By Dennis Garcia
Becoming the head baseball coach at the college level is a long process. Most prospective head coaches begin as volunteers, are elevated to assistant coaching positions and even after years and years of acquiring knowledge and gaining experience, only a small minority get the opportunity to lead a collegiate or pro program.
Among those currently working their way up the coaching ladder are three former Asheboro Copperheads assistant coaches, who are one day hoping to become a member of the head coaching fraternity. Landon Steiner, Matt LaMothe and Ian Humphrey are former Asheboro assistants under current head coach and Co-General Manager Keith Ritsche, who are taking steps to lead their own programs.
“I wish that I could have had these guys continue to work alongside me forever, but I know that being part of the CPL as a coach is mostly for developmental purposes,” Ritsche said. “Part of my job is to pass as much wisdom, character, coaching strategies and life lessons along to my assistant coaches as I can. Then once I do, hope that maybe each coach can take some of that knowledge and combine it with what they receive from others and create their own coaching style. Some of my greatest joys is being able to see the success that they have as they move up the coaching ranks.”
Steiner, who is beginning his second year as an assistant coach at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., which is his hometown, spent the 2018 and 2019 summer seasons with Ritsche and the Copperheads. He was the Copperheads’ first base and hitting coach.
“It was pretty funny, I kinda forced my way in that first summer,” Steiner said with a laugh. “I kept telling Keith I wanted to do it, I wanted to coach. I wanted to get into it with no coaching experience.”
Steiner said prior to coming to Asheboro, he worked with a prep private school for a season to get started.
“My first full summer, I wanted to try some things I experienced as a player that were interesting and try it with high-level kids,” Steiner said.
Like a lot of coaches, Steiner had an impressive collegiate career, spending the final two years at Winston-Salem State, where Ritsche was an assistant. In his senior year of 2017, the versatile Steiner registered a 2.84 ERA with 26 strikeouts and five saves in 19 innings of work as the team’s closer. He was named a First Team All-CIAA honoree as a first baseman as he led his team to a conference title. WSSU came within one win of the Division II College World Series as Steiner was named to the All-Atlantic Region Tournament Team.
As a junior at WSSU, Steiner logged a team-high batting average of .358 and was again named to the All-CIAA First Team. In his two years at WSSU, Steiner totaled 71 RBIs, 12 home runs and a career batting average of .349.
He graduated from Winston-Salem State University in 2017 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sport Management.
Steiner began his collegiate career at Southeastern Community College, where he recorded a team-best batting .368 batting average with six home runs for the season.
Steiner started his coaching career with Asheboro after playing professional baseball with the White Sands Pupfish of the Pecos League in New Mexico.
Steiner said he began creating his coaching style in Asheboro.
“Myself, I am pretty routine based, I always was as a player,” said Steiner. “I’m a big early-work guy. The guys saw I was there for early work and they loved it. Then it was really fun to come back that second year and we had guys who were coming back, like Sean Phelan and Cam Morrison, and see how they continued to work and how the work from the past summer paid off during their season.”
Steiner also has some pretty good friends to go to for advice if he needs it. One of his high school teammates and best friends is Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler, one of the top young hurlers in Major League Baseball.
Working your way up the coaching ladder usually doesn’t include glitz and glamour.
“Don’t expect to make money right away, you have to put in your hours,” Steiner said. “I didn’t make a lot of money in Asheboro, but it was about the experience. Now I’m the second assistant at a Division III school, but I am learning a lot, like recruiting. I love this.”
LaMothe said he always knew he was going to pursue baseball as a career.
“One hundred percent,” LaMothe said about knowing he wanted to become a coach as soon as his playing days were over. “Whenever that day was going to come, I knew coaching is what I wanted to do.”
LaMothe is a prime example of someone putting in his time to move up the coaching ladder. He is in his first year at Wofford as the Terriers’ pitching coach. LaMothe spent the 2020 season as an assistant coach at Young Harris College, a member of the Peach Belt Conference.
A native of Rochester, MI., LaMothe spent the 2019 season as the assistant coach for Georgia Southwestern State University, which also plays in the Peach Belt Conference. He was responsible for pitching and recruiting duties, helping turn the program around for the Hurricanes, which went from 10 wins in 2018 to 23 wins in 2019.
Prior to Georgia Southwestern, LaMothe coached at Madison College in Wisconsin, helping the WolfPack finish the season 35-22, sweeping the regional tournament and going to the NJCAA Division II World Series in Oklahoma, where the WolfPack placed fifth.
For the two years prior to Madison College, LaMothe was a graduate assistant and pitching coach at Central Methodist University, where he graduated with his Master’s Degree in Education. He assisted the Eagles to their two best seasons in program history, going 44-17 and 42-17, while gaining a bid to NAIA National Championship Opening Round in both seasons.
“It brings multiple challenges,” LaMothe said of working his way up in the coaching ranks. “You have to adapt to different areas and different regions. You have to be willing to go anywhere. It certainly affects your personal life and sustaining a relationship is sometimes altered. But that was something I knew going into it. I always knew you had to be willing to go to different programs and prove one thing you can really do is adapt.”
During his playing career, LaMothe attended Oakland University in Michigan from 2008-10 before transferring to Georgia College from 2010-13. He was named to the All-Peach Belt second team and he was the 2013 PBC Tournament MVP. He played one professional season with the Schaumburg Boomers of the Frontier League, where they won the 2013 Frontier League Championship.
“Looking back two, three, four or five years ago, I never thought I would be here, I love where I am at,” he said. “I don’t know what my full picture will be when it comes to coaching. I try and stay in the present. I’ve been a part of five or six programs and I am 100 percent in wherever I am at.”
All the while, gaining experience and mastering strategies that could one day serve him as a head coach.
“As an assistant coach, you need to be the second voice, but at the whole time you’re formulating your way of doing things,” LaMothe said. “You take a little bit of everything you learned from all the people you worked under and formulate your way. Keith was a very important part of that. He helped shape me into the coach I was going to become.”
Humphrey has had success as a player and as a coach and he is about to begin his fifth season at Mercer. Playing at Concord University, he was a member of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament Championship team in 2011, won a West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship as a student-assistant coach in 2013, a Mountain East Conference Tournament championship as an assistant coach in 2014 and 2015, a 2017 Southern Conference Regular Season championship as a volunteer assistant and a Southern Conference Tournament Championship in 2019. He spent 2016 as an assistant coach at Georgia College.
Humphrey played for Concord from 2009-12, earned his Regents Bachelor of Arts Degree from Marshall in 2013 and has been involved in coaching ever since.
He helped Ritsche with the Copperheads in the summers of 2015 and 2016.
All three left a mark on Ritsche and with the Copperheads.
“The common trait between Matt, Ian and Landon is their knowledge of the game from a statistical and analytical point of view as well as their ability to communicate with each individual player,” Ritsche said. “Much of coaching, especially today, is being able to develop a working relationship and trust with a player to get the best out of them. I believe all three of them possess this ability and that’s what makes them unique and valuable to a college program. I’m proud of what they have all accomplished so far and I am very thankful for their time they spent with me in Asheboro.”