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Chasing that dream

Skelley catches on with Notre Dame baseball

by Joshua Spaulding
Sports Editor - Granite State News, Carroll County Independent, Meredith News, Gilford Steamer, Winnisquam Echo, Plymouth Record-Enterprise and Baysider

TAD SKELLEY is the Director of Baseball Operations for the University of Notre Dame. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
December 26, 2013
WOLFEBORO — If there's something you want in life, you need to go after it.

There are few people who could speak to that more than Tad Skelley.

The former Kingswood and Holderness School standout and son of Chip and Deb Skelley, is a step closer to his dream of coaching baseball at the Division I collegiate level, stepping aboard for the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame as the Director of Baseball Operations.

"I made a decision and took a leap of faith and it worked out," Skelley said of the road he took to get to Notre Dame. "I was planning for it to not work out too. But you never know. I didn't want to look back in 30 years and say I wish I would've done that."

After graduating from Wheaton College in 2011 following a stellar collegiate baseball career, Skelley was a little unsure as to what his ultimate goal was. He knew he wanted to coach, but he also had an economics degree in his hand from Wheaton and felt that he had to do something with that.

"I worked in sales because I wanted to use my economics degree," Skelley said. "But I realized I wanted to coach."

So, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Allie, the head hockey coach at Holderness, Skelley took a job at the Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, where he was the baseball coach and served as a teacher.

But, midway through the year, he wasn't sure it was for him.

"Halfway through the year, I decided I needed to take my chance," he said. "I took a big risk and told Cardigan I wouldn't be returning.

"I enjoyed being at Cardigan, but there was still a competitive piece of me missing," Skelley added.

Skelley packed up his car and hit the road, taking the opportunity give to him to work at prospect camps run by nine SEC and ACC schools throughout the south.

"It was an opportunity to be around the coaching staff and showcase what I can do," Skelley said. He knew that this was just a shot in the dark, but the fact remained, he wanted to coach at a high level and in order to have that chance, he needed to be known by others at that level.

"I drove all the way to Mississippi and worked two camps, then I got the call from Notre Dame," Skelley said.

As it turned out, the assistant coach who recruited Skelley to come to Wheaton to play collegiate baseball, Jesse Woods, is now an assistant at Notre Dame and heard that Skelley was looking for a collegiate job of some sort.

"It was lucky timing," Skelley said.

Obviously, it was a big decision for Skelley and he called on a friend for a little advice. That friend is Wolfeboro native Tim Corbin, who played for Chip Skelley while at Kingswood and is now the head baseball coach at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He had also spoken to Corbin before embarking on the trip south to coach prospects.

"He told me, I have to take risks to get where I want to go," Skelley said.

He noted that so much of what he was doing was simply meeting people and getting a foot in the door and eventually, the right opportunity would present itself.

He interviewed with Notre Dame, and as it so happens, Fighting Irish head coach Mik Aoki used to coach at Boston College and was friends with Wheaton coach Eric Podbelski, who obviously knew Skelley from his days at the Massachusetts school. Skelley knew he could have a chance to work at Wheaton if he wanted it, but felt a change was needed.

"I think I needed to experience a different set of teaching," he said. "I always knew I'd have the opportunity at Wheaton if I needed it."

Skelley praised Podbelski for the kind words that he passed along to Aoki.

So, July 1, Skelley officially started in South Bend, Ind. as the Director of Baseball Operations. The summer months offered him a great chance to evaluate players at the many camps hosted at the Notre Dame facility. While other members of the coaching staff are allowed to travel to recruit and watch players, NCAA regulations prevent Skelley from traveling for that purpose, but he is allowed to scout and work with players on the Notre Dame campus.

"I got thrown right into it," he said. "But I am learning so much, it is so invaluable."

While there are the aforementioned NCAA regulations as to what Skelley can do, for someone with no collegiate coaching experience, he believes he is in about as perfect a position as he can get.

"There are restrictions as far as what I can do, but for someone my age, with no previous college coaching experience, it's a great opportunity in the ACC," Skelley said.

Skelley's job includes many of the day-to-day operations of the Notre Dame program, including organizing practice schedules and working with the team in making sure practices run smoothly.

Plus, he's in charge of all travel, lodging and meals when the team has to be on the road. And since Notre Dame plays in the ACC, all of its competition is on the east coast, so traveling to games means flying everywhere. Skelley books flights, hotels and meals for the road, travels with the team to oversee everything. He also oversees a number of student-managers who help out in organizing everything.

He works with the coaching staff on practice plans and does a lot of video analysis as well.

"It's a lot of the little things, that's the stuff that keeps us busy," he said.

The team had a six-week fall season and then transitioned into a development phase, where the coaching staff uses the opportunity to work with players in smaller groups to work on things that are needed. That was the last month and a half of the fall semester.

Skelley will get right back to work in the new year getting things ready for the fall season, which officially kicks off on Feb. 15 with the team's first game in Florida.

Until then, the baseball team will use the football team's indoor facility in which to run practices and drills.

"It's nice, but it's not outside," Skelley said, noting that most of the Fighting Irish's competition can be outside all year round.

Skelley also admitted that the whole Notre Dame experience did come as a bit of a shock at first.

"I didn't realize how many things go into running a baseball program," he said. "But my ultimate goal is to coach and if you want to be a DI coach, you have to know how a program runs."

And the whole South Bend scene is also quite unique. Skelley recalls having practice on the Friday before the first home football game.

"Campus was just rocking," he said. "It was kind of like a culture shock. There's not a college football program in New England that can compare."

And, he's gotten the chance to be up close and personal for those big moments as well. One of the big things the baseball program uses to recruit athletes is the Notre Dame experience, so Skelley is often in charge of bringing potential recruits to the football games and bringing them to the sidelines.

For the kid from Wolfeboro, that first time was something he will never forget. But by the end of the season, it was almost old hat.

"At first I had to try to separate the fan in me," he said. "I'm there to do my job."

Skelley was home for a bit over Christmas, visiting with his parents, who he said were incredibly supportive of his decision to move to the Midwest to pursue his dreams. He noted that the weirdest thing driving back to the Granite State was the mountains, something that's non-existent in South Bend.

While the actual mountains don't exist on the campus of Notre Dame, it's safe to say that Skelley already has a head start on climbing the mountain of collegiate coaching.

And the path to the summit could easily take him anywhere.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or sportsgsn@salmonpress.com.

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