With one heartfelt postgame press conference speech, Texas City native and Sam Houston State head baseball coach Matt Deggs became an overnight sensation, but the foundation for his inspirational words took years to establish.
Deggs began his closing remarks at the Bearkats’ press conference after their elimination from the NCAA Tournament’s Super Regional last Sunday by explaining how his faith in God turned his life around “full circle” following his firing from Texas A&M in 2010 — changing him from a “transactional coach” more interested in results for himself to a “transformational coach” more interested in changing his players’ lives for the better.
“The one thing I can say about that presser is that it’s not about me, it’s not about this team — I was just the vessel that delivered God’s message,” Deggs said Thursday, reflecting back on the press conference. “I felt strongly that I was called to do that, and so I did it.”
Later in his speech, Deggs touched on getting second chances and praised his players for their selflessness and their willingness to battle through injuries or cede playing time to a fellow teammate.
“This is rare in this day and age, rare in a microwave society where it’s all about entitlement and all about, ’when do I get to play?’” Deggs said during his remarks at the press conference. “This is what I wish our country would get back to. There’s no greater honor than to sacrifice for a brother. And that encapsulates and embodies this team to a T. That’s why they’re so lovable.”
Deggs’ speech almost instantly went viral, being reported by numerous national news outlets and shared far and wide on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.
“The impact that I know of has been, literally, all over the world,” Deggs said Thursday. “I’ve received thousands of emails and texts and phone calls. And I actually had to start a Twitter account — I’ve never been on Twitter — just to thank people.”
And, of course, a great concentration of that praise came from his hometown.
“Texas City, Texas is my home, and we love everybody there, and we could really feel all the love and support,” Deggs said. “So, thank you.”
Reaching new heights
Last season, Sam Houston State won both the Southland Conference regular season and tournament championships for the first time in program history, and had a strong showing against eventual College World Series finalist Arizona before bowing out in the regional tournament, raising expectations this season for the Bearkats and their third-year head coach.
“There were a lot of expectations for this ball club,” Deggs said. “We came out, for the first time in school history, ranked inside the top 25. We jumped out to a quick start — 13-0 in the league, which was a record.”
While the Bearkats brought an experienced group determined to go above and beyond what they achieved last year, it was still no easy task to get back into the NCAA baseball postseason, especially for a school the size of Sam Houston State.
There were some bumps in the road after the Bearkats’ hot start, but they got a morale-boosting road win over Texas A&M that ignited an eight-game winning streak to close out the regular season, which included a perfect run through the Southland Conference Tournament for another league title.
Sam Houston State entered the Lubbock Regional in a loaded bracket featuring perennial powers in hosts Texas Tech and last season’s playoff nemesis Arizona.
The Bearkats edged Arizona before falling to Texas Tech in the double-elimination bracket. They beat Arizona again and stunned the college baseball world with back-to-back wins over No. 5 nationally-ranked Texas Tech to claim the school’s first-ever regional championship and book their first-ever trip to the Super Regionals.
“We were unafraid to crash and burn,” Deggs said. “This team had no fear of anything. There’s a lot of love on this ball club. We had put in a lot of work, and we knew we deserved to win. So, there was really no doubt with how this was going to go down.”
Against hosts Florida State in the Super Regional, Sam Houston State was unable to preserve a lead late in Game 1, and long rain delays wreaked havoc on the Bearkats’ chances in Game 2.
“It was a remarkable run,” Deggs said. “We got to play 11 postseason games. There’s only a few teams in the country that can say that.”
With Deggs creating culture of unity, family, trust and an expectation to play the game with intensity, the stage will be set for the Bearkats to continue to reach new heights moving forward.
“We look at this in terms of climbing a mountain,” Deggs said. “Let’s take Everest. There are thousands of people that attempt it, but there are only a few that get to the first or second summit, and very, very, very few get all the way to the top to plant their flag.
“So, we got to the second summit and then we were told we have to turn around and go back down,” Deggs continued. “At that juncture, you have to walk all the way back, just like you walked all the way up. Then, you’ve got to sit in base camp for a few months, and then you’ve got to go home. Then, you’ve got to come back, and then you’ve got to sit in base camp. Then, you have to walk all the way back up.”