Staying the Course: Tiger coach with local ties makes spiritual impact on players

Memphis Head Baseball Coach Daron Schoenrock is a Collierville resident and an active member of First Baptist Church of Collierville.

Quarterback of the Lincoln County High School football team in 1979, Daron Schoenrock was in Lawrenceburg ready to battle Lawrence County High School.

After pregame warm ups the team went back to the locker room for the coach’s final instructions. Hearing the band play the national anthem, the team prayed and broke to go out. Schoenrock went to the restroom.

The next thing he heard was the padlock on the outside of the locker room. Then hearing the starting lineups announced, he prayed his team would lose the toss.

“This is unbelievable,” he said and began banging on the door.

With the referees dressing a couple of doors over, one ref hears him and gets someone to unlock the door.

In 2007, as University of Memphis baseball coach Schoenrock was recruiting Mark Lamm, a pitcher for Loretto High School. In his office with his son was Mark’s father, Gary Lamm who said, “You are from Lincoln County.”

“I say yes,” said Shoenrock and Gary Lamm said, “ I referee high school football. I am the one who got you unlocked in the locker room.”

They all laughed about it and Schoenrock said, “That is something you see in the movies. The team takes the field. Where is the quarterback? He is not here.”

While Lamm went on to pitch for Vanderbilt and in the Atlanta Braves organization,” Schoenrock is in his 15th season as head baseball coach at Memphis and 35th as a college coach.

Since he was a pitcher at Tennessee Tech, Schoenrock has felt a calling to coach.

“I don’t think I was ever called to be in the pulpit but to be invovled on the turf with my feet in the dirt like I am doing now,” he said.

Since 2004 he has led the Tigers. They finished 27-28 this season and his goal goes beyond wins and losses.

“I want to make an impact on these kids,” he said. “I want to improve the pitcher that you are, the hitter that you are. You can teach them the importance of understanding a role within a team, make them understand that getting your college degree is highly important to change where you are 10 years from now. You can impact them spiritually.”

Building relationships before championships has been the Tigers’ mantra.

“I think that is something that Coach Roc does really well and I think that is something championship teams have. When you build relationships that tie you close to your teammates, to your brothers, that is something that is going to last a lot longer than any trophy or medal but in order to get that trophy or medal you have to have those relationships that are going to carry you through,” said Memphis senior Colton Neel, a center fielder and closer.

Schoenrock said, “I love these young people. Watching how much they change over a four-year period is remarkable. That bond built over a four-year period and seeing how mature these nine seniors are and remembering what they were like as freshmen is what keeps me going.”

A measuring stick for him is when former players return to watch the current team in a fall 7-game “Word Series.” He splits the team.

“I want it to be as competitive as all get-out and get after each other and make like it is in the spring. Our graduated players know if you want to know what Coach Roc’s team is going to be like, come out to the Garibaldi World Series. There will be 15 to 20 former players sitting there (tarp area) on a Saturday watching the Tigers play. That is where the former players hang out. I’ll be behind second base and I’ll look over there and that is when I go, ‘You know what, our guys who live here and elect to stay here who come back around and watch, I know they feel like if their experience wasn’t good they wouldn’t come back. That is the measuring stick. Those guys are coming back and checking out the Tigers. That is when I know I am making an impact.”

Schoenrock will never forget the news that came out of left field seven years ago.

On April 3, 2012, Clayton Gant, a senior pitcher at Memphis, heard that his 19-year old brother Stephen Gant, a star pitcher at Riverside High School in Decatur County who had committed to pitch at Vanderbilt with the potential to be high Major League draft pick, had taken his own life.

“I literally grabbed him and hugged him on the turf room floor when he got word of what just happened. The one thing that impacted me at that moment was Clayton said, ‘Coach I am thankful you are my coach right now.’”

Now a pitching coach at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Clayton “is doing absolutely great” in his job said Schoenrock, who has continued to “be very close” with the Gant family, visiting multiple times.

Respect for the coach and the coach’s respect for players runs through the seams of baseball.

“They are so interested in baseball. You have that gold nugget that they want that is baseball knowledge. You control their baseball career to a certain extent. They know that and you have their ears to mold them in different areas athletically and academically fitting together and understanding their role.

“Everybody can’t be the Friday night pitcher. Everybody can’t be the 3-hole hitter and starting shortstop. We fit this thing together so that we give you experiences that are going to help you in the job markets when you are with a sales team, when you are leading your household.

“They are interested in a nugget that we have and that is the ability to enhance their baseball carer. It may not resonate right now but 5 to 10 years form now it will resonate.”

The chemistry the Tigers had this season was “phenomenal” said Neel with each playing buying into what the team is trying to do.

“We all love each other a lot. I know it shows on the team. We have countless come-from-behind wins and that only comes when you have a tight team, a close-knit group.”

There is a quote by Schoenrock that senior pitcher Alex Smith said has summed up his career, “Stay the course and keep the faith.”

“Coach’s presence instills this quote and encourages my road of sanctification. I have led through humility because of Coach Roc’s teachings.”

