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Two coaches, two styles and tons of wins

I don’t know how many athletic programs can claim to have both their baseball and softball coaches reach significant plus-500 win milestones in the same year, but I can’t imagine there have been that many. Earlier this season Towson Tigers baseball coach Mike Gottlieb earned his 700th career victory as the head baseball coach and softball coach Lisa Costello won her 600th career game.

For both coaches, who were one-time Tiger assistants, every one of their victories have come with Towson.

Maybe the more amazing part is that one program has seen so much loyalty and commitment from both the administration and the coaches. But while both coaches have been successful over decades of coaching their programs, both have had different styles that have led to their success, proving there is no one blueprint for success; but rather that belief and commitment in one’s process will get the job done.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to both Gottlieb and Costello to talk about their careers, their success and how they’ve done it.

Mike Gottlieb: “I needed to adapt”

Mike Gottlieb

Mike Gottlieb is old school. He played in the 1970s (for the Tigers in 1979 and 1980), served a Towson assistant in the early 1980s immediately after his graduation, and started his head coaching career with the Tigers in 1988.

It’s a different world now. The game is different, the state of college athletics is different and most significantly, the student athletes are different. The most successful coaches when Gottlieb came up were the hard-nose disciplinarians, but now the best are more ‘player coaches’. Making that change has been key for Gottlieb and it has allowed him to sustain consistent success over 29 years.

“I grew up under the Vince Lombardi, Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant mentality; yelling and screaming. That’s what I knew.” Gottlieb said. “I don’t know if I was a screamer early on but I could be vocal and hard on kids early. Along the way I realized I needed to adapt because kids were responding less to that kind of coaching. I had to be less vocal and vehement and go about trying to communicate in a different way and that’s been important.”

Mike Gottlieb 2Gottlieb got the job when former coach Billy Hunter was promoted to Athletic Director at Towson. At the time he was 31-years-old. He said in many ways he was ready to be a head coach, but in many other ways he was not. So early in his career he leaned on his assistant coaches for support. One in particular taught him how to effectively interact with his players – the late Marty Smith.

“Marty Smith was a great people person. He was way ahead of his time in terms of communicating with college kids,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb has bit his tongue more and more over the years, figuring out different ways to properly motivate his players based on their individual personalities. But at the same time, he has been able to stay true to himself. Gottlieb is like a stern, disciplinarian father. Maybe he talks to his players differently, but when he has to discipline a player to teach them a lesson, he won’t hesitate.

Gottlieb recalls one player he had play for him from 2003 to 2006. He was an All-Conference player, but he was “a little negligent in his academics” and would skip class. Gottlieb had no choice but to suspend him one time and said he regularly butted heads with him. At times he said they would not even speak. When he graduated, Gottlieb did not exactly know what to think of it. He didn’t know if he left happy, maybe not. But a few years ago when it was announced that Towson was going to cut the baseball team, that player, out of the blue, sent an email to the “powers that be at Towson, instilling the virtues of the program, myself, what it meant to him and what kind of person I was. It was all positive.”

That meant a lot to Gottlieb.

“It’s gratifying that after they are removed from the situation they realize what you were trying to do and they feel better about it,” he said.

And that has been his motivation throughout his career. On March 26, Gottlieb won his 700th game as the Tigers beat Kennesaw State. He’s won three conference titles, including one his first year as head coach, and beaten top ACC squads like Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Maryland and Wake Forest, but he said none of that actually means too much to him.

For him, there is a satisfaction knowing that he created a community that could rally together to save the baseball program from being cut. He’s created lasting relationships with players who regularly call, text or email him to ask how he is doing and how the current team is doing.

“In terms of myself, I’m not a numbers guy,” he said. “It’s nice to do it (win) and it’s a credit to all the kids and assistants I’ve had over the year. … Did I have something to do with that? I guess, but if you look from ’88 forward I don’t have any at bars and I haven’t pitched any. … It’s nice to get a lot of wins but I don’t do this for my own lifetime record. That’s not why I’m persevering. I do it because you get a lot of self-satisfaction if the thing go well and you take a lot of pride in doing things right and not cutting corners.”

Lisa Costello: “Believe in yourself”

Lisa Costello

When Lisa Costello took over as Towson’s head softball coach in 1996 she wasn’t quite sure what to think of the job. She was only making $10,000 to be a full-time coach, and had another full-time job and was going to graduate school. On top of it, she only won 10 games. The next year she only won 12 games. That was a lot of work for little pay and not very much success.

But Costello loved softball. She wasn’t too far removed from winning Division III national championships and being an All-American at Trenton State (now known as The College of New Jersey), and was nowhere near ready to give it up.

So she stuck with it. And if she could give any advice to a young coach, that would be it: “to stick to it and believe in yourself.”

“When I look back at it now as an older coach, looking at a younger coach ‘what was I thinking?’,” she said. “But stick with it and stay true to what you believe in.”

In just her fourth year as Towson’s head coach the Tigers finished as runners up in the America East Conference, going from 10 wins in 1996 to 33 wins in 1999. Costello has led Towson to at least 30 wins in 14 of the following 18 seasons. And they are only six wins away from another 30 win season with 12 regular season games and the postseason remaining.

Lisa Costello 2On February 27, Costello earned her 600th career victory as the Tigers bear Rider. All of them have been with Towson after being promoted to head coach after a two-year stint as an assistant.

“Especially early in my career I was going to do this to get experience and move on,” she said. “I thought I would find a bigger and better program but as I was here they put more into the program and made Towson athletics into a bigger program and it started to mirror what I would look for. So once I established something here and had the support that I’ve had all long, why go some place when you already found what you want?”

And off the field, what she’s ultimately wanted is to be able to make Towson softball one big family. It would have been easy for Costello to pick a certain game or moment as the proudest moment of her career, but to her the proudest she is, is not even during the season.

“We have an alumni game in the fall and we have a little get together after the game and to be honest, the time I feel the most proud is when I see those kids over generations of teams hang out and have such a good time with each other and realize this is a family even though a lot of them didn’t play together,” she said. “The only reason they know each other is because they come back for the alumni game … and when I see that it’s like ‘oh my God, I must be doing something right.”

And how that’s happened is by making her players as happy as possible while they are playing and loving Towson softball.

It’s hard for a coach to have just one style and one strategic way to win because their teams change so much based on who they recruit. Some years Costello has won because of her pitching. Some years she had to run more and play small ball. Now her team hits better than before. But while he’s adjusted her schemes, she sticks to her belief that “they’re going to play good if they feel good.”

“For women in general, if you feel good you’re going to play good,” she said. “Guys are different; if they play good they feel good. You got to make them feel confident, you got to make them feel comfortable and got to get ready to feel good. Whatever that takes.”

And that part of her coaching strategy will never change. The rest is fluid and changes with her personnel. But she knows what kind of players and personalities she wants to recruit, and what she has to do to get them to play at their best. And as long as she stick with that plan, keeps getting “like-minded kids” that are competitive, she can’t imagine the ultimate goal of winning a championship will be too far behind.

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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