SEATTLE – Looking back on his time with Lindsay Meggs – who could infuriate and uplift him, sometimes on the same day – Tim Hairston has an unshakable conclusion.
“He’s the greatest believer I’ve ever met,” Hairston said.
Hairston played on Meggs’ breakthrough Chico State teams in the mid-1990s and coached under him when the Wildcats won the 1999 Division II national title, one of two by Meggs. He watched how Meggs, emphasizing – and embodying – such qualities as discipline and grit, built a powerhouse at a school that had won just seven games the year before he took over.
“He was able to transfer this sort of toughness and edge he has that you then take on and believe you can take on the world,” said Hairston, now a salesman in the Bay Area. “He makes you think, ‘Those guys over there don’t deserve to beat us.’ ”
There are those who say Meggs, at age 55 and with more than three decades of coaching under him, has mellowed. Meggs will tell you that, in fact. He said he’s able to overlook some things now he never would before. He believes coaching his sons gave him a newfound empathy into the struggles that players go through.
“Joe ruined it,” Hairston said with a laugh. “When he had to coach Joe and Jack, he had to soften the knife.”
But at his core, as he prepares to take his Washington Huskies baseball team into its first College World Series, Meggs is still the same guy Hairston and others at Chico State observed firsthand, the one who demands much of his players and doesn’t flinch.
“I saw him on TV talking about how tough his team was this year, and I’d correct him and say, ‘You always rolled out tough teams,’ ” said Dave Taylor, who coached with Meggs at four schools and succeeded him at Chico State.
“They didn’t necessarily come to Chico or wherever he was as tough individuals, but the environment he put them in, sometimes not so pleasant for the guys, brought out the toughness in them.
“In baseball, it’s not always who’s better, taller or faster, but who’s mentally tough that they buy into his preparation and the environment of details he puts them through. A lot can’t handle him or his environment. He finds the guys that do, and it translates into success.”
Meggs uses a John Wooden quote as one of his guiding principles: “The worst thing you can do for kids are the things they can do for themselves.”
There are many who believe that style of coaching doesn’t work for the modern athlete. Meggs has heard that criticism and tried to adjust – too far at times, he believes.
“What some people do, I think they underestimate the kids,” Meggs said. “They think that’s what they want, and that’s what they need. I don’t personally think that.”
Meggs said his ultimate goal each year is to build a team that is good at winning. That means being prepared to the ultimate degree, it means a nearly fanatical emphasis on fundamentals, and it means driving them hard so when the pressure is most intense – such as last weekend in the Super Regionals, and this weekend at the College World Series – they don’t wilt.
Meggs readily admits that his prevailing method is tough love – “It’s love, but it’s tough love,” he clarified.
It’s a style that served him well at Chico State, where he went to the World Series seven times in 10 years. It served him well at Indiana State, where he turned around a moribund program in three years. And it is working at Washington, where the Huskies hope to make Omaha an annual expectation.
“Our kids have responded to us challenging them to be accountable for everything they do,” he said. “That’s never going to change for us. That’s the world we live in. We want this to be a slice of real life for our kids when they come to practice and leave here when they’re done. I think we get them prepared for the world. That’s our No. 1 objective.”
It’s not like Meggs is a hardhearted, wild-eyed tyrant. In person, he is pleasant and articulate. He reveres his family – wife Teresa, the two boys, Joe and Jack, and daughter Kelly. Both Taylor and Hairston said their favorite memory of working with Meggs was the laughs and wisdom they shared in the baseball office and practice fields. Hairston remembers a poignant moment when a teammate’s girlfriend was crying as he boarded the team bus for a road trip. Meggs gave her a quick, consoling hug.
But both of them took notice, while watching the Super Regionals on television, when UW freshmen delivered in pressure situations, when senior Levi Jordan dropped down a critical bunt in the 10th inning of the deciding game, and when the Huskies kept executing as the heat increased.
“It’s just the detail things most players get bored with, bunting and baserunning, team defense, cuts and relays,” Taylor said. “Most teams do it once a week, once every two weeks. We did it every day.”
A four-year starter at third base at UCLA from 1981-84, Meggs was the type of player he covets on his own teams, a Bruins co-captain his final two years.
“Lindsay was a leader. He wasn’t a home run hitter, but he did have a little pop in his bat,” said his UCLA coach, Gary Adams, now 78 and a winemaker in Bear Valley Springs, California. “When I left the school, Lindsay was tied for the most doubles with Torey Lovullo, the Diamondbacks manager. He was a hard-nosed player at the hot corner. He wasn’t afraid to block the ball with his chest, pick it up and throw the guy out. He wasn’t afraid to get dirty.”
