College Pod: Rice Coach Matt Bragga
This week on the Baseball America college podcast, Rice coach Matt Bragga joins Teddy Cahill to talk about taking over the Owls' program and to look ahead to the 2019 season.
Bragga this summer was hired as head coach, following Rice's decision not to extend longtime coach Wayne Graham's contract. Bragga spent the last 15 seasons at Tennessee Tech, where he is the second-winningest coach in program history with a record of 446-392-1, won six OVC championships and made the NCAA Tournament three times in his tenure.
Bragga this year significantly elevated his profile as he led Tennessee Tech to a 53-12 record and the first super regional appearance in program history. The Golden Eagles were the first Ohio Valley Conference team to reach super regionals and to win more than 50 games. They entered the Top 25 for the first time in program history and they put together a 28-game winning streak, this year’s longest winning streak in the country.
Now, however, Bragga is ready to take on a new challenge at Rice.
"When you go into a new position, I think no matter what it is professionally, it could be anything, when you start a new spot there’s always a challenge to it," he said. "And I think that’s exciting to me. Where, OK, we’ve got this new challenge to try to play on what coach Graham set, the foundation that he set here, and try to get this team back to Omaha and get this team back to national championship title contenders. That’s the challenge in front of us and I think anytime you have that carrot out there, that spark of trying to do something big like that, I think it makes it really exciting and fun to go to work every day. That’s something that drives me. I love challenges like that."
Rice has some exciting players to build around this season as it looks to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a disappointing 2018. Righthander Matt Canterino and infielder Braden Comeaux are both coming off strong performances in the Cape Cod League and will be counted on this spring.
Bragga is enjoying fall ball, though there has been an adjustment period for both him and the Owls. Bragga is a high-energy coach and his style took some getting used to.
"It’s taken a little time for them to adjust to me, just like I have to adjust to players, players have to adjust to coaches and systems, so to say, and it may be different," he said. "We score everything. We compete at everything we do. I like movement, I like people in motion all the time. I don’t want a group of pitchers standing around for an hour, I don’t want them shagging fly balls typically. Even in pregame, pregame is not dull moments. We are practicing throughout the pregame. It’s just who I am and how I’ve been built.
"We might as well be getting the most out of our time. And then when we’re doing it, I’m like, ‘Woo-hoo!’ it’s just who I am. I’m a whooping and hollering kind of guy, but try to stay as even keeled as I can, obviously, because you don’t want to have an emotional roller coaster, so to say. But we’re going to have fun. I think that’s the only way to play this game. You better enjoy what you’re doing. If it becomes too business like, if you take the fun out of it, I don’t know how you produce."
Even with his fun, high-energy attitude, Bragga this spring found himself nervous during Tennessee Tech's 28-game winning streak, which was approaching the longest winning streak in NCAA history.
"We were getting close (to the record). You’ve got to be careful as a coach, because when you’re uptight, your team has a tendency to be uptight. So I typically pride myself on not being tight," he said. "Like, ‘Hey, it’s a game, we’re good, let’s go play ball. We’ve been taught, we know what to do, let’s go do it.’ Honestly, yeah, as we got to win No. 25, 26. 27, 28 in a row, I did catch myself getting tight. We lost and I got home that night, don’t get me wrong, she would have loved to see us get the record, but she goes, ‘Matt, you were getting tight. I’m glad that thing’s over.’ It was becoming a little bit of a monster of its own. I can’t even imagine the 56-game hit streak type thing, what those guys feel, the pressure they feel."