CJ Baker, 2016 Cohort Coaching
Current Position: Coach at Bucknell University
Five years ago if you would have told CJ Baker that coaching at a D1 school in rural Pennsylvania was in his future, he would have never believed you. After all, five years ago he was writing speeches and working directly under the mayor of San Diego. Committed to the idea that he wanted a career where he could affect positive change, CJ figured politics was the right choice; however, he quickly realized that politics was not for him.
Trying to figure out his next step, CJ fell into coaching a youth high school football team in Northern California. Suddenly things clicked. After researching ways to advance his career in athletics, CJ found the IAL M.Ed. program at the University of Washington and knew instantly that it was something he wanted to pursue. Born and raised in Washington state, CJ said despite his hesitations about getting into the program, “It’s been a dream of mine, as many kids around here to be a Husky, so I decided to go for it.”
CJ was a part of the 2016 IAL-coaching cohort, and during the program he interned in Seattle University’s baseball program assisting everyday baseball operations while running individual infield and outfield drills outside of practice.
Now CJ is an Assistant Baseball Coach at Bucknell University, a D1 school known for its rigorous academics in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he continues to make a difference in the lives of student-athletes. He describes, “When I interviewed for my current position I told my head coach I wanted to be somewhere I can make the biggest impact. Being at a small, high academic school has been an awesome place to make that impact. And I’ve stayed true to that.”
CJ firmly believes that he wouldn’t be where he is today if he hadn’t been a part of the IAL program. When CJ graduated he was offered multiple positions at D3 and community colleges in the Greater Seattle area, but he ended up taking a leap and moved across the country to coach on the east coast. A leap that was at the time unexpected, but definitely worthwhile:
“Don’t be afraid to make that jump...it would have been great to stay close to home–I am the biggest family person, I love my parents and I miss Washington every single day I am out there–but if I hadn’t taken that leap, I wouldn’t have seen half the things I’ve seen and gotten to meet half the people I’ve met. It’s so very cool to be able to make that jump.”
CJ has two takeaways from his time getting his master’s: always ask questions and build relationships with your professors and classmates. CJ says he still talks to his IAL professors, especially Athletic Director of San Jose State, Marie Tuite, “Coaching is not easy. There was a time last year were I thought about getting out of it, and phone calls with her helped renew my energy.”
He also stressed making connections while in the IAL program with industry professionals that aren’t tied to the program. For example, he suggested coaching students attend practices at other universities just to see and learn from how other schools run their practices.
“Everybody wants to help a grad student. I blindly emailed the baseball coach at Clemson when I was here and he called me within 45 minutes. This is a guy that has no reason to call or help some grad student and to this day he’s still a guy I connect with and talk to,” he explains, “most of the people in this industry have been where you’re at at one point and they remember what it’s like and want to help you.”
CJ’s parting advice to IAL students and anyone in the industry: be where your feet are. “I heard a saying the other day, ‘You can’t picture gardening your neighbor’s yard when your yard doesn’t look that great.’ Be the best at what you do where you are. Understand that it’s ok to have aspirations and think ahead, but if you think too much about it, it starts to take away from your abilities and affects your mindset. So be where your feet are.”