Dave Serrano knows high expectations come on Tennessee turf, but the second-year Tennessee baseball coach also understands the process necessary for long-term success.
The Vols will have the largest freshman class in the unforgiving SEC when they start play in February, and they bring back just three returning starters from last season's 24-31 club.
"We know we have our work cut out for us, and we will accept this challenge and do what we can to build these inexperienced players to the SEC level,'' said Serrano on Wednesday at the UT baseball complex.
"People know my coaching staff and I are ultra-competitive, and we want to win ... but we have to realize there is a step-process to that, and we have to stick with that,'' said Serrano, who in addition to 20 freshmen has added five junior college transfers. "It hasn't failed me yet throughout my career, and it's not going to fail us now.''
Serrano's philosophy evolved through his coaching associations with seven College World Series teams and was proven at the international level earlier this summer when he was the manager of a young Team USA squad in Cuba and Holland.
The experienced Cubans, playing host to Team USA for the first time in 16 years, took three out of five games from Serrano's Americans in a "friendly" tournament.
But not before Serrano's Team USA left a lasting impression that inspired respect and international goodwill.
"To a man, they (Cuba) were professionals, many ranging from 25 to 35 and a catcher that was 39 years old,'' said Serrano, whose summer coaching duties put him on the road from June 23-July 23.
"We were up against a lot of elements, not only the fact they were very talented and very experienced, but we were a majority of freshmen and sophomore collegiate team,'' he said. "Their passionate fans, thousands of them, were at the park before we even got there.
Umpires were totally against our team, calls pretty evident against our team, that was expected, and the fact we were playing a team that had won a lot of gold medals.''
Serrano said the Cubans were very intent on beating the United States.
"I told our team, we're gonna walk in this stadium and they're not gonna like us, but when it's said and done, they're going to like us,'' he said. "When the last out was recorded and we won Game Five, for our second win, they gave our team a standing ovation as we walked off the field.''
From Cuba, Team USA traveled to Holland where it won a bronze medal in the Honkball Week Tournament, losing to Cuba in extra innings before ending the journey with a 5-4 win over the Netherlands.
Team USA duties complete, Serrano returned to Knoxville for 12 days before heading back overseas with his wife, Tracy, where he was first-hand witness to another UT coach with similar principles.
"Getting to be around the basketball team, I walked away thoroughly impressed,'' Serrano said. "I commended Cuonzo (Martin) and his staff; we were on his team bus throughout the whole trip, and how respectful those young men were throughout the trip was really commendable.
"He lets his guys be themselves, but he sets the boundaries. I did pick up a lot of things from getting to know him.''
Serrano is offering his team the same opportunity to express themselves within the boundaries and standards he puts before them.
"I compare what we're trying to do with what they've set their sail with and are doing in the basketball program,'' he said. "It's my goal for our team to form their own personality as a unit, surrounded by our guidelines.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32