It was a move that was years in the making.
After continuously turning around baseball programs at every level of the collegiate baseball landscape, Dave Lorber was in his garage when he got the call from athletic director Rob Chesney, offering him the position of head coach at Montclair State University.
“I had already made up my mind what my answer would be,” Lorber said. “It’s a very special place and one that has so much rich tradition and history that’s hard to pass up.”
A rich history indeed, the program’s 16 New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championships, and 14 NCAA Division III World Series appearances speak for themselves.
However, in the last decade or so, the program has struggled to return to the mountaintops that once seemed so familiar. They haven’t won the conference since 2001 and haven’t advanced to the Division III World Series since 2006.
Lorber, now in his third season as head coach, was determined to come in and rebuild the program the right way. Fifth-year senior outfielder Andrew Ollwerther reflected on how Lorber has connected with the team since then.
“The first time we met, we all spoke as a team first, and then he had a meeting with everyone individually for 10 to 15 minutes, just kind of getting to know us and what our goals were,” Ollwerther said. “From day one, we knew he had our backs no matter what.”
To this day, Lorber still keeps the black and white marble notebook that he used to take notes from those conversations, right on his desk, readily available to be referenced at any time.
Maybe that attention to detail was the difference-maker, or maybe it was the energy that Ollwerther says his coach brings to the ballpark every day, disseminating it throughout the clubhouse.
Whatever it was, it was exactly what the program had been missing. After his first season was cut short due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), Lorber has led the Red Hawks to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2011-2012.
Heading into the NJAC playoffs, Lorber has guided the team to a 30-9 record. It’s the first time since 2006 that they’ve hit the 30-win mark, and the first time it’s been reached in the regular season since 2000: the last time Montclair State won a national championship.
“It’s been great, to get these guys going and let them feel winning,” Lorber said. “And I want them to feel what it’s like to win at the highest levels. And there is a process to getting there. I actually think we’re ahead of where we should be, and I’m proud of our guys because of their resiliency and their desire to get us there.”
The process is nothing new for Lorber, as almost every job he has taken during his coaching days has required some sort of uphill climb.
Prior to Montclair State, Lorber was the head coach of conference rival Stockton University. In his only season, he doubled their win total from the year prior. From 2013 to 2018, he served as an assistant coach at The George Washington University, where helped end a six-year playoff drought.
In 2012, he made a pit stop at Stony Brook University and helped them to a school-record 52 wins and a run to the College World Series. Before that, he spent time at Felician College, as a pitching coach, and led the Golden Falcons to some of the best pitching marks in the nation.
He helped turn around Eastern University and Brookdale Community College in short stints there and even made it to the NJCAA World Series as a player at Brookdale Community College back in 2005.
Success has followed Lorber everywhere he has been. Now, three years after answering that phone call in his garage, look into the Montclair State dugout, and you may just find the NJAC Coach of The Year.
“The program is definitely in good hands,” Ollwerther said. “I’m excited to see where it goes and the talent he’ll bring in from all over the country as we continue to chase that fourth national championship. They develop players well and they get the most out of everyone. And they not only develop you on the field, but they develop you off the field, teaching you how to be a man, and have good character and be professional.”
There is plenty of baseball left to be played this spring, and the job is not finished yet. But, the Montclair State program seems closer to the pinnacle of Division III college baseball than they have been in a long time, and it is largely thanks to Lorber, who doesn’t plan on going anywhere.
“I mean, this is hopefully my last stop,” Lorber said. “You know, I think we’ve got some good things going. I think we’ve got great people in place. I don’t want to be anywhere else. This is a special, special job for me and my family. And this is where I’d like to ride off.”