He knew the question was coming.
Can you explain how you leave a Division I head-coaching job for an assistant-coach job?
"Well, it depends how much time you've got," Mark Van Ameyde said, laughing. "There are a lot of layers to that kind of decision."
Van Ameyde this week left his job as head baseball coach at Eastern Michigan to return to the staff at Michigan State. He begins his second stint as the Spartans' pitching coach, and will be key in recruiting, as well.
Van Ameyde leaves Eastern Michigan, his first head-coaching job, after three seasons, compiling a 70-106 record – a record that got better each year, including appearances in the Mid-American Conference tournament semifinal in 2016 and championship game in 2017.
He was entering Year 4 of a four-year contract at Eastern Michigan, making $75,000 a year, and had plans to sign a new deal.
Then his old buddy, Michigan State coach Jake Boss, called last month and told Van Ameyde the pitching-coach job was open again. Skylar Meade had taken the same job at South Carolina.
"Jake called when he found out his guy was leaving, and said, 'Hey, my pitching coach just left for South Carolina. You interested?'" Van Ameyde said. "At first, I thought it was just joking a little bit, but also to test the waters. I was taken aback.
"I was intrigued. Jake's a good friend of mine, I said, 'Let's meet for lunch.' I had several questions for him, and he had several for me. And I kept getting answers I liked."
Van Ameyde, 45, was on Michigan State's staff from 2009-14, the last two seasons as pitching coach and associate head coach. The Spartans' success on the mound – MSU pitchers had a 3.09 ERA in 2014, second in the Big Ten; held opponents to a .240 batting average in 2013, tied for tops in the Big Ten; and had 389 strikeouts in 2012, second-most in program history – helped earn Van Ameyde the head-coaching job at Eastern Michigan.
Boss and Van Ameyde met around 2000, when Boss was an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan and Van Ameyde was an assistant coach at Detroit Mercy, before that program folded. The teams would play several times a year, and a friendship was born.
And when Boss left after one year as EMU's head coach in 2008 to take over MSU, he brought Van Ameyde aboard.
Van Ameyde said he believes he's better prepared to help the Spartans this time around, given his experience as a head coach. Before, he said, he was "laser-focused" on just the pitching staff.
"It allows me to come in with a fresher set of eyes that goes, 'OK, I understand some of those big-picture things a little bit more than I did,'" said Van Ameyde, who also was swayed to the job because of the prestige of the Big Ten Conference.
Like most assistant coaches for non-revenue sports at Michigan State, Van Ameyde will work on a one-year contract – likely for a raise over what he was making at Eastern Michigan. Terms have not been disclosed.
He said ultimately it was the right move for his family, including wife Melissa, and their three sons.
He also said he is interested in being a head coach again.
That made the decision extra tough.
"That was one of the concerns, maybe the biggest concern I had as I was going through this decision process," Van Ameyde said after lunching with Boss at HopCat – yes, he munched on some crack fries – in East Lansing on Friday. "I worried, 'OK, if I'm going from head coach to this position, is that something that would be frowned upon in terms of an opportunity down the line?'"
He spoke to some confidants, and "they didn't feel that would be the case."
Phase I of Eastern Michigan's ambitious facilities project received Board of Regents approval Friday, and will include a 60,000-square-foot structure for sports medicine and training, as well as locker rooms, coaches' offices and meeting spaces for the football team.
The plan also calls for a new, state-of-the-art video board for Rynearson Stadium.
The first phase of the university's facilities project is expected to cost around $20 million, made up of mostly fundraising dollars.
There's no timeline for completion, but a groundbreaking ceremony is planned for next month.
The facility will be near the northwest corner of the football stadium, and is the athletic department's first major facilities project since basketball's Convocation Center opened in 1998.
"We are a piece of a larger university campaign that will forever transform EMU," the school's new athletic director, Scott Wetherbee, said in a statement. "This new sports medicine and performance training facility will consolidate department infrastructure, and help provide a safe, effective environment with the highest levels of care for our students, while helping EMU more closely align with its peers in the Mid-American Conference."
Some interesting MAC football scheduling notes of late:
* Central Michigan and Wyoming will meet in the Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho, on Dec. 22, and that sort of will start a rivalry between the programs. The schools announced a home-and-home for 2026 in Mount Pleasant and 2027 in Laramie. The programs have met twice before, in 2000 and 2002, with each team winning once.
CMU released a bunch of its upcoming nonleague games. Among the highlights, in 2018, it will play at Kentucky and Michigan State and host Kansas; in 2019, it will visit Wisconsin and Miami (Fla.); in 2020, it will visit Northwestern and Nebraska; in 2021, it will visit LSU; and in 2022, it will visit Oklahoma State and Illinois. Pretty ambitious.
* Eastern Michigan unveiled its 2018 schedule, which includes road games at Purdue and San Diego State and a home game with Army.
* Western Michigan opens its 2018 season at home against Syracuse, and travels to Michigan.
This and that
* Former Wayne State star pitcher Anthony Bass is bringing his pitching camp back to the university for a sixth year. It will be Jan. 13, and also feature instruction from former Eastern Michigan pitcher Matt Shoemaker, who plays for the Angels. Bass has pitched for the Padres, Astros and Rangers and now is a free agent. The clinic will be from 9 a.m. to 12:30, is for kids in grades 3 through 12, and costs $75. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Wayne State Police Department, in honor of fallen officer Collin Rose.
* Central Michigan has named Catherine Ostoich its new women's field-hockey coach. She comes to Mount Pleasant after spending the 2017 season as an assistant at Indiana, and the 2016 season as head coach at Missouri State. Central Michigan was 0-18 last season, leading to the firing of Molly Pelowski in October. Ostoich was a star player at Richmond.
* Tickets for the Horizon League men's and women's basketball tournaments, set for Little Caesars Arena from March 2-6, now are on sale at the arena box office. Tickets begin at $15 per day.
* Detroit Mercy athletes recently raised $111,303 in a crowdfunding competition among the school's varsity teams, titled, "Clash of the Titans."
* Michigan State men's soccer finished sixth, Western Michigan ninth and Michigan 22nd in the final Division I rankings.