Cliff Godwin was named the Ole Miss hitting coach and recruiting specialist by Rebels’ head coach Mike Bianco on June 21. Less than a week later, Godwin was already on the job – and at an unlikely location.
Godwin spoke with Perfect Game Tuesday morning while returning from the PG WWBA 15u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., proof positive he is going to be willing to out-work many of fellow college coaches and recruiters.
A 15-and-under event isn’t normally a high priority stop on the long and winding recruiting trail, considering most of the players are going to be sophomores or freshmen in high school the next fall. But prospects are being recruited at a younger age these days, and Godwin seemed to find the work he put in at the WWBA 15u National worthwhile.
“There’s a wide range of different teams as far as having some kids who just haven’t matured at all and they’re at that age where the game’s pretty tough for them,” Godwin said. “But then you did have some better teams that were really good for that age and there are guys who are already physical and mature and are good players.”
His office’s mailing address and phone number have changed for first time in three years, but the challenges remain the same for Godwin as they were at his previous job as the associate head coach/recruiting coordinator/hitting coach at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
“Everything that I personally do in my life I look at as a challenge because I want to do the best I can possibly do at every position I’ve ever had,” Godwin told Perfect Game during a telephone conversation Tuesday morning. “I wouldn’t look at it as a challenge for Ole Miss baseball to be great, because they’ve been very good over the past 10 years while Coach Bianco has been there.”
Bianco just completed his 11th season at the Oxford, Miss., university this spring. Godwin’s hiring followed a 2011 campaign that saw the Rebels fail to advance to the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in Bianco’s tenure.
Godwin spent the three previous years as the associate head coach/recruiting coordinator/hitting coach at UCF, where he helped head coach Terry Rooney resurrect a struggling program.
Godwin is proud of what was accomplished during his three years at UCF, where he was able to bring in a top-five recruiting class in 2010 and a top-20 class in 2011. The Knights advanced to the NCAA Tournament this spring for the first time since 2004, and Godwin’s offense led Conference-USA in home runs, slugging percentage, hits, runs, RBI and doubles.
In 2010, Godwin was named C-USA Assistant Coach of the Year by SEBaseball.com.
“For us to be able to go out and get two top-20 recruiting classes back-to-back, it took a tremendous effort by the entire (UCF) staff,” Godwin said. “I’m proud to have been a part of it, and the one thing that I can say leaving UCF is that it’s in very good hands.”
Godwin’s main duties for Bianco at Ole Miss will be that of hitting coach, but he will also be counted on to be a star in the recruiting office. He knows the territory well.
“(Bianco) wants me to be the face of the offense and he wants me to get the hitters better at every aspect of the game – from a hitting standpoint, bunting, base-running – any offensive aspect you can think of, he wants them to be better,” Godwin said. “From a mentality standpoint, he wants them to be tough outs and get in there and get after it.”
On the recruiting side of the coin, Godwin will be expected to work “hand-in-hand” with the Rebels’ recruiting coordinator, Carl Lafferty, in an effort to lure the best players in the country to the Oxford campus. He will spend his summer at tournaments and showcases recruiting the top prospects he can find, even if means going to a few more 15-and-under events.
“Perfect Game does a great job of assembling tournaments that have the best teams in the country,” Godwin said. “It makes it easier for every college coach from a certain standpoint in that you’ve got a lot of good players at one place.”
Godwin played collegiately at East Carolina from 1997-2001 and played professionally for two seasons with the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League. His first coaching job was at Kinston (N.C.) High School, and he made collegiate coaching stops at UNC-Wilmington, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and LSU before landing at UCF.
The University of Mississippi is a member of the powerhouse Southeastern Conference – SEC members South Carolina and Florida are playing for the championship at the College World Series in Omaha this week – and since he has made stops at SEC members Vanderbilt and LSU, he’s fully aware of how bright the spotlight can be.
“It’s college baseball wherever you are, it’s just on a bigger stage (in the SEC),” Godwin said. “There are more fans, and when you do well it’s the best place in the world to coach and when you do bad it gets a little tougher. It’s not any added extra pressure for me or anybody else. If you work hard and do things the right way, good things will happen to you.”
Godwin said he will not approach his job at Ole Miss any differently than he did his previous jobs.
“My approach in my life is the same every day” he said. “I’ll work as hard as I can and do the best job I can and try to help Ole Miss win at the highest level. That’s just something that my dad and my grandfather and my mom taught me a long time ago.”
Throughout his relatively brief coaching career, Godwin has built a reputation as not only someone with a keen eye for talent, but also as a coach who can bring out the best in his hitters. He has been credited with helping develop some of the game’s top collegiate hitters over the past several years, including Jared Mitchell and D.J. LeMahieu at LSU, and D.J. Hicks at UCF.
His next task at hand is to take the Ole Miss hitters to the next level.
“Our goal is to get to Omaha,” Godwin said emphatically. “I know everybody says that, but I’m hoping we can make it a reality and I really think we can. Our coaching staff really believes that it’s right around the corner.”
Mississippi was last at the CWS in 1972.