Head baseball coach Matt Englander honored with Jackson Mentoring Award

When the Case Western Reserve baseball team hits the field with head coach Matt Englander, it’s about so much more than the game. Englander views his job to be as much about instilling positive leadership qualities and tactics for handling adversity as it is about refining baseball skills.

“I see baseball as a measuring stick to help the players learn about themselves and how to be successful,” he said.

His style has been met with much success. Not only have Englander’s lessons on the field helped turn the team into a formidable force in its division, but his lessons off the field and impact on his players’ lives have led him to win the J. Bruce Jackson, MD, Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring.

The Jackson Award honors outstanding advising and mentoring of undergraduate students by a current employee or emeriti faculty member of the university. J. Bruce Jackson (ADL ’52) established the award in 2003 in honor of the late Dean Carl F. Wittke, Jackson’s mentor during his undergraduate years.

Englander joined Case Western Reserve as head baseball coach and physical education instructor in 2006. He has led the team to back-to-back school-record breaking seasons, including 2011, when the Spartans shattered the school record for wins and finished 33-15 overall. This earned the university its first NCAA Tournament berth in the program’s history and the team placed third during the Mideast Regional Championship in Marietta.

Each season, Englander has guided his players through countless baseball drills—and valuable lessons of doing your personal best in all walks of life. His team members have been more than appreciative, with six of them nominating him for the Jackson award.

“I am confident that the lessons learned from Coach about passion, hard work and dedication have instilled the confidence in every man to come through the Case Western Reserve baseball program to become leaders in their communities around the world upon graduation,” wrote one nominator.

Another nominator wrote, “He taught me how to be a leader, he taught me how to handle adversity, he taught me to be vocal. I had some pretty important classes in my curriculum at Case Western Reserve. But not a single credit could count as much as the lessons I learned from Coach Englander.”

To Englander, teaching leadership means instilling in his players the value of always being willing to do the right thing—and to stand by the decisions you make, even the difficult ones.

“If there’s ever a decision that’s made, you need to understand that it’s made for a reason,” he said. “If my players don’t know the reason, they know they are free to ask.”

Whether it’s why a game-day lineup is the way it is or why the bus is leaving at a certain time, Englander encourages his players to understand why all decisions are made. “The expectation then is that they see that there’s depth to every decision and that they need to have the same level of accountability. The answer is never allowed to be, ‘because I said so.’ When you make the decision greater than the ego, that’s how you get to a leadership position.”

Englander sees the same opportunity to share valuable lessons in the face of adversity.

“Adversity is one of the greatest opportunities we can get,” he noted. “It’s an opportunity to see what you’re made of, to improve yourself and to pick other people up.” Whether it’s a health concern or class constraints or issues with another person, Englander is more than willing to help his players work through all sorts of issues—including many that extend well beyond the field.

His players were able to witness first-hand how their coach handled adversity this past year when he battled brain cancer. In the fall, Englander underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. He returned to work as soon as he could and didn’t miss a single game of the season. According to one of his nominators, “Coach Englander does his best in every simple task throughout the day and his work ethic transcends to the team. To see him battle through cancer this past fall the way he did was unbelievable. He was always uplifting and positive about his situation.”

“I deeply care about their lives, outside of just the sport,” said Englander of his dedication to the team. “To be successful, it can’t just be about the sport that you coach or the position that person plays. So the greater level of understanding we can have as coaches in our players’ lives, the more successful we can help them be and the more obstacles we can help them overcome.” Englander thinks it would be a disservice to his players if he didn’t learn more about them than the type of baseball player they are.

His team members have certainly noticed this commitment. “Coach has become like another father to me,” wrote one nominator. “He is always willing to sit down and talk about any issues that I might be having, whether they be baseball related or not. He knows me personally and on a much deeper level than I think can be achieved in a normal classroom setting and, because of that, he is able to relate to me and give me great advice on how to go about life.”

Of being a mentor, Englander said: “It’s a privilege more than anything. The job is fun, working with these student athletes, getting to teach them life lessons and helping them accomplish personal goals. To be able to help them grow up and mature and figure out what type of person they’re going to be in the world is really an honor.”

Englander said it means so much to him to receive this award. “It motivates you because if people are taking to heart the things you are trying to do and agree that they are important, it can empower you to continue and to keep doing better.”