It’s hard to walk away from success but that is what former Lipscomb baseball player Richie Estep decided to do this year. After guiding Goodpasture’s baseball team to 462 wins and four state championships, Estep has answered the call from Columbia (Tennessee) Academy, his alma mater, where he plans to elevate the program. Estep, 38, was named TSSAA Coach of the Year four times at Goodpasture. He won one state championship at the Class A level and three at Class AA. Thirty-five of his players have earned college scholarships for baseball.
Estep played three years for Coach Ken Dugan and one year for Coach Mel Brown at Lipscomb from 1994-97. He was a pitcher and designated hitter. His degree is in math education and he will also be teaching math at Columbia Academy. He was named Midstate Player of the Year in baseball at Columbia Academy in 1992. He also excelled in both basketball and football and was an inaugural member of the Columbia Academy Athletic Hall of Fame. It is a big move for Estep and his family, but he spent some time with Lipscombsports.com to talk about his career past, present and future.
What made you decide to make a move like this after 14 years as head coach at Goodpasture?
“It was always something I thought I might do. I had such a good experience at Columbia Academy. The people at Columbia Academy are special. They had come after me several times, but it wasn’t the right time. To try to get Columbia Academy to a state tournament has always intrigued me.
“This time I felt it was the right time and the right thing to do. But don’t get me wrong. It was a hard decision. It is hard to leave a great program and a place where you have had so much success and built things that weren’t there when you started like a locker room, indoor facilities, a scoreboard, a fence and irrigation for the field.
“I knew at Goodpasture we were going to be competing in the last week of the season almost every year. This is going to be a new challenge for me.”
Talk about your family and what roles they played in your decision?
“Goodpasture took up a lot of my time. I am ready to give a little bit more to my family.
“We lived 20 minutes from Goodpasture. It was more of a commuter-type deal. In Columbia we will be closer to the school. I love Columbia. I loved growing up there. I want my kids to have good memories of it.
“My wife, Collette, is going to be teaching at Columbia Academy. Our daughter, Isabella is 9 and is going into the fourth grade. Our son, Cooper, is 7 and going into the first grade.”
What is the secret to consistently developing state championship teams?
“I don’t know. That question has been asked of me several times. I never dreamed I would have so much success at Goodpasture.
“I was following Jeff Forehand who is Lipscomb’s coach and was also Trevecca’s coach. I learned a lot from him. I was following a legend already at Goodpasture.
“People thought I was going to be just like Forehand. But I thought, I am going to be who I am. It is really just simple. We are going to make you be committed. We are not going to let you miss anything. We are going to make you look the same. We are going to make you work extremely hard until you get it right. We played a tough schedule so we could see any situation that could happen which prepared us for what we would face down the road.
“That’s it. There is nothing we do that is different from what other teams do. We work hard. We keep it simple. We do all the little things until we get it right. It is blue-collar… be the toughest baseball team. I want the other team to say it is hard to beat that team because they play so hard every time we play them. That is always my goal.”
What are your plans for the Columbia Academy team?
“They only have one state championship in the history of the school back in 1994. The last time they went to the state tournament was 2002. They actually beat my Goodpasture team 2-1 that year.
“They usually get out of the district. But we want to get through the regionals and still be playing that last week. They have spent $10 million on their sports facilities. It is a great new complex they have built.
“The school isn’t as big as Goodpasture. It has potential to be great. They need somebody to push it forward and I believe I can do that.”
After working as an assistant for Jeff Forehand for two years at Goodpasture what did you learn from him?
“I learned more about baseball in two years from him as an assistant coach than I did as a player. I learned about practice, about how you work on things every day a little at a time and then work on it every day. You want to go from transition to transition in practice. You don’t want your players to get bored.
“Make it game-like. Make them do things the way they would do it in a game. You want to have that same energy and passion and love for it in practice as you would in a game. I loved what he did as a coach.”
Coach Dugan is a Lipscomb legend. How did he influence you as a player and as someone who planned to be a coach?
“I have a notebook from meetings we would have. I use them still to this day.
“The notebook is filled with three years of handouts. Some of them were just dealing with simple life things. He was so well-respected. He had great organization in his practices.
“He cared about his players. I know all of his family. I want to care like he did about his teams, not only how they did, but caring about his players as people. He helped make us into the men that we are.
“If you are going to be a good team you want your best players to be the leaders. That is what he expected out of his best players.”
What did you learn while at Lipscomb that still guides you as a coach and teacher?
“Obviously, there was the spiritual side of it with the devotionals and Bible classes. No matter what you do in life that has to be at the top.
“There was the love and care of everyone there for the students. They always wanted to help you out. They would reach out to you if you were struggling in class. The relationships that are developed among your peers in that smaller type atmosphere made it like a big family. That is something I will always remember from Lipscomb.”
My e-mail address is Richie.firstname.lastname@example.org.