December 6, 2021 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

Haley’s lofty vision with SJO baseball has become reality

Josh Haley didn’t do anything elaborate after he achieved a coaching milestone earlier this month.


For the St. Joseph-Ogden High School baseball coach, he almost treated it like business as usual once he earned his 300th career win after SJO defeated Prairie Central 13-3 on April 9.

Haley enjoyed the win briefly and then moved on to the next task.


So it shouldn’t come as much surprise to those who know Haley that he spent a large portion of the night he won his 300th career game talking about … junior varsity player development with SJO assistant coach Kody Haas.


“We’re in the thick of our season,” Haley said. “Coach Haas is one of the reasons we have so much success as he helps set the foundation for the varsity at the JV level.”


Quick to deflect praise and heap it on others.

Humble. Hard-working. Passionate. Caring.


It’s how Haley has operated in his eight seasons in charge of the Spartans.

And it’s one of the reasons he has overseen the best baseball teams in SJO history after he took the job prior to the 2012 season.


Haley’s first coaching stop at Hoopeston Area High School, his alma mater didn’t produce the type of success he’s experienced at SJO. The Cornjerkers only went 93-117 in his seven seasons from 2005 to 2011 and didn’t win any postseason hardware.


The opposite has happened during Haley’s tenure with the Spartans. He started the week with a 209-60-2 record at SJO that includes six straight Class 2A regional titles, four 2A sectional titles and two state runner-up finishes in 2A, the only two times SJO has reached the state tournament in baseball in school history.


“We don’t take anything for granted,” Haley said. “My coaching experiences have always made me appreciate our success. I’d say the years in Hoopeston and the three summers in the dugout in the Central Illinois Collegiate League allowed me to trust the foundation I was developing during our early years at SJO.”


A former catcher at Millikin, Haley knew from an early age he wanted to coach.


“In high school I decided that would probably be my route,” Haley said. “I had a few positive and negative experiences and realized the impact athletics could have on people. Then, I spent my college playing days preparing for my coaching career and gained very valuable experiences during that time.”


Haley points out the role SJO pitching coach Mitch Pruemer, who was with him at Hoopeston Area, has played in having such a successful stint with the Spartans.


“When Mitch came with me, I had another guy that I could trust, and we had familiarity in what we were trying to build here,” Haley said. “We did things differently at first, and it wasn’t easy, but we knew it would take a little time to build our foundation and set the culture of our program. The longer and more success we have doesn’t change our approach each year. There is no inherited wealth. We have to work for our success each season. All that comes from 15 years of coaching experience.”


Haley said his coaching style hasn’t differed too much from his time at Hoopeston Area to his time now at SJO.


“I’d say the players from 2005 until now wouldn’t see much change in our demand in meeting expectations, and we still really care for our players each year,” Haley said. “Our base philosophy hasn’t changed, but I’d say I do a better a better job of explaining why we coach the way we do now.”


Haley expected success when he took over at SJO. It was one of the reasons the job was appealing to him and his family.


“I knew when I interviewed that this was a place that could have success in baseball,” Haley said. “We were going to uproot our family, so we spent a lot of time considering SJO. That year wasn’t an easy year, but it was the best decision we made for our family. Once we were here that first year, I can recall having many conversations about the possibility of this type of run with Les Hoveln and our vision of were the program would be. That vision has become a reality.” 


First-year SJO athletic director Justin Franzen coached against Haley in the past when Haley led Hoopeston Area and Franzen coached the Rantoul Township High School baseball team.


“His teams were always competitive at Hoopeston, and he always had his teams ready to play,” Franzen said. “Coach Haley has the ability to make connections with students that great teachers and coaches know how to make, and he is determined to be successful in everything he does.”


SJO Superintendent Brian Brooks knows the effect Haley has had not just on the baseball program, but on the community as a whole.


Brooks, who coached the SJO boys’ basketball team for 15 seasons and won a 2A state title in 2016, said the system Haley has implemented with the Spartans works.


“I have always felt that the best coaches, regardless of sport, have a system, a philosophy and a culture of expectations that they don’t waver from each year,” Brooks said. “I call them staples of a program. They make minor adjustments within that system to fit the talent that they have that year, but they don’t waver from the staples or core of their program. Kids know what to expect each year, which helps create buy-in and consistency. Josh’s baseball program has all of that, and I feel is a big reason why they have had the success that they have had during Josh’s time here. That success has created a genuine excitement about the game of baseball within the SJO community as evidenced by the amount of younger kids that are playing baseball in the summer now.” 


As former coaches themselves, Brooks and Franzen know the hours Haley puts into his teams. And understand the benefits the Spartans have had with Haley at the helm.


“Josh’s teams compete hard, play with enthusiasm, play with a lot of pride in their baseball program and display good sportsmanship, whether they win or they lose,” Brooks said. “You rarely, if ever, see our baseball players throw a helmet or say something to an umpire. You can tell there is a higher expectation of player conduct coming from the coaches.”


The wins matter to Haley. So do the postseason hardware he has helped collect at SJO. And the in-game strategic decisions he is forced to make each game.


But one element surpasses all of that.


“The relationships with the players are the best part of coaching,” Haley said. “There’s always constant communication with former players, and I enjoy that. The hardest part is keeping up with everyone, especially as my four children get older. It’s cool, though, because I recently talked to Michael Silver. He’s my accountant who was doing my taxes and who was a former player of mine. It just reminded me how cool it is to see former players grow up and be successful.”


Haley doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon at SJO.

Baseball is too much of a passion of his. Meaning more wins are in store for Haley and more potential milestones to reach with him leading the Spartans.


“As long as I am enjoying the grind, I’ll be coaching high school baseball,” Haley said. “I imagine baseball and coaching will be in some part of my life for a long time.”

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