stopped learning… or questioning.

First on the field

Anderson’s Golden Gopher baseball team has the honor of playing the first game at Target Field—the new home of the Minnesota Twins—at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 27, against Louisiana Tech. The game will function as a practice run for operations at the stadium. For more information, see the Gopher Sports story and video.

In the mid-’90s he was concerned about how his teams were responding to him. At about that time he was introduced to Rick Aberman, a “human performance coach” who forced Anderson to look inward at his coaching style and leadership methods.

“I’m not sure I’d have been able to survive in coaching if I hadn’t met Rick,” Anderson says.

He now focuses his energies on making his student-athletes internally motivated, and sees himself more as a consultant offering help to players who really need it. “It’s been so much more fun, so much more enjoyable, to watch the kids take ownership of their experience and really hold each other accountable,” Anderson says.

He and Aberman wrote a book, Why Good Coaches Quit: How to Deal with the Other Stuff. In addition to reaching the 1,000-win plateau last year, he’s also led the Gophers to 16 NCAA Tournament appearances (most in the Big Ten), including 8 in the last 12 years. Year in and year out, the Gophers compete for a Big Ten title, and many of Anderson’s former players have made their mark in the major leagues.

Hail to the Chief

Anderson looks across his office and gives a nod to the Hall of Fame plaque for his own mentor, Siebert, who coached Minnesota for 30 years and led the Gophers to national championships in 1956, 1960, and 1964.

“He’s the legendary coach that really started it all, and to me will always be the godfather of Minnesota baseball, very similar to John Mariucci [in hockey],” Anderson says.

He pauses a moment to reflect on his well-earned inheritance. “It’s a privilege and an honor. For a right-handed, below-average pitcher from northern Minnesota that liked to play hockey, I guess it worked out pretty good.”


Tags: Athletics

To read more stories about University of Minnesota baseball, visit Gopher Sports.

For more information about Minnesota's inaugural game at Target Field on March 27, which is open to the public, see the Gopher Sports story and video.