BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DUBUQUE – A lot of people go through phases of career choices, but this kid picked a ball and glove and the die was cast.
On May 8, Fort Madison native Jeff Lamb was named Coach of the Year in NAIA Heart of America Athletic Conference with Clarke College in Dubuque. Lamb, the son of Timm and Kate Lamb of Fort Madison, played for the the Bloodhound baseball team from 1995-2000 culminated by a state title in 2000.
He said his junior and senior years on the baseball team were the formative years in determining what he wanted to do with his life. His coaches at the time were Dick Burch and Stan Schmidt and their impact on his game, coupled with the philosophy of his father, who coached track at FHMS, led him to coaching.
“I’ll tell you, Dick Burch and Stan Schmidt were my coaches, they had a big impact on me. I hung with Brett Burch, his son, and saw how much they enjoyed it and I knew athletics was something I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how. But I knew from that time, I wanted to be a coach.”
Lamb, in his fourth season at Clarke, guided the Crusaders to a record-setting 41-12 overall record and a 26-8 mark in league play, just missing the NAIA tournament by one school.
“They take 40 teams to that tournament and we were the 41st team,” Lamb said. “Hopefully, in our time here, we can get to the World Series.” The NAIA takes 40 schools and narrows the field to 10 teams that compete in a World Series format in Florida.
In 2o14, Lamb’s first year at Clarke, the Crusaders racked up 21 wins. A year later, the Crusaders compiled a school-record 31 wins, posted a 15-9 record in Midwest Collegiate Conference play, and qualified for the MCC Final Four. The 2015 team broke 16 team season records and set 13 individual season marks.
Lamb came to Clarke from Marshalltown Community College where he served as the Tigers’ head softball coach for five years. During his tenure there, Lamb’s teams broke over 30 individual and team records.
Lamb served as the head softball coach at Marshalltown High School in 2012 and 2013. Lamb guided the 2012 Bobcats to the program’s first state tournament appearance and coached the program’s first all-state player in over a decade. Prior to taking the softball reins at Marshalltown, Lamb spent two seasons as the Tigers’ assistant baseball coach. He also served as a graduate assistant baseball coach at Georgia College and State University and as a volunteer assistant baseball coach at West Chester.
Lamb played two seasons of collegiate baseball at Marshalltown and was also a member of the baseball programs at Drexel University and West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
He said making the transition from baseball to softball was tough at first, but he quickly found his way.
“I think a lot of what’s happening now is more on the baseball side, what you typically think of baseball,” he said. “The swing’s not so different. The pitching is the biggest thing and I had to find my way they there, but coaching is the same.
“It doesn’t matter what the sport is, it’s more how you do what you do. It’s the people you’re around. The transition at first was tough because I was so young. I hadn’t found my way and I didn’t know of softball as much back then. I realized I was going to have to learn as I go so I just kept asking questions, going places, and watched a lot of softball.”
But now he’s built of team of power and then relies on pitching and defense to win games and is looking to build on that strategy, including bringing up a Fort Madison talent next year.
“We’re not much of a speed team. We hit a lot of home runs. We led the country in home runs per game this year so, for the most part, our lineups are hitters and we look for that,” Lamb said.
“Pitching and defense is what we need to win like we did this year. We had one of the best short stops and the best pitchers we’ve ever had. And Lexi Schmidt coming from Fort Madison. She’s very athletic and can do multiple things,” he said.
But he carries his roots with him as he builds success year to year in Dubuque.
Lamb married Rachel Courtney from Fort Madison and the two have a daughter Eloise, 6 and a son Calvin, 4.
He said his dad was always throwing with him and his older brothers Kevin and Patrick and coached the older boys when they were in Little League.
“He kind of stepped back when I got into Little League, but we were outside playing all the time. I was one of the younger kids, but they were all really good role models,” he said. “Dad taught me most of what you’re looking at now, especially the coaching. But he had expectations of us and I found that when I ran track with him. I’ve kind of meshed into him and now he gets to see the reward of that.”
The 2000 state baseball championship run still stands fresh in Lamb’s memory.
“I remember Dustin Hennigar hitting a home run to win the game that got us into the state tournament against Fairfield. But I think my biggest memories of that season are we were about 10 games into the season and not playing very well. Stan sat us down for about 15 minutes and just yelled at us. Some people would say that’s not a good memory…but it turned us around and the state tournament was just incredible. Andy Fuget pitched the third game, I was playing shortstop and Andy Ireland was thrown on at 3rd as freshman. I remember looking over at him and I really thought he was going to throw up.”
Lamb said the future will be dictated by the future, but he’s in no hurry to go anywhere.
“I heard something this summer,” he said. “Make it big where you’re at…don’t just try to make it big. This community has embraced us, we have some really good kids, we graduated four really good seniors, so we’ve got some work to do. Clarke is a really nice school and I don’t know that I’m going anywhere. But I never planned on coaching softball either.”
Lamb received his bachelor of science degree in professional studies from West Chester University, and his master of science degree in education from Iowa State University.