July 12, 2024

This season, Trent Bray watchiThis Is The End Of The Journey, Impossible, I’m Done’ Boss Trent Bray Has
ng from the sidelines against Arizona. Captured by Patrick Mulligan
Early in the college football season, I received a tip from an elected official in the state of Washington.

The treasurer of Spokane County, Mike Baumgartner, commented, “You should do a column about Trent Bray growing up in Pullman.”

On Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., Bray will be officially named the head football coach of Oregon State during a press conference. The Beavers used Zoom to screen seven applicants for a “speed-dating” interview process on Monday before giving Bray the keys. They engaged a search firm on Sunday.

It was expected that Bray would land the position. Athletic director Scott Barnes found himself surrounded by current and former students, alumni, and

Athletic director Scott Barnes was boxed into a corner by donors, alumni, current players and unfortunate circumstances. Oregon State has no conference affiliation beyond next July, no television contract, it remains jammed up in a lawsuit against the Pac-12, and hasn’t released a 2024 football schedule.

There’s a tsunami of uncertainty in Corvallis. Given mounting pressure with the transfer portal (Dec. 4) opening, the risk of alienating donors and losing players wasn’t a risk Barnes was willing to take.

As one source told me on Monday: “It’s Bray — Barnes really has no choice.”

In the rough waters, Bray must have appeared like a lifeboat.

Barnes got on board.

That Baumgartner tip has been on my mind. He was employed as a Washington state legislator and a State Department officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during the Iraq surge before taking on the role of treasurer.

He concentrated on counterinsurgency.

Additionally, Baumgartner was close friends with the late Mike Leach. Those two must have had some fascinating chats. Leach was a law graduate who enjoyed discussing topics other than football. Indeed, Baumgartner and Leach co-taught a session on guerrilla warfare and football strategy at Mississippi State in the spring of 2022. The topic of conversation was touted as “the similarities between good football and warfare.”

Normally Division-I linebackers are phenomenal athletes,” Baumgartner explained, “but Trent might be the best football player relative to athletic ability in the game’s history. He could barely touch the rim.”

I talked about hitting with Hall of Fame player Tony Gwynn years ago. He was blessed with tremendous vision and outstanding hand-eye coordination. But Gwynn was also a maniacal student of the game. He knew what his batting averages were in certain pitch counts, what pitches he hit best, and what zone he wanted the ball in. He was in a constant struggle against his limitations, even if his ceiling was sky-high compared to the average human with a wood bat in his hands.

Because of that, Gwynn could teach hitting to others.

Some other gifted MLB hitters I’ve spoken with — Bill Madlock comes to mind — have told me that they weren’t even thinking at the plate. Madlock, a career .305 hitter, wasn’t sitting on a curve ball or a fastball. He wasn’t plotting to put the pitcher in an unfavorable count. Madlock just stepped into the batter’s box in a gentle trance, swung at anything he liked, and won four batting titles.

You can’t teach that.

It’s natural.

Bray can really teach the game, ex-Oregon State players tell me. Maybe because he had to know it well to be successful as a player himself. Or maybe because his father, Craig, was a very good college coach himself.

Craig Bray coached at Miami, Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State, among other places. I asked Trent Bray last spring about his father’s influence. He said that observing his dad’s football practices shaped him.

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