Tim Corbin is one of the more intriguing characters in college baseball.
Talk to Corbin after a hard-fought loss, or even a win, and the long-time Vanderbilt head coach won't give you a collection of long-winded answers littered with cliches. Instead, with a tough exterior always present, he gives it to you straight -- he's honest, sometimes, admittedly, brutally honest.
But that trait, among many others, is Tim Corbin. It's also the chief reason Corbin, in short time, transformed Vanderbilt baseball into a perennial power on the national stage, and certainly the premier program in the State of Tennessee.
Now, he's also turned Vanderbilt University into the national champion of college baseball, earning 2014 Perfect Game Coach of the Year honors as a result of that accomplishment and, also, how he's commanded his program off the field.
As with every college baseball coach, Corbin has had many occasions over the years where he dreamt or thought of playing for and winning the national title. His dreams have come a long way, however. Growing up wanting to coach, Corbin always envisioned himself as a high school baseball coach someday. Little did he know at the time that he'd go on to coach college baseball, learn under a living legend in Clemson's Jack Leggett for nine seasons, then head to Vanderbilt, which at the time was a bottom feeder in the SEC, and transform that program into a power.
Corbin's resume leading up to the program's first national title is quite impressive. Clearly in rebuilding mode, the Commodores tallied a 27-28 overall record in his first season at the helm, but made a small statement when they reached the Southeastern Conference tournament with a home series win over then national power Tennessee.
The Commodores have been on cruise control since that first season. Sure, the 'Dores only won 34, 37 and 35 games, respectively in 2005, '09 and '12, but the overall upward trajectory remained the same with the 'Dores making their first trip to the College World Series in 2011, while also compiling an amazing 54-12 overall record in '13, a team that fell just short of Omaha with a tough NCAA Super Regional loss to Louisville.
Recruiting has been a cornerstone for Corbin and this program, too. The Commodores finished the 2011, '12 and '13 recruiting classes ranked No. 5, No. 2 and No. 6, respectively, certainly building the foundation and putting together all the key pieces needed to win the national title.
This 2014 Vanderbilt club will be one to remember. The 'Dores were expected to have another outstanding season, but were just outside the mix in the national title discussion going into the season. Vanderbilt began the season on a hot streak, struggled a little in the middle of the season, and received the ultimate wake-up call with an early exit from the SEC tournament in late May.
Vandy played an excellent brand of baseball from that moment on, taking care of business in the Nashville Regional with a finale win over Oregon, while also taking the Nashville Super Regional series over Stanford with an impressive performance in the series finale.
Once in Omaha, Vanderbilt just looked like a team of destiny. It defeated Louisville and UC Irvine before beating Texas on a walk-off infield single from the bat of little used third baseman Tyler Campbell, who had replaced suspended and usual third baseman Xavier Turner.
Vanderbilt's heroics continued in the CWS Finals against Virginia, with second baseman Dansby Swanson coming up big, both offensively and defensively, while center fielder John Norwood had the hit heard around the college baseball world, hitting a late home run off Virginia dominant closer Nick Howard to propel the Commodores to a series finale win, and most importantly, the national title.
Just like that, Corbin's ultimate dream had become a reality. His players carried him on their shoulders while he hoisted the national championship trophy. Then, as Corbin sat down at the podium for the post-game press conference, he stared off into the distance, in complete shock it seemed, a smile slowing growing across his face.
As Corbin and the Commodores left the press conference, there only were a few of us left. As Corbin walked down the long hallway toward the bus a few minutes later, someone handed him a phone with the replay of Norwood's home run on it.
"Wow," he said. "Just wow."
What a year it was for the top coach in college baseball.