In 2007 Matt LaCour
became the head of the baseball program at Studio City Harvard Westlake in
somewhat of a surprise move. He gave up one of the best coaching jobs in the CIF City Section at powerhouse Woodland Hills El Camino Real to take over a
Fast forward to 2013.
LaCour lead the Wolverines to their first ever CIF Southern Section Division 1
baseball championship behind stellar pitching and spectacular defense. In the
process, LaCour became the first coach in history to win a CIF title in the City and
Things have been
moving at an amazing pace since winning the title in Dodgers Stadium in early
June. LaCour has traversed the United States and has travelled abroad. After a
long two-plus months of baseball away from home, LaCour took time to catch us
up on his wild ride.
SCP: It's been a pretty
busy, albeit exciting, last few months for you. What's been the best part of
this experience that's seen you win a CIF title, a gold medal with the 15U
national team, and coach the west squad in the Perfect Game All-American
Nothing can really compare
to the CIF title and the experience with our guys at Harvard-Westlake. We
have put in so much time and invested so much into these players and the program
at Harvard-Westlake, so the gratification of winning everything that you can win
is on another level. It’s been nice to step back from the program a
bit this summer and just enjoy the past year and everything that has happened.
The Team USA experience is
unique and special as well. Because the coaching staff was together for something like 45 days this summer traveling to Florida and Arizona and then to
North Carolina and ending the summer in Colombia, you develop bonds with the
coaches and players that are unlike any other experience. I’ve heard it
said by many that wearing the USA across your chest is special, but you don't really get it until you get into a foreign country and you hear the national
anthem playing prior to facing another nation. It’s really a proud
The Perfect Game event was
a blast. Getting to see the best of the best was a lot of fun. It’s
amazing to see what some of these guys can do.
SCP: After you won the
CIF title you said no one thought you could accomplish that at Harvard
Westlake. What was the process like, going from an unknown program to CIF Southern Section Division 1 champions?
ML: It was as bad as you
could possibly imagine when I first got here. Completely
dysfunctional. Looking back now, what we have done here is a huge
accomplishment. People on the outside look at us and think we are just
one of the many private schools that are doing well in athletics nowadays.
What folks don’t understand is the academic level that our kids are on.
You can’t just go out and find good baseball players. Kids that attend
Harvard-Westlake must be outstanding students first and foremost. Other
schools will bend the admissions rules at times for kids that are really
talented on the field, we don’t. To get kids that are this smart and have
to really put in a lot of time academically to succeed on the field at the
level we have over the last three years, is something we are all very proud of.
SCP: You've had the
opportunity to coach a couple first round picks along with several Division 1
players. What is it about your system that enables players willing to put in
the work to advance to that level?
ML: Our coaching staff is
relentless and we have great guys at each level of our program that understand
that player development is something that we can control with hard work and
quality coaching. Kids know that they can always find a coach at the
field. If they want something extra, we have coaches that will be
there. We take pride in developing the player that may not be a great
athlete and making him a good baseball player. Our time is on the
practice field. When people see our practices they tend to understand
what I am talking about. We have kids that are motivated to do well both
on the field and in the classroom. Once we point them in the right
direction more times than not they will put in the work necessary for success.
SCP: You've been
involved with USA Baseball for a few years now, what's that experience been
like for you?
ML: Being around coaches
from throughout the USA you learn different things. I view coaching as an
evolving process that is constantly changing and it’s important for me to keep
trying to get better at my craft. The 15U level is fun because you are
getting kids that are really good, but still have a ton of development left
inside of them.
SCP: You were an
assistant coach on the USA Baseball 15U national team that won the gold medal
in Colombia this summer. What were some of the highlights of that experience?
ML: Things that are a
grind when you are going through them end up being something you really cherish
as time goes on. The afternoon summer rains in Florida to the 120 degree
days in Arizona while we were selecting the 40 man trials rosters. The
humidity of North Carolina and two a day workouts and trials games that leave
you exhausted at the end of the day. Having to cut the roster to 20 guys
and knowing that kids take this extremely hard. Watching kids accept
roles on a team when they are used to being the best player.
The comebacks we made
against Panama in the semi-final and against Cuba in the pool play and in the
gold medal game were the most memorable moments. The kids had a fight in
them that will benefit them for years to come.
SCP: How special was it
win the gold medal with so many kids from Southern California playing such a
big role on the team?
ML: We had a ton of
representation from California which, when you look at it logically, make sense. We
are blessed to have weather here that allows us to play more baseball than most
other parts of the country. Players are going to develop a bit earlier in
California than they will in other areas. All of the California kids were great and it
will be a lot of fun watching them develop over the next few years.
SCP: You go from
winning a gold medal to coaching in the Perfect Game All-American Classic.
What's it like coaching a team full of future Division 1 and professional
ML: Sit back and watch the
show. Not sure I would call it coaching. I observed more than
anything. And I got to interact with a bunch of really good kids. They
are all special baseball players but they were also for the most part all
really good kids.
SCP: The participants in
the All-American game took time to visit Rady's Children Hospital which serves
children battling cancer among other ailments. What was it like to watch your
players interact with those children and what did you personally take away from
ML: For me, that visit was
somewhat of a déjà vu experience. We lost a baseball player at Harvard-Westlake a
couple of years ago, Chris Robinson, to Leukemia. I saw how the disease
ate away at him physically over the course of time. Throughout the entire
process, Chris persevered and fought really hard. Seeing kids going
through that same process and receiving the same treatments as Chris was really
tough. Watching the players interact with those kids was special; it’s
something I don’t think they will ever forget. I know that we at Harvard-Westlake will
never forget Chris.
SCP: Now that this busy
summer has come to a close for you, what are you most looking forward to doing?
ML: Sleep and family!
Need to catch up on some rest here over the next couple of weeks before school
gets going. That summer break thing never really happened so looking
forward to recharging the batteries and getting back at it with our guys in
September. This summer took me to some really cool places, but none of
them with the family. My oldest daughter will enter 7th grade
at Harvard-Westlake this fall, so I’m really looking forward to seeing her face every day on
campus (she might not be as enthusiastic about Dad being around her at
school). It’s been a great conclusion to a great 2013 this summer.