Ron Prettyman of Southern California College may not be the only athletic director around who relays balls during batting practice and sits in the dugout during games, although it's likely.
Chances are even better that Brian Tagney is the only sports information director you'll find who doubles as first-base coach.
Most certain of all, though, is that Mark Deushane, a redshirt pitcher, is the only player coaching his peers on his own college team, making the decisions from how long to take batting practice to when to pull a pitcher to when to use a pinch-hitter.
SCC was 18-28 when the team voted for Deushane, 22, to take over. Prettyman had fired Coach John Hardin and had decided the players were mature enough to choose whether the school would seek an interim coach or the players would manage themselves. Now the Vanguards are 23-31, having won the the NAIA District III title last weekend, with 68 hits and 17 home runs in five playoff games.
More important, they are as few as three victories away from the NAIA College World Series. SCC meets Hawaii Hilo today in the first round of the four-team Area 1 tournament in Oregon City, Ore. Win three straight or fight through the double-elimination brackets, and SCC is bound for Lewiston, Ida., and its second NAIA College World Series in three years.
"So far, so good," said Deushane, who decided to sit out the year after undergoing early-season surgery for a torn rotator cuff. "We all kind of throw in what we think will work, but it's ultimately up to me."
Deushane, who had never coached so much as a Little League team before and who now revels in remembering he was cut from baseball tryouts at La Habra High School, says there have been no problems.
"It's been real smooth," he said.
The unusual coaching configuration at the Costa Mesa school came into being just more than two weeks ago when Prettyman fired Hardin, ostensibly for failing to make a game trip to La Verne. Hardin, who was working more than one other job to make ends meet, reportedly decided it was a game he could miss, and handed the lineup card and a uniform to Tagney, a 22-year-old student who earns a scholarship by working as the school's sports information director.
Hardin was dismissed the next day.
Prettyman said the incident was simply "the last straw," and that SCC, a 900-student school that is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, had notified Hardin in March that he would not be rehired. The issue, apparently, was spiritual leadership, or what Prettyman and others interpreted as a lack thereof. "Because we're a Christian institution, it's important that our coaches be strong upstanding Christian leaders," said Prettyman, who said he also questioned the spiritual leadership of a volleyball coach he fired in midseason two years ago. "I think (Hardin) would have liked to return, but he was just not fitting in."
For his part, Hardin said he is "not bitter," but did not know precisely what was expected of him in the way of spiritual leadership when he took the job.
A main issue, Tagney said, was lack of regular prayer at practice.
"The reason John didn't work out was not his coaching ability," Tagney said. "He just wasn't the right piece of the puzzle for SCC. We needed someone to be a cornerstone."
Although only one regular-season series remained, Prettyman decided to make the change.
"It's something that would have been easier for me to sweep under the rug, play to the end of the year and take care of it later," Prettyman said. "But in my opinion, that's compromising, and that's not what our school stands for."
Which is how SCC came to have a figurehead head coach in Prettyman, who is responsible for administrative duties and is officially the coach, and a team run by two 22-year-olds--Deushane and Tagney, his assistant.
None of this seems to be of much concern to the players. Their attention, appropriately enough, is focused on winning the area championship. SCC is champion of District III, considered to be the strongest among the four districts that compete for the area title.
Although the Vanguards have a losing record, they owe much of it to a 2-9 start against largely Division I and Division II opponents. They have beaten Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine.
Now all that's left is an attempt to make it back to the NAIA College World Series.
Jeff Motske, an outfielder and sometime first baseman, is the only player other than Deushane remaining from the 1985 team that finished second in the NAIA College World Series. "We can hit well, we need our pitching to hold out," said Motske, who since the first district tournament game last week has taken to wearing a T-shirt marred by holes and fraying at the collar. On the front: NAIA College World Series, 1985.
Hitting has brought the Vanguards this far.
Seven players are batting over .300. Freshman catcher Carlos Salazar has hit 16 home runs, including four in the five district playoff games. First baseman Steve Overeem has hit nine, and pitcher Mike Lomeli, who played at Saddleback College and Chapman before SCC, has hit eight--three of them in one game last weekend.
"It's going to take a little bit of luck, which we've had so far," Motske said.
"Besides," he said, looking down at his shirt, "I need a new one."
As for Deushane, he knows his coaching days are numbered.
"It's been fun, but I respect coaches," Deushane said. "When I'm back next year, I'll be back to being a player."