by Trent Merfeld
For over the past 25 years, Larry Lee has been following in the footsteps of his father and brothers.
“I usually drive past the [football memorial] every night going home and I give it a special moment each night. I think about those guys, and how my dad was supposed to be on that plane flight, but his schedule got changed. It holds a special place in my heart,” Lee said.
Born in 1917, Lee’s father, Tom Lee is both an accomplished athlete and coach. Tom Lee boxed golden gloves, played minor league baseball, traveled on an All-American basketball team, and was on a semi-pro team with a few negro league stars. Tom Lee also notably coached baseball, basketball, football, and boxing at Cal Poly.
Lee said, “He did it all, and everything my brothers and I did was based on what he was all about.”
Growing up three to four blocks away from Cal Poly, Lee said the campus was like a backyard to him. As a kid he would always come to Cal Poly athletic events to support his dad in his craft.
Lee said, “He was very positive in his approach, which was amazing. He never used profanity when coaching. He was just a very steady person and a good role model.”
With sports being the focal point of his childhood, Lee said he and his brothers knew no other life. Rather than go on family vacations, Lee said he and his family would pack up and go to the Cotton Bowl to see the Dallas Cowboys. Since his dad was a west coast scout for the Cowboys, he and his brothers got to shag footballs on the field and in the locker room. Lee was thankful that he was exposed to professional at a young age.
Lee said, “My dad is why I got into coaching, and he coached us everything. If my dad had had a different profession, I’m not sure how everything would have turned out.”
Well if that was the case, Lee would not have accumulated more than 25 years of coaching experience to date. After coaching at Cuesta College for 16 seasons and reaching multiple Final Fours, Lee decided to bring his coaching philosophy to Cal Poly.
In his tenth season coaching the Mustangs, Lee said he has made a point to establish a culture of hard work with his players.
“As a coach, you just want your players to work hard for you. You want them to have a passion for baseball, an extreme work ethic on the field and in the weight room, and you want them to be open-minded,” Lee said.
“[Coach Lee] allows you to grown on your own, and is willing to help,” senior shortstop Mike Miller said.
Listen to my interview with Cal Poly shortstop Mike Miller
Lee’s coaching knowledge and philosophy is also influenced from his brothers as a child. Lee said he copied how his brothers dressed, wore their hats, and a lot of their actions on the field. He said he learned a lot by playing summer pickup games with his middle brother, Terry, during summers.
“We played sandlot baseball, and pickup basketball and football games. I was lucky in that aspect to have a brother that let me be a part of his group. I evolved as a player by observing and learning on the spot what they were doing,” Lee said.
Just as in his childhood, Lee still enjoys playing against difficult competition. He said playing the best teams is how you get better, and how your players become successful.
“If I look back as a player, the thing you most enjoy is you don’t remember statistics or personal accomplishments, it’s playing in big ball games,” Lee said. Whether you win or lose its about challenging yourself as a player, and you do the same thing as a coach.”
Lee said he has always tried to schedule difficult opponents for Cal Poly because the best competition is what makes the program and players better.
Lee said, “A majority of players who come here will want to play professional baseball and we want to make sure that when they enter professional baseball they have the best possible chance of being successful. It is not just about saying that ‘Hey, I played professional baseball’, it’s about giving the players a chance to be successful.”
Senior pitcher Kyle Anderson said that he was frustrated with his lack of success during his sophomore season.
Anderson said, “Sophomore year I had a really bad year, and he told me exactly what I needed to do to be successful.”
Listen to my interview with Cal Poly Starting Pitcher Kyle Anderson
Lee is driven to push the Mustangs and his players to success. He admits that because of the large quantity of games throughout a season, baseball is a game of failure in his eyes.
Lee said, “Losses kill me. The way I’m wired, I’m embarrassed every time we lose. You very rarely remember the wins, but the losses stay with you for a long time.”
Pitching coach Jason Kelly said that Lee is a great leader who has been at it for a long time. He has had different teams and been in different situations so he knows how to motivate. Kelly said that he has learned almost all of his in-game knowledge from Lee, and has had great moments with him as a player.
Kelly said, “As a player, seeing him get excited when we win a game was special for me.”
Listen to my interview with Cal Poly pitching coach Jason Kelly
If Lee can point to one thing throughout his coaching career, he said it would be his players.
“[I’m] proud of how our players have always worked extremely hard. They have put in a lot of time to better themselves.”
Lee said, “When I first started [coaching] it was hard to imagine any [major success] being possible because there was such a discrepancy between our program and the programs that had been successful for a number of years. [The challenge] is trying to turn the table on them so you will become that elite program. You never know if or when you are going to be able to do it, you just have to believe in your teaching and coaching style, and you work hard.”
Get to know Larry Lee
If you weren’t a coach you would probably be a: A veterinarian because I like animals.
Favorite Athlete: In football, it was Roger Staubach and Dan Fouts. In baseball I grew up a Cardinals fan so it was Tim McCarver, Lou Brock, and Ted Simmons. And in basketball it was Pete Maravich or Michael Jordan.
Favorite Quote: “Every day you get a chance to stay the same, take a step back, or take a step forward.”
Also, from the movie Fetch – “It’s all about ball bearings these days.”
Favorite Food: pizza.
Pick One Drink: black iced tea.
Pick One Band: Aerosmith. Their first five albums.