June 21, 2018 11:06:54 AM
OMAHA, Neb. -- Mike Brown's office in the Mississippi State baseball team's complex prominently features a wall decal that's never meant more than it does now. It's made to look like stone, even though it's stuck to the wall via adhesive, displaying a Harry Truman quote that's gotten him and the coaches around him through a trying season.
"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."
The noble idea is one Brown has carried with him for his entire coaching career, but much like the full-time assistant coach role he holds now, it was also one required of him in a time of need.
Brown is an assistant coach, alongside Jake Gautreau, on the staff of MSU interim head coach Gary Henderson. Joined by volunteer assistant/coordinator of camps A.J. Gaura and director of operations Trevor Fitts, they are the interim staff that has directed MSU (39-27) to the College World Series and now within a win of the national championship series. Getting here took poised work under hectic circumstances, steadying a program on the cusp of freefall, finding that peace within themselves before they could project it to a roster desperate for it.
They found that to be the easiest part of this transition.
"It was second nature," Brown told The Dispatch. "We're coaches: we love being on the field, we love baseball, we love teaching, we love our players. It was easy."
It started with an early-morning staff meeting on what Gautreau labelled Doomsday Tuesday: the day Andy Cannizaro's resignation became official and the staff had to prepare its team for a 12-day road trip.
It was a short meeting. The events of that day -- and the team's reaction to the three-game losing streak that started the season -- allowed them to do what they've always wanted.
"I think the kids were thirsty to get better and learn. Once the main distraction left, it just became a baseball team: they were here to get better and to win, they're just like any other baseball team," Brown said. "Our relationship, that was always there. Once the decision was made from the top, it was easy. All the conversations we were having can come to fruition."
For that approach to the situation, Henderson cannot offer his assistant enough praise.
"It was, 'What do we need to do?' And I let them do it," Henderson said. "They're real people, my coaching staff. They're A+ people, I love them."
Before long, the arrangement stopped feeling like something that was thrown together in the midst of a crisis; it started to feel normal, feel right.
If there was a moment when this felt helter-skelter, no one on staff can remember it.
"I never felt interim as a head coach. I don't think that works. I think you have to jump in with ownership and accountability," Henderson said. "I never looked at it as a one-year job. I looked at it as throwing everything into it and seeing if we can get this staff back."
Gautreau added, "This coaching staff never behaved like an interim coaching staff. (Henderson's) been doing for this 30 years, man. He's a pro. He's really good at what he does; because of that, there was never a feel here of an interim group."
For some of them, the relationship started far before this season: Henderson successfully recruited Brown to Kentucky from Cuesta College in 2005, where he played the final three years of his college career. Brown and Gautreau have become good friends in the last year, as have their wives, Sarah Brown and Erin Gautreau. Both families have young children, two Gautreau sons and two Brown daughters.
If given the opportunity, they would keep this arrangement going for years to come. Why would they change a thing?
"We took an absolutely miserable situation and turned it into something that was extremely positive," Henderson said.
The experience has helped Jake Gautreau build on some of the best baseball memories of his career with even better ones in the same city.
A poster from the 2001 College World Series is proudly displayed in Gautreau's office back in Starkville, when he played in it for the Tulane Green Wave. He will remember forever the feeling of knocking the Nebraska Cornhuskers out of the tournament, "in front of 30,000 Nebraska fans." In a way, getting to the same pinnacle as a coach, and a coach of this particular group, was more rewarding: he gets to enjoy it for 35 players and five coaches, most of whom get to live this dream for the first time.
He wants this sensation again. Gautreau and everyone else on staff would love the opportunity to take a very similar roster to these heights again next season, but there remains no guarantee they will get that chance.
The decision on that will come soon enough, but for the mean time -- as much as they don't act like one -- they are still an interim coaching staff. They hope the next few days bring the school its first national championship and themselves a solid job status.
"This is my new home," Gautreau said. "My family's thriving, this is the best baseball program in the country. You want to be a part of things like this; I could coach for another 30 years and maybe not be a part of anything as special as this run is."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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