OTTUMWA — Mike Egbert grew up in Ottumwa.
He played sports here. He coaches here. He made friends here. He won a state baseball championship here. He was an all-state defensive back here.
And at after he finishes his head baseball coaching duties this season, he will leave here.
Yes, Egbert’s coaching career in Ottumwa — a career he began as a basketball coach for Evans Middle school when he was a freshman in college — is in its final stage, and this year’s baseball season is his swan song. At the end of the season he will put Ottumwa astern and turn his attention to his new job as vice principal and activities director for Clarke High School in Osceola.
Egbert said there will be a lot of things he will miss about coaching in Ottumwa, not the least of which being the relationships he developed with the players he coaches.
“That’s one thing I will miss,” Egbert said. “Those interactions with them.”
He said he also will miss the sense of unity he develops with his players over a season — a unity that often remains long after the season ends and his players graduate.
“I still have kids come back and talk to me,” Egbert said.
And then there are the people he’s bonded with over the years, his friends; he will miss them to.
To understand why Egbert took up coaching in the first place, you have to go back to the years he spent roaming the halls of Ottumwa High School. While playing for the Bulldog football team, Egbert got wrangled into coaching a youth flag football team one year. He said the enjoyment he derived from the experience gave him an idea of what he wanted his career path to be later in life.
When he first entered the coaching trade, Egbert had to work his way up the ladder. In his first year, Egbert coached basketball at Evans Middle School with his childhood friend Chris Gravett, who remains one of Egbert’s best friends and, today is the Bulldog boys varsity basketball coach.
“It’s kind of a neat deal we have both ended up where we’re at,” Egbert said.
Eventually he was hired on as an assistant coach for Ottumwa’s sophomore baseball team. Next he became head coach of the sophomores. After that he became assistant coach of the varsity team before becoming the head coach the Ottumwa baseball program in 2010.
Egbert’s coaching style draws inspiration from some of his past coaches; one of them being his high school baseball coach Brad Rose.
“Brad Rose was a kind of big brother to a lot of us,” Egbert said. “He was there for us with things that we needed and we could always count on him. I felt like he was a big brother to me.”
Another coach that influences Egbert’s coaching style is his former high school football coach, Tom Kopatich; currently the activities director at Ottumwa.
“He instilled a mental toughness in us that you could carry on beyond just football,” Egbert said.
While Egbert greatly admired and respected Kopatich’s intense coaching style, he came to learn that the style that brought Kopatich’s teams so much success wasn’t something he should emulate.
“It didn’t fit my style,” he said. “I’m not much of a yeller; I’m more of a teacher out there,” he said.
Egbert said his dad, Jeff Egbert, who coached him when he was younger, also influences the way he runs the baseball program.
One of the hardest parts about being a coach, Egbert said, is learning there is more than one way to do something right. As a player, Egbert whole-heartedly bought into what his high school coaches told him so he figured there was only one way to do certain things. But after he attended several baseball clinics he came to learn that there were in fact a million ways to do things. He said the key is to find the method you believe in the most and try to sell that method to your players.
Since Ottumwa isn’t filled with Division 1 players, Egbert said, he tries to focus on the effort his players put into each play.
“You can control how hard you try every single time,” he said. “Every play, whatever you’re doing, you should be going as hard as you can.”
Egbert said he didn’t favor baseball over the other sports — basketball and football — he played; although he did achieve the most success on the baseball field.
“My favorite (sport) was always what was going on at the time,” Egbert said.
In fact, out of the three sports he played, Egbert said baseball was the one that didn’t come naturally to him.
“When you’re not naturally good at something, you have to learn all the aspects of it,” he said. “I felt like I did a lot more learning in baseball than I did just playing football and basketball.”
Egbert’s senior year was filled with achievements; the baseball team won a state championship, he made all-state first team defensive back in football and all-state second team in basketball.
Egbert has done his share of teaching in the classroom; he has taught social studies at Ottumwa High School.
“The one content area I really enjoyed was social studies, history,” Egbert said.
When he’s not coaching or teaching, Egbert spends time with his wife Billie and his two kids — Loren, nine; and Chance, five.