David Tufo, a 2005 Burlingame graduate, was the starting second baseman for the 2004 Burlingame baseball Central Coast Section championship team. Like a lot of players from that year’s Panthers squad, Tufo went on to play college baseball, finding a spot at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, graduating in 2009.
When Tufo was done playing, however, he wasn’t finished with the game. While many players will simply hang up their spikes, Tufo kept his and has embarked on a journey he hopes will lead to a college head coaching position.
“Ideally, (I would be running a program) in the next three to five years,” said Tufo, who will turn 28 in December.
“I’m ready to keep putting in the hours.”
It was Tufo’s dedication and drive at being the best coach he can be that drew Menlo College manager Jake McKinley to him. McKinley hired Tufo to be his No. 1 assistant with Menlo this coming season. McKinley, who wrapped up his first season this past spring, led the Oaks to a record of 29-28 overall, 13-15 in CalPac Conference play.
“David Tufo is an exceptional hire for us,” McKinley said in a press release. “Not only is he very familiar with Menlo, he is a great infield guy who has a great knowledge base of offensive production. I think he is one of the top up-and-coming coaches in college baseball.”
McKinley also promoted second-year assistant Jason Ochart to the role of hitting coach for the Oaks during the 2014-15 year.
This will be Tufo’s second go-around with the Menlo baseball program. He was an assistant for three seasons, 2011 to 2013, before taking a position with Santa Clara University to work in baseball operations during the 2014 season.
But McKinley lured Tufo away and it’s another upward step in Tufo’s plan. The two first met during a recruiting stop in Sacramento — Tufo scouting for the Oaks and McKinley for Sacramento State. They hit it off and stayed in contact with one another over the last couple of years.
When McKinley had a spot open up on his bench, he put the call in to Tufo.
“Dave wants to be a head coach, that’s what drew me to him,” McKinley said in a telephone interview. “He’s super dependable and super knowledgeable. During the interview process, he was far more prepared (than the other candidates). Not only with what he teaches but why he teaches it.”
Tufo will handle the Oaks’ offensive game and work with the infielders, while at the same time serving as sounding board to manager McKinley.
“He’s been an assistant for all these years, but he’s never been the right-hand man,” McKinley said. “He’s truly going to get his first crack at being a top assistant.”
Whether he knew it or not at the time, Tufo said his playing days in high school and college prepared him to be a coach. Tufo was an undersized, but scrappy, infielder, but what he may have lacked in physical ability, he more than made up for with his mental game.
“I wasn’t the greatest player, so I had to use tools that weren’t necessarily physical tools. I felt if I was blessed with more athleticism, maybe I wouldn’t have set up this (coaching) path,” Tufo said. “I don’t regret not having those (physical) abilities. I just had to find a way to beat my competition by being one step ahead mentally.”
Tufo credits his high school coach, Rich Sciutto, for helping him look at the game from a coach’s point of view. Tufo said during his high school years, he and Sciutto would sit around and talk about the nuances of the game.
“He’s been a big influence. I believe he was a big help for me becoming the type of player that led me here,” Tufo said. “We would talk strategy — why he would send the runner, or why he had me bunting here. … We still talk to this day. We talk a lot about the game, the coaching aspect.”
When Tufo’s playing days came to end following the summer of his senior year, he figured he might as well do something with his degree in economics. However, after only a couple months in “the real world,” Tufo decided to he needed to get back in the game. He started volunteering at Stanford and other baseball camps before being hired as an assistant at Menlo.
The summer following his first year at Menlo, Tufo got the opportunity to coach in the Coastal Plains League and has returned for the last four summers. Tufo credits that move as crucial to his development because this season we was tabbed to serve as head coach for the Forest City Owls in 2013 and the Fayetteville (North Carolina) SwampDogs in 2014, leading the SwampDogs to a 25-29 record this summer.
“I was hesitant because … I was two months into coaching college baseball. I didn’t know if I could coach at that level,” Tufo said. “What I’ve been able to learn just from coaching school ball to going out to summer league the last years (is immeasurable). It gave me a much bigger understanding of the game.”
Add to that education the time spent at Santa Clara last season, dealing with the administrative side of running a college program, and Tufo is poised to capitalize on his next opportunity — but realizing he still can learn plenty working with McKinley and the Menlo program.
“I feel for where I’m at right now, I’m on a good track. I know there is still a lot of work to be done. Having this opportunity is going to allow me to solidify me efforts and my beliefs of who I am as a coach,” Tufo said. “There are a lot of pieces that need to come together to really feel confident that this is what you want to be doing.”
McKinley is just hoping that as Tufo grows as a coach, the Menlo program grows along with him.
“I think he gets it. He gets the whole process of being a head coach,” McKinley said. “Not only be a guy who can get our guys better, but he can get better, too.”