NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Lipscomb baseball head coach Jeff Forehand faces the task of replacing several core seniors this upcoming season.
To make things even tougher, he will now also have to replace a key assistant as Paul Phillips is leaving Forehand’s staff to become the hitting coach for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
“I am excited for Paul and his family,” Forehand said. “Anytime you are good at what you do, other people are going to recognize that. If anyone knows Paul Phillips and knows the job he has done here at Lipscomb, this is expected.
“The opportunity for him is too great to pass up. It is a great starting point for a guy who is just in the beginning stages of his coaching career. He will be greatly missed here, but none of us will be surprised when we see him in the big leagues again.”
Phillips served as the Bisons hitting and mental game coach while also working directly with the catchers in each of his three seasons in Nashville.
“It is obviously a bittersweet moment for me,” Phillips said. “I am super excited about this opportunity, but it is going to be hard for me to leave Lipscomb because of the relationships I have built here. I told the guys, ‘I’m not leaving you. I’m just not going to be here to coach you’. They all have my number and can call me anytime they want.
“What is going on here at Lipscomb is special and I was only a small piece of that.”
It was a pleasant, but unexpected, surprise for Phillips to receive a call to return to professional baseball.
“It all came about so quickly,” Phillips said. “I was not looking for a new opportunity and I didn’t want any of our kids at Lipscomb to be confused. I wanted to help them see that I wasn’t trying to go anywhere.
“This opportunity came along, my family and I analyzed it. I analyzed it with Jeff as well. I wanted his advice because I respect what he thinks and respect what he says and how he feels about things, so I wanted to bounce it off of him before I gave an answer. We talked about it and I felt good, so that is what helped me make my decision.”
The opportunity with the Zephyrs allows Phillips a chance to return to familiar territory.
Before coming to Lipscomb, Phillips played more than 900 games and spent 15 seasons in professional baseball, including stints in Major League Baseball with the Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox and the Colorado Rockies, as a catcher.
He closed out his career hitting .333 in 2012 with the Las Vegas 51s, the AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, who purchased his contract from the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I would love to get back into the big leagues,” Phillips said. “There are just too many perks. The ultimate goal is to make it to the big leagues. I have spent part of seven years there as a player, so now my goal is to make it back to that level as a coach.
“No one can guarantee you anything, but when you can see the opportunity that there is a chance for growth, and that it could be exponential growth, I am all about taking that next challenge.”
Since joining Forehand’s staff, Phillips has helped the Bisons increase their batting averages and their offensive success in nearly every category.
Lipscomb had its best three-year stretch in the NCAA era, winning 97 games, and set the single-season win mark in back-to-back seasons. In 2015 he helped guide the Bisons to an Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Phillips leaves Lipscomb in a better position than before he got here, but he is also taking part of the program with him to New Orleans.
“The one thing that I developed from Jeff and that I will take with me is a more personal understanding of each player,” Phillips said. “At the end of the day I want to help each player be the best possible player they can be. I want them to see that I am trying to help them grow. “
With Phillips’ departure, Forehand has decided to move Volunteer Assistant Coach Brad Coon into the full-time position.
“Brad is going to move directly into Paul’s role,” Forehand said. “You hate to lose Paul, but fortunately we have a guy in Coon who can do as good a job as anybody anywhere in the country. He will be able to step in and build off of what we have been building here, but we will all have to wear a few more hats now that Paul is gone.”