A lot of casual baseball fans may think winning comes down to home runs and scoring, but those fans are unaware of the philosophy of the winningest coach in Creighton baseball history.
Ed Servais, in his 12th season in Omaha, earned his 400th career victory at Creighton on Sunday against Stony Brook.
He holds a 400-237-1 record as the head coach of the Bluejays baseball program.
The Wisconsin native is also nearing 600 career wins with 582 wins to only 319 losses and two ties as a head coach for more than 20 seasons.
His coaching philosophy emphasizes defense first, followed by pitching and offense.
Last season, the Bluejays committed only 32 errors in 50 games and finished with a .984 fielding percentage to lead the NCAA.
Through 18 games this season, Creighton (11-7) holds a .975 fielding percentage with 18 errors.
“As a young person, you see what the guys do on TV, all of the glove flips and the diving plays and that’s what [they] think that you have to do,” volunteer assistant coach Vicente Cafaro said, “but in reality that’s maybe 10 percent or less of what you do in a 55-game season.
“He does an excellent job of making them know the routine is what you need to do.”
Players note that Servais is a great teacher of the game and does not like to waste their time during practice. Daily workouts run smoothly because they are run correctly.
“That’s what he stresses,” junior infielder Harrison Crawford said. “You can take as many reps as you’d like, but if it’s not done correctly then it’s not even worth our time. He expects nothing but perfect.”
Assistant coach and former Bluejays player Eric Wordekemper agreed that Servais demands precision, but also prepares his players for life after baseball.
“He has a very strict, detailed, concentrated demand out of his players,” Wordekemper said. “The guys that figure it out the quickest have very successful careers at Creighton as a baseball player, but then more so when they leave Creighton. They are very successful in their life as well, and that’s what he tries to instill.”
Servais’ 2011 team finished with the best record in Creighton baseball history. The Bluejays went 45-16 and won the regular-season and Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championships. Current professional players Jonas Dufek (Houston Astros), Ty Blach (San Francisco Giants) and Kurt Spomer (Los Angeles Angels) anchored the pitching staff that led Creighton to 16 one-run wins.
“We won a lot of one-run games, which I think is key to any season,” Servais said. “It was also the opening of TD Ameritrade so there was a lot of excitement around the program and the guys to get over there.”
Creighton was ready for repeat success in 2012, but the Jays stumbled through the conference season with a 6-14 record.
Despite being the No. 8 seed, Creighton won four games in four days in decisive fashion to win the tournament championship.
The Jays outscored their opponents 34-14 to earn the automatic bid into the NCAA regionals.
“In all the conference tournaments I’ve been a part of, the four games we won in Springfield, Missouri was the most dominating four games I’ve seen a Creighton team play in a conference tournament,” Servais said.
The Bluejays earned the No. 4 seed in the Los Angeles regional and ended their season in the championship game against eventual College World Series-participant UCLA.
“The players stayed the course, and it was a magical run at the end,” Servais said.
Servais’ path in the collegiate ranks did not start as successfully as his career in Omaha. After holding an assistant job at St. Mary’s in Minnesota for three seasons, he earned his first head coaching position at Viterbo University. Following one season, Servais returned to Winona, Minnesota as the head coach of the Cardinals in 1989.
Servais finished his first season back at St. Mary’s with a 13-22-1 record.
“My second year as a head coach at a small college we had a really good offensive team, but we were losing games 12-10, 11-9, 10-6,” Servais said. “And after that year I re-evaluated what I was doing and what we were emphasizing and teaching, and they got tired of losing.”
Servais wanted to find something that could be consistent on a daily basis.
“Defense gave us the best chance to stay in the every game and I’m glad I did it,” Servais said. “That was close to 30 years ago that I made that decision to go that route, and we’ve emphasized it ever since.”
His coaching change proved effective as he finished his career at St. Mary’s with six consecutive 20-win seasons and two coach of the year awards before moving onto an assistant coach position at Iowa State.
Servais spent two seasons with the Cyclones and took a position as an assistant coach with the Creighton program in 1998.
He served six years as an assistant under Jack Dahm and was named head coach on
July 29, 2003.
“I think Creighton bought into my system,” Servais said. “I don’t know if there was a system in place when I came. I was lucky enough to work with a good guy in Jack Dahm who gave me a lot of opportunities to express myself as a coach.”
Wordekemper (2003-05) and Cafaro (2008-2009) each had experience playing for Servais before joining his coaching staff.
“I was a part of his first win which was against Air Force in 2004, and now I’ve kind of come full circle; I’m back here coaching on his 400th win, so it’s very bitter sweet,” Wordekemper said. “It’s fun seeing where we were as a player-coach relationship as a young kid and now as adults communicating on a professional level.”
Creighton gave Servais his 401st win with a 4-3 14-innning win over the Air Force Falcons Wednesday night at TD Ameritrade Park. The Jays host Stetson Friday (6:30 p.m.), Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.).