Jeff Mercer is familiar with the bottom rung of baseball’s coaching ladder.
The Bargersville native and Franklin Community High School graduate, named Indiana University’s new head coach on Monday, reflects on the steps it took for him to rapidly ascend through the coaching ranks.
“Whenever I talk to young coaches, I ask them, ‘How much do you value the most menial task?’” Mercer said. “What I tried to do was take the most pride in everything I did and hope it led to more responsibilities.
“I tell them how you do something is how you do everything.”
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At 32, Mercer is now the Big Ten Conference’s second-youngest baseball coach. Maryland’s Rob Vaughn took his current job last summer at age 29; no other league coach is under 40.
Mercer replaced Chris Lemonis, who spent four years leading the Hoosiers before taking the job at Mississippi State on Sunday.
A 2004 Franklin grad, Mercer played two seasons of college baseball at Dayton before transferring to Wright State. He spent the decade after his college graduation learning every aspect of baseball while becoming an invaluable component of each college baseball program he represented.
Starting out as a graduate assistant at Ohio Northern, Mercer moved on to become a volunteer assistant at Western Kentucky and Michigan. He returned to Wright State as an assistant coach in 2013.
Along the way, his responsibilities weren’t always limited to the diamond.
“My opportunity at Michigan and Western Kentucky was to keep my mouth shut, watch and learn,” Mercer said. “I started as low as you can. I’ve washed stains out of uniforms in the hotel room and cleaned toilets.
“But if you want to be special, you have to value work.”
Making sure sandwiches were made and uniforms cleaned were tasks Mercer not only accepted as a graduate and volunteer coach, but embraced.
In July 2016, Mercer was elevated to head coach at Wright State after Greg Lovelady left to take the job at Central Florida. The program posted a 77-38 record under Mercer, appearing in the NCAA tournament this past postseason.
The worth ethic instilled in Mercer by his parents, Jeff and Pam, is a vital component in his success. The Hoosiers’ new coach is the oldest of four boys.
“Growing up, my parents told me where you are is because of the decisions you’ve made,” Mercer said. “I’m so glad they held me to a high standard.”
Franklin baseball coach Ryan Feyerabend played baseball for Mercer’s father as a Grizzly Cub senior in 1996. He’s watched the younger Jeff Mercer grow up and remained friends with him through the years.
Once Feyerabend heard Lemonis left IU for the Southeastern Conference, his thoughts immediately shifted to Mercer and whether or not he would be given consideration at such a young age.
“For some people it might have been a surprise they hired him,” Feyerabend said. “But Jeff is a personal guy and the hardest-working individual I’ve ever known. He has a knack for finding talented kids other people maybe didn’t. Just a natural born leader.
“I knew if he could get an interview that they would have a hard time letting him walk out of the room.”
To the Hoosiers’ credit, they didn’t.
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Family: Wife Stephanie; son Grady (born June 20)
High school: Franklin (2004)
College: Wright State (2009)
Major: Organizational leadership