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Star-News (Wilmington, NC)
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In less than a minute, you get an idea of Brian Cain.
A video on his YouTube channel of a 2015 presentation to Houston student-athletes gives you a peek at his methods. He demands you match his energy. His voice is loud, but he's not yelling. He strides around the room with confidence and bravado. He quickly reminds you this is an interactive presentation.
Cain has been traveling the country for more than a decade as a mental performance coach. His clients include powerhouse college programs and professional athletes. He's built a reputation in sports psychology that has made him extremely sought after.
Yet to UNCW fans, he'll always be known as the "Dick of Death" guy. The person whose 2017 Skype session with the baseball team was the start of a path that resulted in pitching coach Matt Williams losing his job.
This was never Cain's intent.
"I will always own my behavior. I have nothing to hide," Cain said. Through a media relations firm, Cain agreed to provide written answers to questions about his career, the presentation with UNCW and the aftermath. "My life is simply a laboratory and learning experience that I share with the world so that they can avoid the pain and problems that I have experienced."
Turning failure into success
Cain has a word for his career with Vermont baseball - terrible. As a pitcher, he struggled, never meeting the expectations he'd set for himself. Bad days on the field laid a foundation for his career off it.
Before his senior year, Cain stumbled upon a copy of "Heads Up Baseball" by Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson. The book's message: Focus on the process rather than outcome. It was a way Cain had never thought of the game before. It led him to become a grad assistant with the Cal State Fullerton baseball program so he could study under Ravizza while getting his master's degree in applied sports psychology.
"I went there wanting to be a baseball coach and I came out wanting to be a peak mental performance coach because I saw firsthand how peak mental performance was the missing link to elite level performance," Cain said.
After getting his degree, Cain was a high school athletic director. He landed his first mental performance client in 2006 when Dave Serrano, a former assistant at Fullerton, took over at UC Irvine. Later that year, Cain added TCU, Vanderbilt and UNCW.
"By 2009 I was on the road 40-plus weekends a year and was using my vacation time as an AD to do more coaching. I had two full time jobs and loved it," Cain said. "I was torn. I really loved my job as an athletic director, but couldn't imagine my life not doing peak mental performance coaching."
The death of his mother in 2010 became the turning point, and he eventually made the decision to turn his pastime into a career.
Cain estimates he now spends 280-plus days a year on the road. Even when he's not traveling, his schedule includes Skype sessions or phone calls with teams or players. Annually, he handles about 10 individual athletes and 25-30 teams. Over the years, his client list has included former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre, the Washington Nationals, Fuddruckers, and college teams at Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan.
"We've used Brian Cain over the years as a Peak Performance coach, working with our players on the mental side of the game of baseball. Brian has been nothing but terrific in working with and motivating our players," Ole Miss baseball said in a statement.
Cain's services come at a cost.
Two contracts with Houston baseball for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years were worth $20,000 each. Another contract with Iowa baseball during the 2012-13 school year was worth $15,000 plus travel expenses. Requests by the StarNews for contracts from some 10 schools around the country, including East Carolina and North Carolina, have not been returned as of Tuesday.
His first presentation at UNCW was Sept. 8-10, 2006, when baseball coach Mark Scalf employed his services. The session cost $3,000. Scalf scheduled a similar program in 2015 for $5,000. During the 2015-16 school year, Cain made two appearances, each costing $7,500. His 2016-17 work with baseball was also two in-person sessions, each running $8,750. Additionally, Cain worked with the women's basketball team in 2016, speaking on-campus twice at a cost of $10,000 per appearance. Each of those agreements included additional support via email, phone or Skype.
University funds did not pay for these services. Each team has a discretionary support fund managed by the Seahawk Club, which consists of money raised from fundraising events and donations.
Cain asked UNCW staff members and players what needed to be addressed during the Skype session with pitchers in May 2017.
Three topics came up: Confident body language, attacking the strike zone versus pitching passively, and playing the game loose.
Cain drew inspiration from the 2000 film Boiler Room. In a speech to stock traders, Ben Affleck uses the phrase 'Act as if.' Affleck begins by telling his team to go out and buy new suits so that they look more professional. He hopes the new look leads them to "act as if you're the [expletive] president of this firm. Act as if you've got a nine-inch cock."
Cain's speech - and use of a rubber mold of the male anatomy that became known as the Dick of Death - were never intended to be sexual in nature. Cain called it a prop that took up about 30 seconds in a 30-minute session, noting that its use was an "isolated incident."
"It was my intention to deliver a message, in a light-hearted way, that the men in the room would connect with and understand the point we were trying to make about carrying yourself with bigger body language and confidence while attacking the strike zone with your pitches vs. pitching passively. Both of which would help them to pitch better," Cain said.
Players interviewed have said that, at the time, no one openly objected during the presentation or immediately after. The group had two instant reactions - laughter or shock.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a female mental performance coach, who has been working in the field for more than two decades, said testing the limits and sometimes using language some might consider vulgar is a part of making an impact. Every team or school has a line and it's up to the speaker to figure out where it is. That doesn't mean they can't cross it without knowing or that the intent of the message was wrong.
"If you go in and just give this soft, little talk, no one really remembers that. It doesn't have much of an impact," she said. "I've never pulled out something like that, but I've certainly said some things that made people in the audience go, 'What?' for the purposes of grabbing their attention, so they have something to rally around."
Eventually, that moment was presented to university officials and became the starting point for an investigation that ran months and led to Williams' dismissal in June.
Cain says that during the investigation process, no one from UNCW contacted him. Through a spokesperson, the university said it could not comment on the details of a personnel investigation.
"I'd imagine if what was said that day was really an issue for the people in the room, the pitchers and pitching coach who received the message live and as it was intended, in the proper context, I would have been contacted by Coach Scalf," Cain said. "(Scalf) has deep relationships with his players and is a man of high character that would address any below the line behavior that was in anyway related to his program."
Details of the ordeal spread rapidly on social media after the StarNews published its original story about the incident on June 15.
Within hours, Cain was receiving calls and messages from people he's worked with for years.
"In my mind right away, I was like, 'Someone misconstrued something. Someone took something a little a too far and it got caught up in the social media world.' Not at one minute was I like, 'Are you kidding me?'" Florida State softball coach Lonni Alameda said. Cain has worked with the Seminoles since her arrival in 2009. The team won the 2018 NCAA Championship in June.
The support has been welcome, because Cain has witnessed the flip side.
Online, people have called him a charlatan and asked for schools to boycott his use in the future.
Those who know Cain have a different point of view.
Alameda and her assistant coaches met with him in Chicago a few weeks after winning the national title, and the story's publication. It was a chance to talk and regroup after the grind of a rewarding season.
She calls the FSU players and staff her family and said she would never bring anyone into that group that would jeopardize keeping them safe. She's known Cain since her days at UNLV and has seen how valuable his work is - which is why she plans to bring him back next season.
"He's so professional, he's almost like a big brother to the girls," Alameda said. "They can call him at any moment. He gives his cell phone to all of them and they can call him at any moment and he can work them through when they're struggling."
Cain hopes coaches and athletic directors will call him. He understands there will be questions and he's happy to answer them. He has nothing to hide.
"We are all human and make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. I own my actions and hope that others will reconsider their decisions, forgive themselves and others and move forward," Cain said. "People need to come together during difficult times and learn, not turn their back, run and hide. There is a lot of lessons to be learned here by all. We all need to swallow pride and ego and focus on progress and keep moving forward."
Reporter Alex Riley can be reached at 910-343-2034 or Alex.Riley@StarNewsOnline.com
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