Back in the Game
Jan. 14, 2014
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
After wrapping up his playing career at Northern Iowa in 2002, Sutherland jumped into coaching, serving as assistant at Wartburg College. A year later, he returned to his alma mater to join Rick Heller's coaching staff, a position he held for six seasons until UNI dropped its program.
"Going through the program being cut was draining both physically and mentally," said Sutherland. "I needed a break from coaching for a while. The dangerous part is (if you leave the profession) do you ever have the chance to get back in."
Even away from the college game, Sutherland stayed involved, assisting at Cascade (Iowa) High School while serving as a hitting/fielding instructor at Bases Loaded Academy. His "real job" consisted of an 8-to-5 position as an insurance brokerage at Cottingham and Butler in Dubuque, Iowa.
"As time went on and the further I got away from being involved, the less likely I thought was going to have the chance to get back into coaching," said Sutherland. "I had pretty much written it off. I stayed in contact with Rick because he has been a big part of my life, especially my baseball life.
"In the back of my mind I thought if Rick ever gets another job, who knows? But being out of the game for 3-4 years, the chances were pretty slim."
In July when Heller was tabbed as Iowa's 20th head coach, Sutherland was faced with a dilemma. He wanted to express his interest in the position, but didn't want to put Heller in a difficult situation.
"I was realistic, knowing I'd been out of the game for a period of time and the odds of it working out weren't very good," said Sutherland. "I wrestled with the fact of even talking to him about it because I didn't want him to feel like he had to do anything for me.
"I had to let him know I was interested for my own piece of mind. That's the approach I took not knowing if anything would happen."
Sutherland believed his quest to return to the college baseball coaching fraternity ended when Heller elected to bring Brian Smiley with him from his staff at Indiana State. But in an unexpected change of events, Smiley returned to Terre Haute as the top assistant, which opened the door for Sutherland.
"I thought it was a dead issue," said Sutherland of his coaching prospects. "Some dominos had to fall for this to work out for me. Some things happened with coach Smiley, and it fell into place. It was a whirlwind-type deal because for a couple of weeks it was a done issue. It was odd how it worked out."
Sutherland is relishing the opportunity help Heller build the Hawkeye program and coach the game he loves.
"I couldn't be more grateful," said Sutherland. "I think it took guts for him to hire me. I was working in a business where people and relationships were heavily emphasized. That stuff hasn't changed, and that is what recruiting and building your program is. It's about the people."
Sutherland says it is a complete 180 to think about where he is now compared to a year ago.
"I sat behind a desk for 3-4 years, but now I am able to go to the field every day again at a university I didn't get to play for, but have always thought a lot of," he said. "To be back is kind of surreal in how it all happened, but I couldn't be happier."
The Hawkeyes begin practice Jan. 25. Iowa opens the 2014 season Feb. 14 with a three-game series in Clarksville, Tenn., against Austin Peay.