Photo courtesy of MT Athletics
Middle Tennessee Softball assistant coach Tony Foti has recently accepted the position as the head coach of the Greek National Softball Team. Foti has held a plethora of roles at the college and international ranks during in his 35-plus year coaching career, including a trip to the 1996 Olympics with Canada.
Entering his fourth season with MTSU, Foti spoke with Sidelines Sports Editor Tyler Lamb about his many coaching experiences, including his newest opportunity in Greece and how he landed in Murfreesboro.
Lamb: How did your position with the Greek National Team come about?
Foti: Well, I’ve been involved coaching internationally for many years. I coached Canada’s National Softball Team on several occasions, from the mid-80s to the mid-90s and again from 2005 all the way until 2012. I’ve been involved in the Olympic Games, the World Games, World Championships, Pan Am Games, European Games. You name it, I’ve been involved in all of them. I’ve also coached national teams from Guatemala and national teams from Italy.
For this position, I wasn’t looking for it really. I thought maybe my time coaching internationally was done, because I had done it for so long, and a lot of these International Federations, they like to turn their coaches over quite often. And then just randomly a couple of weeks ago, I got a text message from the President of the European Federation saying that I was going to get a call from the Greek Federation and that they wanted to talk to me about coaching the Greek team in the European Championships this upcoming summer and, if we qualify, the World Championships next year and the Olympic Qualifier the year after.
This really comes about because of softball being back in the Olympics. Softball just got put back in this summer in August after having missed the last two Olympic Games. It was apart of the Olympics in 2008 in China and then the wisdom of the old Olympic regime was that softball and baseball didn’t deserve to be there. They removed us and replaced us … I don’t know who they replaced us with … karate or something like that. Long story short, is that now were back in the Olympics, and so a lot of these countries now, it’s their way of getting funding for the sport. If you’re an Olympic sport, you get extra funding.
Lamb: You’ve coached all over the world and on very big stages in your career. How did you end up in Murfreesboro?
Foti: Well, I’ve coached college for a long time also. I used to be the head coach at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. I was the Associate Coach at UC Santa Barbara in California. I also coached at UNLV where we went to the College World Series in 1994. So, I mean, I’ve been coaching college for probably 20 years.
I was in Europe coaching a pro team and I saw this position. I’ve always liked the Nashville area. When I coached at Mercer — they’re in the Atlantic Sun Conference — and we used to come up here to play a lot because Belmont and Lipscomb were in our conference. So, we were in Nashville every year, and I coached at Mercer for seven years. So, I got to like this area. I remember playing against MTSU in different tournaments, especially at the big tournaments in Atlanta. It just happened that they were looking for someone with experience to help Coach Jeff Breeden. It just sort of worked out.
Lamb: In general, what is the biggest difference in coaching internationally as opposed to coaching collegiately?
Foti: The quality of the players. In Division I, you’re talking roughly three or two percent of the top high school players. Internationally, it’s one percent of the top college players, so it’s the best of the best. It’s similar to coaching pro. Also with the national teams, is that you have a different level of pride and dedication that you really don’t reproduce in college because they’re playing for their nationality, they’re playing for their heritage. The athletes will do a lot more; they will train a lot more. Especially if you are in an Olympic cycle and you are a team that can potentially go to the Olympics and legitimately have a chance. Athletes will take a sabbatical, they’ll take a year off of work, they’ll take a year off of school to train for the Olympic Games.
Lamb: What’s your most fond memory of everywhere you have been and coached over the last 35 years?
Foti: Well, I think I don’t necessarily have fondest memories of any one place. I’m the type of person that I really enjoy everywhere I go. I don’t really look at any place that I’ve been as there having been a better moment or a worse moment. I’ve really enjoyed every place I’ve been. I can tell you the beauties of living in Santa Barbara because it’s probably the most exclusive place in the country. You go to a men’s or women’s basketball game and you got Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Gwyneth Paltrow and her mom, all the big stars are there. The LA Lakers train at UC Santa Barbara. But I can tell that at Mercer, it was the same thing. At Mercer, we had the excitement of bringing football back, and there was all these different things. And it’s the same thing here. This is a big university that is in the middle of SEC country trying to compete. For us in softball, competing in Conference USA, it’s the fourth toughest conference in the nation. So, it just brings different dynamics and I have enjoyed them all.
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