Building From the Ground Up
Baseball Coach Bill Breene Leads UB Away from its Humble Beginnings
Buffalo Bulls baseball may be a mystery to many of the students at the University at Buffalo, for many reasons.
Living in the shadow of the two big sports at UB, football and basketball, is tough enough; Add to this the arctic "spring" of Buffalo, which forces the postponement of many games, and you're left with a baseball team nearly invisible to the eye of the average student.
But that doesn't mean that the baseball team and particularly its head coach, Bill Breene, do not have an interesting story to tell.
Actually, Breene's story is an intriguing one, as he was the man selected to build the Bulls baseball team, which had been out of commission for 20 years, from the ground up in an extremely tough Division-I environment.
Breene was given that opportunity to build a Division-I baseball team four years ago and so far, given the obstacles in his way, he has been able to weather the storm and even finished with an overall record of 16-28 last year, which is not too shabby considering they started over fresh in a new conference only a year before that.
"Needless to say in our first few years of development, I think we would go on the field most of the time a little overmatched based on a lack of experience," said Breene. "We expected that and we really just tried to, as a goal, ask ourselves to get better each year, and in the first three years we were able to do that."
Breene came to Buffalo as director of Athletic Development in 1988 and was assigned the duties of implementing a donor program specific to athletes, which coincided with the University's transition from a Division-III program to a premiere Division I-A scholarship program. After making a successful jump to the Division-I level in 1991, Breene stayed at UB in his current role.
In 1996 Buffalo was granted the right to join the MAC conference. To be a member of the MAC, it is required that all participating schools field both a baseball and softball team. Buffalo was ready to initiate the programs to become a member of the MAC.
Breene was approached with the job because of his experience, and graciously accepted. UB, spearheaded by Breene, engineered a recruiting process and fielded its first team in 20 years in 2000 as an NCAA Division-I Independent. The following year Buffalo joined the MAC conference.
"I knew back then that the time would eventually come, we just have to hang in there and endure the growing pains," said Breene. "It is critical that the football and basketball teams get going in the right direction. I supported them then, and I support them now."
Prior to his tenure at UB, Breene attended the University of Southern Mississippi where he was a four-year starter for the Golden Eagles at the shortstop, third base and second base positions. He earned his bachelor's degree in health, physical education and recreation.
He continued his graduate work there and served as a graduate assistant coach, eventually earning a master's degree in athletic administration and coaching.
From there Breene moved to Canada where he coached a junior baseball team for two years, and although he was not making much money, he said he enjoyed his experience there.
A friend of his invited him to the University of Houston where he served as the assistant athletic director, carrying out duties similar to ones he performed at UB when he first arrived here.
Breene said he emphasizes the importance of fundamental skills and believes in the old saying of "having fun and playing hard." His recruits are players who best fit the needs of the team, varying from year to year. He takes solid high school players and plays them in their strongest areas, allowing them the chance to excel.
"I'm a purist, I try if anything to take good high school ball players and make them into good college level players by letting them play towards their strengths," added Breene. "It is a team game that focuses on individual accolades, and we try to make everything routine."
One might assume that the inclement weather often encountered in the early spring months might hinder the recruiting process and discourage top high school players from attending UB. However, Breene said this is not the case.
"The weather doesn't factor into our recruiting process because prospective recruits will come here for the academics and the chance to compete in the prestigious MAC conference," says Breene. "The majority of players we recruit are from New York and are used to playing in this type of weather to begin with."
Breene's Bulls have struggled so far this season, compiling an overall record of 5-16 (1-5 MAC), but will look to improve their record this weekend as they are set to play the Thundering Herd of Marshall in a four-game series.