Alumni Spotlights are Q&A's with former Brandeis student-athletes, across a myriad of disciplines, as they reflect on their Brandeis experience and how it has shaped their lives today. Read more spotlight features here.
This summer, in conjunction with Homecoming 2022, we will be spotlighting a series of student-athletes who played for our Hall of Fame coaches and have gone on to be successful coaches in their own right. We hope you can join us for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Gosman Sports Center on October 8, 2022. Discounted early registration tickets are now available for purchase!
Name: Bryan Haley ‘99
Institution: Endicott College
Bryan Haley came to Brandeis from Hartford, Connecticut, and had a terrific four-year career on the mound under head coach Pete Varney. He was an All-New England selection as a junior and an All-UAA choice as a senior. Haley helped the Judges make three-straight NCAA tournament appearances, including in 1999, when he went 1-0 with two saves in the tournament, including a complete-game win over Southern Maine, and a save against Amherst that clinched the Judges’ second trip to the Division III College World Series.
After graduating, he spent two stints as the Judges’ pitching coach, sandwiched around a year playing professionally in Australia. From 2003 to 2007, he was the pitching coach at Division I Columbia University. In 2008, Haley took over the reins at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts. In his 15 seasons at the helm of the Gulls, Haley’s teams have averaged 30 wins per season, with three Commonwealth Coast Conference titles. In 2022, Endicott set a school record with 40 wins and won their first-ever NCAA regional tournament, advancing to the Super Regional round, as Haley was named the CCC Coach of the Year for the fourth time.
What drew you to Brandeis in the first place all those years ago?
I got recruited by coach Varney, and that’s really what drew me there. I grew up in Connecticut, and I hadn’t even really started looking at colleges yet. I was just focused on playing ball. I got a call from coach Varney, and he said he’d be interested in me coming up for a visit. I did some research on Brandeis and saw what a great institution it was, and came up and visited, and had a great trip, and it all went from there. But really, it was the recruiting process that got me to understand what Brandeis and the program were all about.
What other schools were you looking at?
I was looking at mostly smaller schools that are similar to Brandeis. I knew I wanted to be near Boston, and some schools recruited me for football, but I knew I wanted to focus on baseball in college.
What’s your favorite memory of playing at Brandeis?
There’s no question: I was on the bottom of the dogpile in 1999 at Hadlock Field when we won the Regional. I was fortunate enough to have the ball to close it out. I ended up literally on the bottom of a dogpile, one of the more memorable moments of my life. The details are etched in my head for the rest of my life.
I tell my players all the time: it’s a pretty cool feeling when you put so much work into something - and we didn’t have that kind of success at that level every year. The previous three years, we went 0-2 at the NCAA Regionals - the feeling of elation, the high of knowing that you did it, is special. Seeing all that hard work pay off is special.
What was it like experiencing the same thing as a coach this year?
It was a great moment. They had a great dogpile, too. The final out was a strikeout, and it was chaos. As a coach, you’re hugging your fellow coaches in the dugout, talking about how great it is. It’s a different experience, but still a cool feeling.
How about some memories of coach Varney specifically?
Two that stand out: after us winning the Regional, looking and seeing him crying, tears of joy in the dugout. You know, he’s a bear of a man, and to see him have that moment, to see him overcome with those feelings, was something I’ll never forget.
He got me real good in my freshman year. I showed up another player during our fall scrimmage, not knowing any better. I was a young high school kid just starting college and I may have said something to another player. I was coming off the mound, and he met me on the foul line, and he got me real good to understand that that behavior was not acceptable. I got the picture, but when I sat down, he followed up, came over and put his arm around me. He said, “You understand what I’m talking about?” And I told him, “Coach, I got it. I’ll never do it again.” And it’s something that I teach all my players because it’s something that I never forgot.
There are so many memories between those two, but those are the ones that stand out.
What made your teams of the late 1990s so successful?
