Sports imitate life and prepare us in ways we cannot imagine. As a young boy in Florida, the now 58-year-old Bobby Pierce played whatever sport was in season, rode bikes with his friends, and went swimming at every opportunity. He believes his athletic ability and competitive nature was developed during those years. Little did he know at that time, he would emerge, not only as a competitive athlete in several sports in high school and college but also as a very successful Division I baseball coach.
In his youth, he excelled at football, basketball, baseball, and swimming. “Looking back, the uniqueness of each sport, teammate and coach would play a big role in developing my coaching philosophies for later in life — a career path I never envisioned,” shared Coach Pierce. There were stumbling blocks along the way as there were successes. After high school graduation, he received scholarship offers for football and baseball, but ultimately signed with what’s now known as Troy University, to play baseball. A variety of unforeseen circumstances would follow and he ended up playing at three different programs in his first two years of college.
In the spring of 1979, he accepted an offer to play at the University of Alabama (over Florida State University), largely in part to a phone call his grandfather received from the legendary football coach, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant. That was that, and he went to Bama. End of story. After two good seasons, he was primed for the Major League Baseball draft. When the draft concluded that day without his name being called, Pierce felt it was a low point in his athletic career, but that low would turn into a high point in his life because soon after that, he would marry his sweetheart, Kay, on her 25th birthday. “Being a coach’s wife ain’t easy — my life and my career wouldn’t have been complete without her by my side,” explains Pierce.
Shortly afterward, a coaching position became available at Marianna High School and Pierce felt it was perfect for him, but he wasn’t selected for the job. To say that he felt heartbroken was an understatement, but he emphatically said, “What do you do when life hits hard, throws its best curveball, and knocks you flat on your back? You do what being an athlete and competitor taught and trained you to do… jump back up, dust yourself off and get back in the game!”
Opportunity quickly knocked at his door. Pierce was offered to coach at Chipola Junior College (CJC), a top-notch Juco program in FL. His confidence was at an all-time low considering the previous rejections, but he was pushed out the back door of his parent’s home and told not to come back until he had spoken to the Athletic Director at Chipola. CJC took a chance on this inexperienced leader and at age 23, he was hired as the youngest head coach at the collegiate level in FL. He went on to win the state championship and was named the state’s junior college coach of the year. The Indians would win many championships and in his seven years there, they would finish at 259-95.
In 1989, he was called back to his college alma mater, University of Alabama, to be an assistant coach. He worked with hitters and outfielders, including Joe Vitiello, drafted in the first round of the MLB draft for the Kansas City Royals.
Only five seasons later, Pierce would get another call, but this one was definitely out of left field. He was asked to start a baseball program from scratch at the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH); a Division II school. “I turned the offer down for six weeks before accepting the challenge. My staff’s hard work and dedication would quickly pay off when we achieved national attention by winning the Gulf South Conference East Division in the first season,” remembers Pierce. “We enjoyed great success for seven seasons and would receive our first #1 national ranking in 2001. Those were probably my most challenging, yet most rewarding years of my 30+ year career.”
Just as he was embarking on the seventh inning stretch of life, another program came calling again and it was Troy University wanting him to take the Head Coach position. This role is what Bobby had been working towards; the top position in a Division I program and the highest level of amateur baseball in the country. The next thirteen years proved to be memorable both on and off the field. His team would have several appearances in NCAA Division 1 Regional play, many All-Conference selections, numerous All-Americans and nearly 30 players that would go on to sign professional contracts. During his tenure, Coach Bobby Pierce became the all-time winningest baseball coach for the Troy University Trojans.
It was also at Troy that their oldest son, Lance, obtained two degrees and met his wife, Lindsay, and where their daughter, Lauren, also obtained two degrees and met her future husband, Beau, who played for the Trojans and later with the Los Angeles Angels organization. Their youngest child, Logan, also graduated from Troy (playing for his Dad) and became a Division I All-American and signed professionally with the Philadelphia Phillies. There are now new additions and Bobby and Kay are enjoying the golden years of being grandparents to three little ones.
After 33 years of coaching a sport that’s still considered America’s Greatest Pastime, Bobby Pierce retired at the end of the 2015 season. He walked away with more awards and accolades than we can list, including conference championships, coaching professional superstars and being inducted into three different Hall of Fames.
Ultimately, his family did what many of us have done by moving near the beaches in the Florida panhandle. The veteran coach had this to say about retirement, “My life as an athlete, coach, husband, father, and grandfather have seen many blessings. There’s been up’s and down’s, but that’s life. In the end, it always comes back to your faith, your family, your friends and the tremendous relationships built along the way.”
Earlier this year, Coach Pierce’s son, Logan, joined his parents at the beach. Admittedly, I can relate to what it’s like to be a coach’s kid. When I asked Logan when he knew he was destined to play baseball, he said, “It started at the hospital the day I was born. I carried a bat around as long as I can remember. I was probably 3 or 4 when I had my first tee-ball experience.” I asked him what life lessons he gained from playing for his dad who was such a successful coach and he shared, “I think one of Dad’s greatest gifts to me was the fact that he never forced me to do anything. He encouraged and inspired more in a motivational way to attack the game with your best effort every day.”
Logan Pierce is enjoying our area and teaching private lessons to aspiring baseball players ages 8-18. After growing up in a household with an ‘old-school’ coach philosophy myself, I can honestly say it was encouraging to hear someone in their 20’s recommend these two things to young athletes. Logan feels that kids should play less and practice more by getting back to the development of fundamental skills in sports. Secondly, he feels there should be no more participation trophies and that this particular mindset has ruined’s kid’s minds. He feels if you teach that you don’t produce, then you don’t play or you get cut, or if you don’t sell, then you get fired, people will get the message.
Bobby Pierce and his wife now live near South Walton High School (SWHS) and they have learned to know some of the area coaches, parents, and local baseball players. From time to time, Pierce stops by to check on them or offer advice and encouragement. Routinely, he’s seen riding the tractor to drag the infield at the school. So, is this highly successful coach truly retired? Pierce answered, “I think everyone realizes that my life is in extra innings now, although I still play the game one pitch at a time.”
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