The Meggs Dynasty
Now in his ninth year as skipper of Chico State’s baseball Wildcats, Coach Lindsay Meggs has built nationwide reputation
On the day after his team was named No. 1 in the nation for Division II schools, Chico State baseball coach Lindsay Meggs is walking briskly through the halls of the Acker Gym building on the Chico State University campus. He’s holding a clipboard in one hand, a key ring in the other and looking for an empty classroom where he and a reporter, yours truly, can hold an interview.
Meggs is having trouble finding an empty room, but he doesn’t want to walk all the way over to Nettleton Field, where the baseball offices are located.
“I guess we can do it in the coaches’ locker room,” he says. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Before I can answer, Meggs is poking keys into the door lock. Failing to find one that works, he excuses himself and disappears around a corner. I sense he’s mildly irritated.
A few minutes later, he comes back and beckons me to follow him. Meggs has a five-step head start, and he walks at such a quick pace I am unable to close the distance between us, unless I break into a jog.
I want to write this story because of Meggs’ amazing success at Chico State that includes two national championships in the past three years. I was told early on that the coach shuns the spotlight and interviews with him are hard to land. After a few calls and voicemail messages left between us, he’s agreed to do this one as long as its focus is on the team and not him.
With a lifetime record here of 341-143-2, Meggs has won more games than any coach in Chico State history in any sport. He’s put the school on the nation’s baseball map by building a Division II dynasty in his nine years here. His players, assistant coaches and associates seem to share a deep respect for him. The team’s success has sprouted a growing legion of fans, both student and non-student. The coach has been courted by Division I schools. Yet he stays in Chico—at least for now.
Still, there are some close to the baseball program who’ll tell you that Meggs is under-appreciated by the school administration.
Unlike other instructors or professors at Chico State, Meggs’ success over the years can be clearly measured. His teams have garnered national attention for the school. Still, he makes a relatively modest $63,000 per year working under an “annually renewable contract,” according to the school’s Public Relations Office.
That means in each of the past nine years, since he came here from Long Beach City College in 1993, Meggs has had to come to the administration with hat in hand to negotiate a new contract.
By comparison, Chico State basketball coach Puck Smith makes $74,000 per year on an annual contract. Coach Phil Swimley, longtime coach of the U.C. Davis Aggies baseball team, recently came out of retirement and signed a three-year contract that pays an annual salary of $60,000. Over at Sonoma State, John Goelz, now in his 17th year as a baseball coach, also works from a single-year contract and will be making $61,300 beginning April 1.
The baseball team has to double as the grounds crew, marking the foul lines and keeping the field in shape between games.
“I’ve seen Lindsay out there sweeping off the plate between a double header,” says one college employee familiar with the team. “They have to do everything except mow the grass.”
The baseball program does not generate money for the school—and that is most likely the case at Division I colleges as well. The sport at this level simply does not hold nearly the fan nor network television interest of college basketball or football. Even at schools like UCLA, Meggs’ alma mater, a baseball game with cross-town rival USC is lucky to draw 2,000 fans. And the only college baseball you’ll see on network TV is when the Division I college World Series rolls around.
That is because Major League Baseball, unlike the NFL or the NBA, has a minor-league system that sucks up the best young prospects, often right out of high school. So college baseball suffers, playing out of the limelight with only local press coverage and little if any national notice until the championships in late spring.
In the locker room before an afternoon practice, players getting ready to take the field talk quietly and respectfully of their coach.
“You are never scared to go and talk to him about anything,” says Adam Montarbaro, a right-handed pitcher and senior transfer from San Jose State.
Meggs, he adds, is gifted with “people skills.”
Patrick Choate is a right-handed pitcher and also a transfer from San Jose State.
“I was there [in San Jose] for two years, and things just didn’t work out,” Choate explains. “So I was looking for a place to transfer to, and I knew here I’d be coming to a program where I could get a lot of wins. After talking with [Meggs], he just sealed the deal.”
Richard Gregory, an assistant coach for the past year, played a couple of seasons for Meggs, including the ‘97 championship year. An outfielder from San Jose, Gregory had signed to go to Cumberland College in Tennessee by the time he first talked with Meggs.
“He called me, and I’d already signed, but I was having some problems,” he said. “He told me, ‘If things don’t work out let me know.'”
Gregory says Meggs is a tireless but low-key recruiter.
