April 19, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A member of the athletic board at NC State during the school's magical run to the 1983 NCAA National Championship under the leadership of legendary men's basketball coach Jim Valvano, Dr. Jerry Punch has seen first-hand what it takes to rebuild a program from the ground up.
While speaking at Thursday's Tennessee Baseball Luncheon, the ESPN and ABC commentator regaled those in attendance with stories about Valvano having his team practice cutting down the nets and telling the media during his introductory press conference that he would win a national championship.
Punch's point was to stress the importance of planting the seeds of success early. Before the victories, conference titles and national championships, a strong foundation for that success must be laid.
A Knoxville native and longtime fan of Volunteer baseball, Punch has seen the beginnings of a similar foundation being put down at Rocky Top under the guidance of head coach Dave Serrano.
The culmination of Valvano's success - the 1983 national championship season - was chronicled in the "30 for 30" documentary, "Survive and Advance," but Punch suggested that Tennessee fans avoid watching it for a while so as not to spoil the eventual ending Serrano has in mind for his story.
"You don't have to watch the movie, because it is happening right here in front of your eyes in Knoxville, Tennessee," Punch said. "Dave Serrano has come here and planted a seed. You can see it in the player's eyes, you can hear it in their voices, you can see it in their body language on the field. These players know.
"These players know that there only 11 coaches in the history of college baseball that have taken more than one program to the College World Series and their guy is one of them. These players know that their head coach has been to the College World Series seven times, including his first time as an assistant here back in 1995. They know that Dave Serrano has been to the mountain top. He knows that it takes leadership, commitment, attitude and talent to get there."
Having witnessed the results that can occur when those initial seeds are tended to properly, Punch described how fans of the Orange and White can help the process along.
"Here is my message today: The University of Tennessee is on its way back," Punch said. "Dave Serrano will probably tell you all that he knows he is not where he needs to be, there are still some pieces of the puzzle that are missing, but there is so much excitement, energy and enthusiasm.
"Now it is up to me, it is up to you to spread the word that Volunteer baseball is back. Dave Serrano has planted the seed and, if we all are patient and nurture that seed with an atmosphere of positivity, these kids and our fans know that Dave will take us where we need to go."
Before closing his speech on Thursday, Punch issued a challenge for UT fans, asking them to do some research on the Joslyn Art Museum, Henry Doorly Zoo and Strategic Air Command Museum. With those in attendance a bit confused, he explained himself.
"I challenge you to read on those because all three of those are located in Omaha, Nebraska," Punch said. "I don't know how long it will be, I don't think it will be nearly as long as we think it will be, but you are going to get a chance to go there and, during the off time, you can visit some of those places. When you go, when this man takes the Volunteers of Tennessee to the College World Series, he will become just the third coach in college baseball history to take three teams to Omaha. I don't know about you, but that gets me excited, very excited."