Father, Son Team Up to Coach Baseball : But Tom Hicks Is the Warriors’ Boss; Dad Looks After the Pitchers
Two guys with the same last name coach baseball at El Camino College, but only one turns around when the players yell, “Hey, coach!”
That would be Coach Tom Hicks, who begins his fifth year at the El Camino helm next Tuesday when the Warriors play host to Fullerton in the South Coast Conference opener for both teams.
The other guy is pitching coach Joe Hicks, Tom’s father. Tom and the players call him Joe.
“You can’t have two people turning around when the kids call after Coach Hicks,” Joe Hicks said. “Every coach has to have a defined role. I’m not a father coaching Tom’s pitchers. I’m just a pitching coach who happens to be the father of the head coach.”
Sophomore pitcher Jeff Beck says it’s easy to tell the coaches apart. “It’s not like father and son when (the team is) out there,” Beck said.
It’s actually two of the Southland’s most decorated baseball men together on one field.
Tom Hicks came to El Camino after winning an NCAA championship as a member of Rod Dadeaux’s 1978 USC team and three winning years as head coach at Azusa Pacific.
Joe Hicks, 61, joined the Warriors after coaching Long Beach City College to 13 conference championships and three state championships between 1950 and 1975. He also helped found Diamond Sports, a corporation based in Los Alamitos that began making baseballs in a garage in 1977 and now also makes inflatable balls, athletic bags and aluminum bats overseas and in the U.S.
Recognition is no obstacle. Tom Hicks delegates responsibility among his three assistants, and El Camino usually wins in what many feel is the toughest junior college conference in the nation.
In four years Hicks compiled a 95-63 mark at El Camino and finished among the top five in conference play each year. The Warriors are 11-7 in nonconference play this season, and Joe Hicks expects a winning streak soon.
Credit belongs to both father and son. Joe Hicks, however, wants that to read son, then father. “Joe is pretty emphatic about people recognizing Tom as the head coach,” Beck said.
Joe Hicks balances his life between business and baseball, excels at both and never gets them confused.
“When Tom was at USC,” he said, "(Coach) Rod (Dadeaux) came into the clubhouse in a three-piece suit, and once he took off his coat and tie he never mentioned business again. When I get in the office I block everything out but business. When I get to the ballpark I just change hats and block the business out.”
Eventually, Tom Hicks will closet his uniform, don a suit and dive into his father’s business. But Hicks, who became the nation’s youngest four-year college coach when he was hired at Azusa Pacific, is just 29 and intends to continue coaching for many years.
Hicks realized as a senior at USC that pro ball would pass him by. He coached the Trojan junior varsity the following year and became an assistant at El Camino in 1980.
Curiously, the events of 1981 repeated themselves in 1984. Hicks was hired less than a week before school started at Azusa Pacific and just days before school started in 1984 at El Camino.
Coincidence surrounded Hicks’ hiring at Azusa Pacific. As a Division 1 umpire, Azusa Pacific Athletic Director Cliff Hamlow had called balls and strikes in several games Hicks started as USC’s catcher. Hamlow remembered Hicks in an interview and gave him a full-time teaching job with coaching duties.
“Cliff took a gamble on a 22-year-old kid,” Hicks said, “and that gamble was probably one of the biggest turns of my career.”
Azusa Pacific finished third in the NAIA world series that year, after losing its first 13 of 14 games. Hicks averaged 36 victories in three seasons, including a 40-21 finish in 1982.
A full-time teaching and coaching position opened at El Camino in 1984 when Neil Minami left for Hawthorne High School. Living in Bellflower, Hicks wanted a job closer to home. He was accepted at El Camino, inherited a team that had not been recruited because Minami had left in June of 1984 and guided the Warriors to a 21-18 season.
Hicks once turned down an assistant coaching position at USC because he felt he’d have to sacrifice time spent with his family. Still, he devotes significant time to U.S. amateur baseball at El Camino and as a vice president of the U.S. Baseball Federation.
He became a vice president of the federation in 1984 when he got a call from the board of directors, one of whom coached him on a team that toured Japan in 1978.
Teaching and coaching at the community college level, Hicks says, “is really what you want.”
“Coaching is great, I like it and it’s important,” he said, “but the nucleus of why I’m here is the teaching job. The benefits and the salary are terrific.”
The opportunity first to play for his father and then to coach with him has enhanced a fabulous friendship, according to Hicks.
With Tom behind the plate and brother Jay on the mound, the Hicks’ earned their father’s 500th career victory at LBCC in 1975. “It was kind of an ironic family affair,” Tom recalled. The following year Tom was contributing to Dadeaux’s success at USC and Jay was pitching for Westmont College.
Joe Hicks, meanwhile, decided it was time to watch his boys play ball. “I got lucky at Long Beach,” he said, “but when I left (after the 1975 season), I didn’t miss it one bit.”
Thirteen years later, says Assistant Coach Scott Reece, “if you didn’t know that Joe and Tom were father and son, you probably couldn’t tell.”
“People tease me and my father about the old man really running the program, but you can search for miles and not find a relationship that beats it,” Tom said.
Tom handles the hitters and fielders, Joe the pitchers. Both coaches avoid emotional approaches and often clip newspaper stories about pro players who confirm the potential of a technique in use at El Camino.
Joe also has a tale to tell. Several, in fact.
“Joe has a reputation as Joe ‘tell-us-a-story’ Hicks,” said Beck, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander with a 16-5 career mark at El Camino. “He has a story for everything.”
Joe says most of his stories have a point. But with 50 years of baseball experience behind him, he can easily lose himself in a memory.
Like the time back in 1938, when he earned his first wages--$2 a game--shagging balls for a 30-day state semipro tournament in Torrance. Or the time when college athletes--Hicks attended UCLA on a basketball scholarship but played baseball too--played several sports with ease. Or the time he pitched and traveled on buses as a member of a Globe, Ariz., minor league team.
“Things were a lot simpler then,” recalled Hicks, a former All-City cager at Banning High, “but you adjust to the complications.”
Aging helps. “It has a way of mellowing you,” Hicks says. “I’ve been coaching so many years and seen a little of everything, so I rarely get tense. My relaxation is at the ball yard.”
Major abdominal surgery pulled Hicks off the field this week. But Reece, a 20-year-old volunteer coach who pitched for the Warriors last season, stepped in to assume all of Hicks’ responsibilities.
“The way Joe set the table,” Reece said, “it’s just me coming up and eating.”
Still, Hicks likes Reece’s hungry attitude. “Scott is extremely mature and he has a gifted ability to coach. He’s a jewel,” Hicks said.
The outlook for the Warriors’ 1988 season depends largely on pitching. Beck, a sophomore finesse pitcher from Mira Costa High, started strong with a 5-0 mark and an earned-run average just under 2.6. Three other right-handers and two left-handers round out a deep, talented staff.
But there is more to pitching and winning than depth and talent. The guy the players and coach call Joe says, “A team is only as smart or as good as the guy who crosses the foul line with the ball in his hand.”
He’s called the pitcher.