An active member of First Baptist Church of Collierville, Schoenrock has told his 35 players whether they have won on Friday, lost Saturday and face a series-winning game Sunday that while the game is important the most important message they hear will be a 5-minute talk by team chaplain John Crosby.

“He will pick out something that Jesus did in his time on earth. I will say, ‘Now that is what is important. Let’s go serve God with how we play and how we represent Him.’

“We have a wide range of levels of experience in the Word but hopefully we are impacting each one. I want to impact the grounded ones and a guy who has never gone a day of his life to church and we are the first mention of the Bible he has had in his life.”

Schoenrock gives road-trip devotionals and tries to implement virtues that are important in a Christian man’s life and “how we can reflect Jesus more” said Neel. “Coach Roc is awesome with his faith.”

Smith said, “Coach Roc’s discipleship is shown every day through his coaching, mentoring and stewarding. In a business that is meritocracy based, Coach Roc continually relies on his faith regardless of a win or loss.”

Leading up to Easter, the team did a study that broke down the seven days from when Jesus entered Jerusalem until the resurrection and how profound it was as He dealt with integral things leading to the cross.

“It continues to show scripture proves scripture over and over. If you look at the Bible as a history book it is the most remarkable history book ever written. Now you add the fact that there is a plan of salvation in that,” said Schoenrock, whose favorite Bible verse is Matthew 10:32, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my father in heaven.”

“Confess. That is want I want to get these guys to do at some point, to confess Christ. That is my goal. When you confess something it’s not saying that I have to live the perfect life following every rule that Jesus put before me. I confess that you are the Son of God and the plan of salvation goes through you and now help my flaws, my sins.

In college he began seeking out people who had knowledge of the Bible.

“It was an ongoing thing for me. It wasn’t a one moment falling-on-my-knees- I- need Christ in my lift. It was a chain of events that happened between 11 and 21. I want to have a life like the people I saw. A big mentor in that regard was Josh Hamilton, who was youth director at First Presbyterian in Fayetteville and a junior high baseball and football coach. I saw both sides of who I could see myself being. He was a phenomenal athlete too.

“Christianity is not a list of dos and donts. It is the plan of salvation confessing that Christ is Lord and understanding that He is going to forgive your sins.”

While coaching eight years at Birmingham-Southern under Brian Shoop, now head coach at the University of Alabama Birmingham, and two years under at the University of Kentucky under Keith Madison, who now works with the Christian ministry organization SCORE International that takes baseball players on mission trips to Dominican Republic, Schoenrock became more comfortable in sharing with players about his faith.

“These two men impacted me in being a Christian coach unbelievably.,” he said calling Shoop one of the “most dynamic’ Christian coaches he has been around.

“I was being surrounded by men where it was no longer uncool to confess Christ. Brian was instrumental in teaching me how to do that.”

He has told the Memphis administration that he is going to share his faith in a non-threatening way and that part of his mission is to “raise good people.”

“I don’t force anything on our guys. They know if they want to get up at any time and walk out they are allowed and are totally fine to do that.”

Schoenrock’s faith has allowed him to exhale.

“I don’t worry about being perfect now. I have less anxiety. I’m calmer now. I do get thrown out occasionally when I feel like I have to protect one of my players but I am not in your face. I don’t think that makes me soft. I think that makes me forgiving.

“You have to follow God’s plan and trust what will work out. If it’s never good enough or becomes not good enough for wherever you are coaching there is another door that is going to open and that is faith. I am grounded in my faith enough to know I have peace and I have got peace here.”

One of Schoenrock’s best sports moments was the 2013 season. He was Conference USA Coach of the Year and his oldest son Erik Shoenrock was Conference USA Pitcher of the Year. He pitched in San Diego’s organization (drafted in the 11th round in 2013) until a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff ended his career. He lived in Arizona a year trying to rehab but never recovered. Erik, 27, is now head baseball coach at Southwest Community College.

His youngest son Bret pitches at Rossville Christian Academy where he is a junior. His wife Carol teaches there. The family lives in Collierville.

Raised in Fayetteville, Tenn., his parents Don and Delores Schoenrock influenced him spiritually, academically and other ways.

His father died three years ago at age 89.

“He was such a giver. The most valuable commodity we have is time. He gave countless (hours) to organizations and churches. He wasn’t involved in athletics growing up on a Nebraska farm but everything my brother and I wanted to participate in Mom and Dad supported. When he would come home from work he would hang his sport coat on a swing set, loosen his tie and be out there throwing balls with us before he ever went into the house.”

Doris Schoenrock would tell him if she saw him do something that Christ would not want him to do.

Schoenrock was a youth minister one summer while in college and considered going into the ministry.

The immediate draw to First Baptist Church Collierville was that senior pastor Chuck Herring had been a former football coach.

“He gave up his profession to become ordained as a minister. Listening to him preach and the direction that he came was something that an old coach like me could understand,” said Schoenrock.

Every team he coaches Schoenrock will be concerned about his players athletically, socially and spiritually.

“My spiritual and personal goals, I want to be face to face with Jesus one day and I know I’m going to be but I also want my team and my family there with me.”