Adams said he used to tell his players, when he would get on them, that he didn’t want to make them bitter; he wanted to make them better. He sees some of that sentiment in Meggs, his former student, with whom he has stayed in close contact.
“He’s one of those managers or coaches that maybe the players don’t all at once fall in love with him, but over time they know he’s there to help them get better. … He’s a coach that grows on you.”
Adams used to employ young women as UCLA bat girls. One of them became Meggs’ wife.
“I feel responsible for getting Lindsay and Teresa together,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a great family.”
Meggs had a brief pro stint with the Kansas City Royals, who drafted him in the 15th round in 1984. He hit .238 in rookie ball with Eugene, then was unceremoniously cut by the Royals when he tore his rotator cuff diving for a ball while playing second base.
“I wasn’t going anywhere in the game because of my limitations,” Meggs said. “When they found out I was going to be on the shelf, they just cut me loose. That’s how they did it back then.”
Meggs’ next step was to attend law school at California Western in San Diego. His father and brother were both attorneys, and he figured he was destined to be one as well.
“That’s what the family did, so that’s what I did,” Meggs said. “The game can chew you up and spit you out. I felt I needed a break from baseball.”
But after a year, he married Teresa and decided that law school was a financial drain. He took a year off to return to his native Silicon Valley to work at a startup company run by a UCLA baseball alum. Not long after, one of Meggs’ friends, Ritch Price, became the baseball coach at De Anza College in Cupertino. As Meggs tells it, Price asked him if he could help out on weekends. Price recalls Meggs calling him and saying, “I can’t stand being in an office. Any way I can help on weekends?”
Either way, he joined Price at De Anza, and the school won the Northern California junior college title. Law school, and the business world, evaporated for good.
“I got the itch, the bug, and decided that coaching was the route to go,” Meggs said.
Meggs went back to school to get a master’s in education/physical education at Azusa Pacific in 1992. Meanwhile, he had coaching stints at Oxnard College, Cal Lutheran, and Long Beach City College before landing at Chico State in 1994.
It was in Chico, the quaint town in the Sacramento valley near the foothills of both the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, that Meggs found his coaching groove. He guided the Wildcats to a 538-228-4 record in 13 seasons that paved the way for construction of one of the best Division II ballparks in the country. Washington’s turnaround was fueled by its reconstructed stadium in 2014.
“Everywhere Lindsay goes, a stadium follows,” Hairston said.
It was at Chico that Meggs honed his communications skills, which Price, now the coach at Kansas, believes is a great strength. It was also where he perfected his tough-love mantra.
“He’s one of the most intense individuals I’ve ever met in coaching,” said Price, “and I say that as a compliment. He pushes his players to be the best they can be and overachieve. Look at what Washington has accomplished – it’s a direct result of his coaching style.”
Huskies pitcher Joe DeMers said Meggs “instills toughness and grit into you from the first day. There’s no excuses on our team.”
Hairston believes there is bonding, a sort of shared misery, that builds within a team as a response to Meggs’ demands. You might bristle while you’re in the middle of it, but Hairston also feels players come to appreciate that Meggs has their best interests at heart.
“The success would come and salve all the wounds,” Hairston said. “A lot of guys have gone on to do good things in life, which leads me to believe it’s well worth it.”
Price believes Meggs could have won five more titles if he had stayed at Chico. Many thought Meggs was a lifer, the way he had the program humming and as much as his family loved the community. Meggs turned down many overtures from Division I schools over the years.
But in 2006, Chico State was one out – one pitch – from a third national title, holding a one-run lead over Tampa. But Tampa rallied to tie the score and win it in extra innings, an excruciating loss that crushed Meggs.
“I needed a change at that point,” Meggs said. “I told my wife, ‘I’m kind of burned out at this level because we had to do so many things to make it work.’ ”
So the Meggs family took off for Terre Haute, Indiana, where Lindsay became coach at Indiana State in 2007. Asked if he would have stayed at Chico if the Wildcats had held the lead in that game, Meggs pondered the question for a while.
“That’s a great question,” he said. “I don’t have the answer to that one.”
By 2009, his third year at Indiana State, Meggs was Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year after guiding the Sycamores to second place, their highest finish since 1998.
At that point, Washington and a return to the West Coast beckoned. From his introductory news conference, and then every day since, Meggs pointed the program toward Omaha. When his Indiana State athletic director, Ron Prettyman, moved to an NCAA administration job in Omaha, he invited Meggs to join a committee that convened at the College World Series. Meggs instantly declined.
“I shot back to him that I’m not going out there until I take a team out there,” Meggs said.
And now he’s doing just that – and doing it the way he always has, with love and toughness.
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