“He checks all the junior colleges in the state and spends a lot of time researching,” he explains. “But you know, he’s not big on himself.”
And Gregory confirmed that Meggs’ success has caught the attention of other schools.
“Sure he gets offers from bigger schools for more money, but he never brings it up, never talks about it.
“I think he’s the greatest coach I’ve ever been around. You don’t really realize until after it’s over how well he coached. He’s just got a good feel for the game, and he’s a great motivator.”
Assistant coach Dave Taylor first met Meggs in 1988 when they coached together at Cal Lutheran, a Division III school. They got together again in 1997. Taylor had been head coach at the University of Wyoming, which dropped its baseball program after the 1996 season, and Meggs brought him to Chico.
He says a big part of the success in 1997 was the creation of Nettleton Field, which was built to house the Chico Heat professional baseball club. A deal was worked out between the school and the owners of the Heat that allowed the Wildcats to play its home games in Nettleton, which was actually a $2 million refurbishing of Chico State’s old baseball field.
“The guys we got in 1997 came here because of that facility,” Taylor says. “Meggs has worked hard at recruiting, and he’s networked with junior-college coaches who know what kind of program he runs.
“They send guys they know can play under a disciplined system—guys that are selfish or out for themselves don’t make it here. So we don’t always get the best players, we get the grinder-type guys. The guys who will work a little bit harder than the guys they are playing [against].”
For our interview, Meggs finally commandeers the sports information office, where information director Teresa Clements good-naturedly surrenders her space, assuring a grateful Meggs that it is no inconvenience.
Meggs is wearing a gray sweater that matches the color of his intense eyes. He seldom smiles but has a pleasant, chiseled face. He sports short-cropped, sandy-blond hair and a stocky, athletic body. You get the feeling within seconds of meeting him that he doesn’t suffer fools—or for that matter laziness, chronic complainers or over-inflated egos—easily.
Anyone who’s ever spent any time in organized sports will recognize the 39-year-old Meggs as a classic archetype of coaches. He is of the won’t-put-up-with-bullshit, tough-but-fair genre—the type of leader who commands respect from his players not out of fear, but rather by instilling an intense desire to achieve.
Meggs grew up and went to high school in the Bay Area town of Saratoga, where his father was, and still is, an attorney.
“I was fortune enough to grow up in a family where we didn’t have to have a job after school,” he says. “Those things were not expected of us, so we were encouraged to pursue extracurricular activities like sports and arts and whatever else.”
He said it was just natural for him and his brother to get involved in athletics.
His brother followed his father’s footsteps and became an attorney, a profession Meggs thought about entering.
“I went to law school for a year, so I know what that grind can be like,” he says. “And that kind of drove me back onto the field.
“Today [my father and brother] sit there and say they would trade places with me in a minute because they get a lot of excitement and satisfaction out of our success. But I respect them because make such a difference in the world.”
Meggs played third base at UCLA from 1981 to 1984, where he says the team had “moderate success at best. We were in the middle of the pack in that conference all four years I was there.”
As a player, he says, the only chance he had was to play hard.
“I was smart enough to realize that,” he modestly explains. “I was so limited that that was the only way I could succeed.”
Still, Meggs was named an All-PAC-10 infielder in 1983.
He did play one year of minor-league ball for the Kansas City Royals organization.
“I got drafted as a junior in college by the Milwaukee Brewers, but I didn’t sign,” he says. “I went back to school my senior year and was drafted again, this time by the Royals. I played one summer with them. That was it. One season, that was all she wrote.”
Today Meggs is married to his wife Teresa, whom he met while at UCLA. They have three kids, Joe, 11, Kelly, 10, and Jack, who is 6. Teresa is a registered nurse.
“Her dad was a college football coach at Cal State Fullerton,” Meggs says, “so her whole life has revolved around sports. She the ideal coach’s wife in that she is very supportive.”
For obvious reasons Meggs likes this year’s team but says even with a 24 and 1 record, it is still too early to tell where this squad fits in with the others he’s fielded at Chico State.
“On paper we’re about as balanced as we’ve ever been,” he says. “The pitching, the offense and defensively we really like the group we have. Still, we haven’t been with them long enough. We haven’t been through a rough stretch that will tell us what their level of toughness is, how they will respond when things aren’t going as well.”
That level of toughness, he says, is what made the championship teams of ‘97 and ‘99 different from all the other teams he’s coached here.
