Despite a new head coach, not much has changed for the North Carolina baseball team heading into this season's opening weekend on Friday.
Longtime head coach Mike Fox might have retired in the COVID-19-lengthened offseason, but his successor, Scott Forbes, was no strange face to UNC's current roster. The coaching change doesn't herald a total revamp of the program — as Fox's long-term assistant, Forbes was Fox's disciple for two decades, first as a player and then as a member of his coaching staff.
"I would say if there was one thing (I could take from Fox) … (it) was the blueprint of how to run a program or organization in general," Forbes said during the team's opening press conference on Monday. "Just the organizational skills, the communication skills, the discipline for our players, to care for our players. The importance of having a practice plan that is by minute, by the hour."
Forbes has been on the Tar Heels' coaching staff a combined 20 years heading into this season; he served as an assistant coach to Fox at North Carolina Wesleyan College in 1998, followed him to Chapel Hill in 1999 and departed UNC in 2002 to work as an assistant at Winthrop until 2005, when he returned to the Tar Heels and never left.
"Coach Forbes has been here for like as long as I've been alive," redshirt sophomore Danny Serretti said. "He knows how things are supposed to go. Nothing changes."
His teammate, redshirt sophomore Austin Love, echoed a similar sentiment.
"I don't really think it's changed that much," Love said. "Obviously we've missed coach Fox, but coach Forbes has been here, so I feel like practices are pretty similar to how coach Fox ran them."
Forbes, for his part, spoke about stepping into the new roll in stride. Nobody working in baseball expects their first game heading a program to come amid a massive disruption to the sport like COVID-19, but with so much continuity for the coaching staff, the transition is coming about as smoothly as can be expected.
"Bryant Gaines is here, Jesse Wierzbicki and Jason Howell, so I have three assistant coaches that, you know, they've been coaching a while but they played here, they know the ins and outs," Forbes said.
Continuity amongst the team will be important going into what will be one of the most logistically challenging seasons in team history.
Already, the Tar Heels have had their original season-opening opponent Kentucky cancel their first series. James Madison University has since replaced the Wildcats on the schedule, but it speaks to the added level of difficulty facing Forbes in his first season.
Still, the new coach said his emotions haven't been different from any previous so far in his career.
"I'll say the most emotional time will probably be when the first pitch is thrown, cause I still don't think at times it has," Forbes said. "And I'm sure it will, and that will be a very humbling reminder of how lucky I am. The opportunity doesn't come to many people to be a head coach at a place like this. But, emotionally, I feel great."
As North Carolina's 25th head coach in program history, Forbes becomes the latest in a long line of coaches who spend decades at the University of North Carolina — between Fox, Dean Smith, Roy Williams, Jenny Levy, Anson Dorrance, Karen Shelton, Derek Galvin and Ron Miller, among others, the UNC athletics department does not turn over coaches very frequently.
With that in mind, Forbes said he spoke to Williams and Mack Brown during the offseason about what to expect going into his first year, as well as to get advice from two coaches who have already participated in a COVID-19-altered season.
"I was a big 'to-do list' guy, and coach Williams said you can throw that out. Instead of writing 20 things, you can write two because you're going to get interrupted," Forbes said. "He's dead on. Just like yesterday, normally I wouldn't have my phone in my pocket, I would be coaching like crazy. And yesterday, I had to rely on the coaches to run most of the practice because I'm scrambling trying to find an opponent in here for opening weekend."
Expectations are not very high for North Carolina after losing Aaron Sabato, Dylan Harris and Gianluca Dalatri to the MLB this past summer — North Carolina was picked to place fifth in the Coastal Division in this year's ACC Baseball Coaches Preseason Poll.
The opportunity to prove the rest of the baseball community wrong is one of the prime motivating factors for Forbes headed into this season.
"You kind of know, as a coach and as a team, you have an idea of what you think you might have," Forbes said. "I think that's one thing we're looking forward to this year, just saying okay, well, not many people think we're very good. So we'll just have to see if we can prove them wrong from game one to finish.
"But my expectations don't change. Our expectations at UNC are always the same, no matter what preseason rankings are. Our expectations are to try and make the College World Series and try to win it."