Veteran Slippery Rock University head baseball coach Jeff Messer is a proven and trusted leader. The Rock's head coach enters his 31st season in 2016 as one of the most accomplished coaches in college baseball.
In his previous 30 seasons, Messer has compiled a record of 924-558-5 (.623). The impressive win total places Messer seventh among active NCAA Division II head coaches in total wins and 19th on the all-time D-II wins list.
Messer’s win total is the highest for an active Pennsylvania college coach, regardless of classification, and ranks second on the Commonwealth’s all-time wins list, behind only former Temple University head coach James Wilson (1034 in 46 seasons).
Messer’s list of accomplishments include fifteen Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference-Western Division titles, two PSAC championships, two PSAC runner-up finishes, four regional championships, two regional runner-up honors, four appearances in the Division II College World Series and an average of 31 victories per season.
Under Messer’s tutelage, Slippery Rock has had 12 players selected in the Major League Baseball draft, 33 All-America selections, 180 All-PSAC honorees and five PSAC Players of the Year.
Along the way, Messer has also earned the respect of his peers. He was elected in January 2008 to serve a three-year term as the American Baseball Coaches Association’s Division II chair and was re-elected to that position in 2011. Messer left the position in 2013 to become the ABCA's fourth vice president.
Messer is also serving for the 18th consecutive season as the regional chairperson and national poll voter for the ABCA’s Division II rankings panel. He also served eight seasons on the NCAA Division II postseason selection committee.
Messer has been honored 10 times by his PSAC-Western Division peers as the division’s “Coach of the Year” and has bee selected as the regional Coach of the Year on four occasions.
The Rock boss added another significant honor to his collection in April 2009 when he was inducted into the Butler (Pa.) Area Sports Hall of Fame.
Messer is more than a coach, though. He is a salesman for college baseball in general and his nationally acclaimed program, in particular. He is actively involved in fund-raising, summer camps, clinics and special events to promote his program and baseball in general.
Messer’s involvement extends beyond western Pennsylvania, or even the boundaries of the United States. In both 1994 and 1998, he took teams to Holland and the Czech Republic for games against those countries’ national teams, as well as to conduct clinics.
Messer’s trips to Holland were a return “home” for him as he played and coached professionally in that country in 1981. Eight years later (1989), Messer guided The Rock to a 42-17 record, a first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II College World Series and a third-place national finish.
The Green and White made a return trip to the World Series in 1997 before SRU went back for a third helping of national competition in 2000. That trip culminated with The Rock claiming a No. 5 national finish.
In 2003, Messer led SRU to a best-ever 48-13 record, a PSAC runner-up finish, a fourth regional championship and the resulting trip to the national tournament.
There is no doubt Messer is at the helm of one of the nation’s most successful hardball programs. His Rock squads have earned berths in eight of the last 16 Division II regional tournaments, have played in the regional finals three of the last 12 seasons and have twice finished in the top five in the nation – a third-place finish in 1989 and a No. 5 finish in 2000.
If there was anything that had frustrated Messer and The Rock hardballers early on, it was their failure to capture more than one conference title. That thirst was satisfied, at least temporarily, in 2002 when The Rock, the No. 2 team from the PSAC-West, won the school’s fourth state championship.
Messer guided The Rock to a third state title in 1991. Two seasons earlier, en route to their No. 3 national finish, SRU finished one win shy of the conference championship and had to “settle for” PSAC runner-up honors.
The key ingredient in Messer’s recipe has been flexibility.
“My philosophy changes season to season,” he says, “depending on the personnel of that particular team.
“Through the years, Rock teams have been very offensive minded. But, in 2002 for example, we were young and inexperienced, so we played ‘Billyball’ [named in honor of the late Billy Martin] and did the little things like bunt and hit and run instead of playing for the big inning. And there was more emphasis on defense and pitching.
“We try to get the best possible athlete each year and then mold them into the best possible team by utilizing the respective players’ strengths.”
When he accepted The Rock reins at the start of the 1985-86 academic year, Messer inherited a program that had established itself as one of the best in western Pennsylvania. His predecessor, SRU Athletic Hall of Fame coach Wally Rose, guided The Rock to a pair of PSAC championships, one NAIA district title and 410 wins in 28 seasons.
Messer, only the fourth man to serve as The Rock’s head coach, has taken The Rock to the next level.
His coaching prowess was a factor in the decision by SRU officials to build a state-of-the-art, on-campus baseball facility: Jack Critchfield Park.
“The Jack” opened in April of 2002. The 1,500-seat stadium stands as a testament to the quality of The Rock program headed by Messer.
The Rock has made the most of its home field advantage as evidenced by the 169-89 (.655) record the Green and White have compiled in home games the last 13 seasons.
Messer, a native of Lee, Mass., began his collegiate coaching career in 1983 at Westfield State College in his home state.
After two seasons as an assistant at Westfield State, Messer accepted a similar position at NCAA Division I power Oklahoma City University, where he coached one season while earning his master’s degree in counseling.
As a collegiate player, Messer was a shortstop at Springfield College. He graduated in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. The following year, he played and coached in Holland.
Messer served in a dual role of coach and faculty member for the first 22 seasons of his Rock career. He was an assistant professor in SRU’s health and physical education department until January 2008, when he relinquished his teaching duties to become a full-time baseball coach.
He and his wife, Mary, are the parents of three children: Matt, Michelle and Billy.
All three Messer children have attended SRU. Matt played on his father’s Rock teams in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Billy also played at The Rock and was a four-year starter at second base.
Billy earned first-team All-PSAC-West honors in 2009 after being a second-team selection in 2008. He also earned all-region honors last spring and currently serves as a Rock assistant coach and the team's recruiting coordinator.
Messer’s wife, Mary, is the director of the Slippery Rock Community Park.
Messer’s father, “Doc” Messer, was an avid supporter of The Rock and attended virtually every game, regardless of the location, before he passed away in March 2011.