Coach did a great job of getting some really talented guys together, number one. Coach is an exceptional teacher of the game. I don’t think there’s anyone that I’ve ever played for, that I’ve ever known, that not only understands the game but can make it simple and teach it the way he does. So the baseball IQ of the team was high, because of everything we learned from him. He’s got a gift for that, there’s no question about it.
And then, it was a really fun group of guys that enjoyed being around each other. We would spend a lot of time off the field around each other, as most good teams do. When we were on the field, there was almost a fear of letting each other down, to be honest with you. We were hyper-competitive. When we were on the field, you just wanted to step up and do your job. But when you didn’t, you knew the next guy was going to step up and do it.
All those things culminated and came together. And those are the guys that I still hang out with to this day.
What ultimately led you into coaching as a career path?
I always loved baseball, and I was always competitive. I thought I might be a teacher. I wasn’t really sure; I knew I enjoyed teaching and coaching is teaching. I got to go play in Australia for a year which was amazing and a great experience. That was after I coached at Brandeis for a year. Coach was nice enough to bring me back on as his pitching coach after I graduated, then after I went to Australia, he took me back. And I just fell in love with it. Honestly, I wanted to be playing, to continue on with my career, but at some point it was going to end. I knew I wanted to keep this part of my life going, so it was just a natural step in that direction. I just loved it, and I still love it to this day. I can’t imagine doing anything else. The passion for baseball, the love of competition and the love of teaching all come together. I love working with college-age kids. It’s a great time to be working with young people. We have a lot of influence with what we’re teaching them and how we can help them through. There’s a lot of growing up to be done in college, and I think we, as coaches can do a lot to help young people through that. Ultimately, though, it’s just fun.
What lessons did you take from coach Varney that you still use in your coaching career?
Understanding the details and paying attention to the details of the game. Coach was such a student of the game, he was able to take complex information and make it simple for your players to understand. That’s a huge thing that I’ve taken from Coach. One of the comments he made that I took with me is that “You have to teach them like they know nothing.” The thought process is that the players have played Little League, they’ve played Legion ball and in high school, and they’ve had instruction, some more than others, but if you start from square one, you’ll be teaching them a lot more than someone who isn’t thinking that way.
And then there’s the way you play the game. Coach had expectations and standards as far as how we play, and that’s something that our teams have too. They’re going to play the games hard and carry themselves a certain way. It’s OK to express emotion, that’s a great thing, but understanding that when we go beyond and our emotions start to be a distraction, we rein it back in and get back to the next pitch.
Really, though, everything that I do as a coach stems from Coach Varney, to be honest with you.
Do you see anything in your current team that reminds you of the teams you played on?
The fun the guys have together. It happens every year - every team has fun together - so I don’t want to say it was special in that regard, but maybe it was. This just felt like a really tight group of guys. Obviously, it’s easier when you’re winning and playing good baseball and people are feeling good about it. We had our challenges, and we got through them. The talent was there, the camaraderie was there, and then, it’s baseball. It comes down to competitive moments and getting the big hit or the big strikeout. We got it back then, and we got it this season.
What accomplishments are you most proud of, professionally or personally?
Personally, I’ve been married to my lovely wife for 16, 17 years, and we have four kids. Family is where it all starts. We’ve been able to find the balance to make it work all these years.
On the field, in 2013, Endicott won the conference tournament for the first time in a long time. Early in the season, down in Florida, we had a disciplinary issue that I had to deal with. We had four games left to play, and I had to send half the team home, mostly upperclassmen. We had to hold them accountable. We had a pitcher catching, a pitcher playing shortstop. We lost a couple of games in a row, including a bad loss to Trinity. But in our last game, we bounced back to beat Trinity. I’ve never been more emotional or proud after a game. I got choked up. I’ve got a picture and a game card from that game right on my desk. That group of freshman and sophomores beat a really good team, and it was special for me. I was glad that I held the group accountable, and we went on a run later on the season, and it helped bring our team together later in the season. You can talk about the dogpile moments, those were really amazing, and I’m extremely proud of all of those teams, but that one moment of the field is the one that sticks out.