http://blogs.tennessean.com/vanderbilt/ ... cago-cubs/
Why now and why this job?
Derek Johnson: I talked to the kids and I talked to Coach Corbin and I said, ‘You know, the thing for me is I’ve never really wanted to be a head coach. So that being said, what’s your next step if there is one?’ I never felt like I needed to take another pitching job. In college baseball, I felt like I had the best one in the nation. So since I wasn’t going to be a head coach, this seemed to fit very well. So that’s the timing of it.
I’ve had other opportunities with other jobs and I felt like … I’m an Illinois guy and I grew up watching the Cubs on WGN just about every day in the summer. I considered myself I Cubs fan growing up. That was part of the appeal. On the mature side of things, it was along the lines of I just felt good about the vision they have for what’s upcoming and what’s next for the organization, and I felt like they were going to give me the opportunity to be involved in that. That’s probably the main couple of reasons the Cubs appealed to me in the first place.
On how this process got started:
DJ: I got a call from, actually, a former player of ours (David Macias) who is in the organization seeking my interest level. Just like any other time that I’ve been called, I’m like, ‘Sure, let me know and give me a call.’ I mean, you never want to rule anything out. So the next guy was (Cubs vice president of scouting and player development) Jason McLeod and I had several conversations with him, and with (Cubs president) Theo (Esptein) and some of the other Cubs folks and it was good.
The next part of it was an interview and I actually went down and interviewed with them and watched a little bit of their instructional league down in Mesa, and just kind of got to know them. It was an informal interview. It wasn’t anything pressing by any means, and we just kind of kept the lines of communication open. They asked how interested I was after meeting with them, and I said I felt like I was. Then obviously they went to work on their side to decide whether or not I was the right person for them.
So I guess, all in all, it was a couple of weeks. They asked if I’d like the job and I asked to think about it for a couple of days and talked with Coach (Tim) Corbin at that time, who was very helpful all the way through. I decided it was a great fit.
On his pitching philosophies and why the Cubs were attracted to him:
DJ: I can’t speak for them on why they were attracted to me, but I guess I can tell you that basically my job is now to do what I’ve been doing with 15 or 16 pitchers every year and trying to turn that into a program that works for 120 at all areas and skill levels. So that’s the challenge. And that’s really the great part of the challenge is to understand what fits best at each level of play and being able to tailor that to individual needs, and being able to understand the history of each guy and what got them there in the first place and be able to combine some of the things we want to try to do there. Obviously for me, it’s about being able to help the coaches at the various levels kind of hone in on the same page so that as an organization, we kind of have a common language. I think that in and of itself will be a great challenge.
I get a lot of different roles, I guess, a lot of things I’ll be doing outside the scope of college baseball. But it’s probably what excites me the most about the job.
On being able to continue living in Nashville:
DJ: I do. It just so happens the affiliates are kind of spread all over the place and this is a really central location. My son wants to stay here. He’s 9. My daughter, she’s 6, she probably doesn’t care as much. But I think we’ll keep the family right where we’re at. We have friends here and folks that we know. It’s a good situation for us.
On having family members near a couple of the Cubs’ affiliates:
DJ: Unfortunately, Peoria (Ill.) is no longer a Cubs’ (Class-A affiliate). It’s now Kane County. I’m from Bloomington (Ill.), which is about 45 miles away from (Peoria). But my dad lives about two-and-a-half hours from Kane County, so at least that’s workable. And then her (wife Tasha’s) parents live close to Daytona Beach. They actually live in DeLand (Fla.), which is about 20 miles from Daytona Beach, which is a Class-A affiliate with the Cubs. So there’s some family there. And I can obviously pick and choose where to go. Knoxville (near the home of the Double-A affiliate Tennessee Smokies) isn’t that far from here. I can always catch the team in Huntsville or Chattanooga. Or I can catch the Des Moines team (Triple-A Iowa Cubs) when they play here in Nashville. So I feel like this location is actually pretty good.
Was money was a factor in this decision?
DJ: No. Absolutely not. Vanderbilt has been so gracious to me over the years and I couldn’t thank them enough. But it really wasn’t a factor and it wouldn’t have been a factor as long as it was close, as long as I could still feed my family or whatever. This was more about the opportunity than the money.
On being approached by other MLB teams for a position like this in the past:
DJ: I’d say a handful of times. Not necessarily as the minor-league pitching coordinator, but it various roles. It’s always been a situation that I could walk away from comfortably, whether it was timing or whether it was I didn’t think it was the right fit or whatever. I can’t tell you exactly how many times I was (approached), but there are a handful where it got to maybe what you’d call a more serious level. But I love Vanderbilt and I was always comfortable walking away from it. This just kind of felt like it was the right timing with the right fit and the right people with truly the right organization.
On his goals and if he would eventually like to be in a MLB dugout:
DJ: I think anyone is lying if they said they absolutely didn’t want to be in a big-league uniform. And I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind. But to be honest with you, there are so many things to worry about right now other than that. I don’t look at it like it’s a springboard to anything. I look at it like it’s a job that I’ve set out to do, and I’m going to do it really well and the other parts of that will take care of themselves in due time, one way or the other. I think you find a niche in what you’re really good at doing. I have no idea if I’d be a good big-league pitching coach. I don’t have any idea at this point if I’d be a good minor-league pitching coordinator. But what I know is that’s the job in front of me and really nothing else at this point matters. So we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
On what he has meant to all that Vanderbilt has accomplished:
DJ: That’s an unfair question (laughing). I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it. To whatever degree that was, I would let people on the other side of it make that call. The pitchers that have been here before and what they’ve been able to do, I think that part of it kind of shows what we’re all about at Vanderbilt. More importantly, it’s the relationships I’ve built with Coach Corbin, with our players, with the fans. I’ve said it a million times and I don’t know if I could say it enough: I love Vanderbilt. I love everything that it stands for. I love what Coach Corbin stands for, what he does on a day-to-day basis. I know I’m jaded. I know I haven’t had a lot of experience with other college programs. But I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt, I think it’s the best program in the country and I think it’s largely due to what (Corbin) does every single day. I’ve just never been around a guy that’s quite like him. I just can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have been a friend of his and to have worked with him and for him for as long as I have.
Have you given Corbin any suggestions for your replacement?
DJ: No. I would. I want this team to go to Omaha. I want this team to win the national championship. I feel like there is a distinct possibility it can be a great year. Now how far they get, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows that. I don’t think anyone knows that until the end. But I want to help him and I want to help Vanderbilt and, in particular, our players as best as I possibly can. Really my (role) right now is to do whatever it is that Coach Corbin feels is necessary to keep the program exactly where it is right now and help facilitate growth here in the very near future. I think he’s going to ask me for some input and I’m certainly going to give him what I know and to the best of my ability.