Leaving behind a legacy: Jeff Sziksai steps down as LMU baseball head coach

College Sports

HARROGATE, Tenn. (WATE) — Jeff Sziksai came to Lincoln Memorial University in 2004 taking over a lackluster program that was 5-42 the year before. At 27 years old, he brashly thought he would only be there for maybe a three-year stint before moving onto a bigger opportunity; instead, his life changed in great ways and that ideology quickly went out the door — turning those premature 3 years into the 17.

He got his coaching start working as a GA at Western Carolina under former University of Tennessee baseball coach Todd Raleigh. He then went onto coach hitters and infielders for Old Dominion University. Both coaching experiences preparing him to take the lead at LMU.

Under his direction at LMU, the Railsplitters became a constant contender in the South Atlantic Conference and the NCAA Division II Southeast Region.

Setting goals to get there:

His first: “Realistic goal — being a respectable team.”

By the third year they were above .500 and won 28 games.

The next goal: “Being relevant in the D-II baseball world.”

The Railsplitters had become respectable and competitive, now they needed to set their sights on being a relevant program in the mix.  2013 was that breakthrough year.

Sziksai recalls the “special day” when the won their first SAC title in program history. Rain had pushed back the conference tournament and having missed a few days the tournament was condensed into one day.  The team was faced with the challenge of playing three nine-inning games with 30 minutes in between each. LMU lost its first one at 9 a.m., but the team rallied, winning the next two. Ending  their long-winded day at 9 p.m. with their first SAC championship in program history since joining the NCAA.

From 2013 on, the Railsplitters were steadily in the mix. In the following years, the team won two more SAC titles, appeared in four NCAA Southeast Regionals, and two NCAA tournament wins in program history. Sziksai also accumulated over 400 total victories during his 17-year run at LMU.

While Sziksai  is passionate about coaching, he is even more passionate about his family, influencing his decision to step away.

“Kids, they’re game changers”

With his kids and wife being a priority, Sziksai decided it was time to transition out of his role as head coach to spend more nights at home.

A college coach’s life during the season is intense; between coaching, recruiting, holding clinics, attending events — Sziksai was spending about a month’s worth of “nights not sleeping in his own bed.”

It’s even tougher for the former Railsplitter who has a young family with three kids under the age of 10.

While the news was shocking to his players when he announced via a Zoom call on April 15 that he was stepping away from the program, they quickly understood why once they heard that the reason being his wanting to spend more time with his family.

Grady Wright, now former LMU first baseman says, “from the jump, ‘Six’ makes it apparent that family is super important to him so you know where he stands on that from day one.”

“Coach Six’s” time at LMU is summed up in two words: Life-changing.

“I had opportunities over my 17 years, six opportunities to be exact to leave, and you know, I turn down them all because I loved being in this area and the support and my family and so life changing my time and this part of the country for the better God had a plan for me to be here and he’s blessed me beyond measure so life changing.”

Jeff Sziksai former LMU baseball head coach

The two things he will miss the most being the players and the competition.

Sziksai says the most gratifying part about his job was the relationships he built with players that transcend LMU.

Wright fondly saying that he will never forget Sziksai: “He was really big on who you were outside of baseball, not just who you were on the field. He developed guys’ morals and their characters; molded us into men, as well as baseball players.”

And when it comes to competition part coach says, “We got our head stomped in those early years and then later on, we became, you know, one of the better programs in the region.”

As for the future, coaching baseball at some capacity is not out of the question, but he does not foresee coaching in college down the road.

Over his 19-year career, Sziksai has coached multiple players that have gone on to play professional baseball, one being Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander when he was Old Dominion’s ace as a freshman. Sziksai recalls seeing him pitch in the early 2000s at ODU thinking, “that’s big league, All-Star stuff. Right there. It was different.”

Justin Haywood has since been named the new head coach for LMU baseball.

While Sziksai’s college coaching career abruptly came to an end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an ending nobody saw coming, he knew this season would be his last LMU regardless of the ending as he sets his sights on his other team: His family.

“Coach Six” also hopes Caisyn Fuson is doing well. Caisyn is a two-year-old battling cancer. LMU baseball signed them to their team last fall.

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