“Those teams had this toughness that they displayed during the down times. It’s the ability to hang with it and keep grinding. At this point, with this team, it’s just impossible to say how these guys compare.”
I tell Meggs that Coach Taylor used the word “grinders” to describe the type of player they are looking for.
“This game is 200 years old,” he says. “We’re not so far ahead of the curve that we’re teaching how to hit in a way that’s not being done somewhere else. We’re not teaching a revolutionary way to throw a breaking ball.
“What we are absolutely committed to is a team concept and the fact that the game never changes. It’s always the same, and those people who get bored with that same routine fall off the wagon in our program. It’s the guys who continue to push and are willing to grind and therefore improve and play their best baseball at the end of the year, those are the guys we’re looking for.”
His style, he says, calls for self-discipline.
“I think there is a difference between being a disciplinarian and being demanding,” he allows. “We want our guys to understand that the demands we put on them, whether it be the academic ones or their behavior on the field or their level of effort, are no less than the demands that they should have for themselves.
“Once we get them to understand that concept and they have to demand those same things from themselves, all of a sudden the process starts to flow pretty smoothly and guys understand what’s expected of them. Then you don’t have to baby-sit anymore, and the wins start to take care of themselves.
“People have described me as a disciplinarian, and I think that’s accurate. But I really think that the fact we put demands on our guys that other people aren’t willing to follow up on in terms of consequences separates us from some of the other programs.”
Meggs says he holds a team meeting before the players ever step foot on the field. Rules and policies are explained, and the players are asked to set goals for themselves
“So we say, ‘If you’re telling us your goal is to win a national championship, then you’re telling me and the rest of the coaching staff that you expect us to hold you accountable for those goals. You’d better be prepared for what you are getting yourself into.’ It’s kind of a binding contract between us, and that is how we begin the whole process.”
He says he is also realistic with his players, telling them very few players ever get the chance to play at a professional level.
“I think everybody who comes here has the aspiration to play professional baseball,” he says. “They don’t really know the realities of how short that career can be or [for] that matter how few of them make it to the big leagues and make a career out of it. Once they understand the numbers, it’s a little bit more motivating to them to do the work in the classroom.”
Meggs says he is happy at Chico State but has had offers from other schools.
“Yeah, I’ve had some opportunities and some conversations,” he says, choosing his words carefully. “My whole motivation for coaching is not tied to the Division I or II level. I would coach the same way if I were at a high school. Coaching to me is coaching. Whether I am here for another year or five more years is going to be relevant to what opportunities are out there.”
I tell him I’ve heard he’d like to coach at his alma mater, UCLA, should the opportunity arise. For the first time in our interview, I see just a hint of a smile.
“Yeah, I think there is part of me that would see that challenge as being one that I would love to take on to see if the way we do things here would be successful at that level. I loved playing there. I loved that university. I think it’s a pretty special place, and that has always been in the back of my mind in terms of a possibility down the road. Sure.”
A few hours later, Meggs is on the practice field addressing his team. All eyes are on him. There is no talking, no goofing around. And this is a team with a 24-1 record and a No. 1 national ranking.
They should be swaggering. But they aren’t.
The team is set to travel by bus to western Oregon for a weekend series. But uncertain weather conditions means they may have to leave a day early.
“If we leave tomorrow, how many will have problems meeting academics [missing classes]? Let me see a show of hands.”
There are none.
The players will get no spring break and were out of town on St. Patrick’s Day, Chico’s infamous green-beer-guzzling holiday geared toward college students.
On his command the team then breaks for bunting practice. The first few batters lay down perfect bunts. Photographer Tom Angel is moving among the team, taking pictures.
But then comes a series of poor executions in which the baseball jumps off the bat high into the air. Meggs winces, then, using rather colorful adjectives, announces that if he sees one more bunt popped into the air, “Everybody runs!”
The next batter squares around as the ball comes in from the pitching machine. “Ping!” goes the aluminum bat, sending the ball straight up. You can almost feel the collective groan.
“OK. That’s it. Run!” a frustrated Meggs yells. And the players take off. Then he turns to Angel, points and snaps tersely, “OK, that’s enough.”
The photo shoot is over.
The next day Meggs calls, apologizing “for running you out of practice.”
“It’s just that sometimes we lose our focus, and that’s what was happening there,” he says.
I tell him not to worry, that I understand the process.
It’s a process that could take Lindsay Meggs back to UCLA any day now.