FAU Baseball: How head coach John McCormack turned an acronym into five conference championships

McCormack is entering his 31st season with the Owls, and 14th as head coach.


Max Jackson

John McCormack enters his 31st season with the Owls, and 14th as head coach.

Cameron Priester, Staff Writer

FAU baseball head coach John McCormack, known by many as Coach Mack, places emphasis on many facets of the game when coaching, but nothing to him is more important than the value of family. 

“The wins and losses, the ERAs, and the batting averages will melt away. So we’re striving for our players to be able to look back and say ‘We got a great education, learned about life, played great baseball, and we did it all together,” McCormack said. 

Anyone in or around the FAU baseball program is undoubtedly familiar with the acronym “OTF,” or “only the family”. For decades, sports teams have adopted phrases or acronyms to show their pride and tradition to the world. But to McCormack, OTF is more than an acronym. OTF is a way of life, and it’s how he became one of the most successful coaches in FAU Athletics’ history. 

“It’s a culture we try to sustain in the locker room and I definitely think it’s a part of our sustained success,” 2022 team captain and pitcher Hunter Cooley said on OTF being the team’s identity.

McCormack started his baseball career about two miles away from FAU playing high school baseball at Pope John Paul II high school in Boca Raton. After graduating high school, McCormack attended Indian River Community College before transferring to Lynn University where he received his Bachelor’s degree in business administration and earned All-Conference honors as a catcher and as a third baseman.

After finishing his playing career at Lynn in 1991, McCormack approached longtime FAU head coach Kevin Cooney about possibly taking on the role of recruiter for the baseball program, being attracted to the surplus of talent to recruit in South Florida.

As a recruiter, McCormack signed the 23rd ranked class in the country in his first season before being promoted to associate head coach in 1998 working alongside Cooney. Together, they won 658 games, appeared in seven NCAA regional tournaments, and won a regional championship in 2002. 

In addition to the on-field success the duo saw, that’s when McCormack first coined the acronym OTF during his time alongside Cooney.

The baseball program had only been established not long before in 1981, so they were still in the program’s formative years. They were amid a transition from Division II to Division I in 2004 and lacked some of the bells and whistles other programs had making recruiting a real challenge for FAU. 

McCormack’s solution to the plight in his program was to change his approach to recruiting completely: recruit players who emphasize work ethic and brotherhood and the baseball aspect will figure itself out. 

“Our theory became, ‘we have to treat these guys better and treat them like family first,’ and our recruiting evolved from there,” McCormack said.

To McCormack, that was affording his players the same honesty and accountability he expected from them. 

“As a walk-on, he was very honest with me,” freshman catcher Daniel Tomasello said. “His way of recruiting, and just talking to regular people, he’ll tell you what’s on his mind, even if it’s not what you wanna hear.”

McCormack’s unique approach to the recruiting trail seemed to pay dividends from that start as his first class in 1993 that ranked 23rd in the country finished the season 41-17 and earned a spot in the South Regional Tournament where they fell to eventual Division II national champions, the University of Tampa. 

After the 2008 season, Cooney announced his retirement after 21 seasons coaching at FAU and McCormack took over the reins as the sole head coach of the baseball team. In the 2010 season, McCormack led the Owls on a 37-24 season where they won the Sun Belt conference championship and earned a spot in the NCAA Regional Tournament.

McCormack also led FAU to back-to-back Sun Belt Championships in the 2012 and 2013 seasons before the entire athletic department transitioned to Conference USA (C-USA) in 2014. In 2016, McCormack led FAU to a 21-8 regular season record, earning their first C-USA regular season Championship. That season, he also made his second consecutive, fourth overall, trip to the NCAA Regional Tournament as a head coach. 

In 2019, Coach McCormack earned the honor of C-USA Coach of the Year for leading the Owls to a 41-21 record, their second C-USA Championship, and the second seed in the Athens Regional Tournament. Six members of that 2019 championship team earned All-Conference honors, five of which were selected in the 2019 MLB Draft: Pedro Pages (6th Round), Mike Ruff (11th round), Eric Rivera (14th Round), Vince Coletti (17th) and Blake Sanderson (31st).

As McCormack prepares for the 2022 season entering his 14th year as head coach, the landscape of his program may look drastically different than when he took over, but his ideology hasn’t changed. Even with the means and facilities FAU Athletics has to offer today, OTF is as much a part of the program as when they were still a budding, Division II team.

“We’ve really developed a culture that centered around taking care of each other,” junior catcher Nicholas Toney said. “I can call on anyone on the team when I need, on and off the field.”

The culture McCormack has built also comes with a high standard. His five conference championships are more than any active other head coach at FAU. 

“I think it’s our expectation to be in a position to win a conference championship every year,” Cooley said. “It’s the same this year and we expect to be back in the regional.” 

FAU will open the 2022 season with a four-game home series against the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers from Friday, Feb. 18, through Monday, Feb. 21, in Boca Raton, Fla. All four games will be broadcast on C-USA TV.

Cameron Priester is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @PriesterCameron.