All he wanted to do was drive.

Matt Swope was in Florida with the Montreal Expos organization in spring 2004, trying to hang on to his dwindling professional baseball career. He was struggling to rekindle the success he saw in college after two labrum and rotator cuff surgeries.

The Expos cut him before the season started. He left immediately, driving through the night in his Nissan SUV to where he’s always felt most comfortable: home in Maryland. At points along the 1,000-mile trek, tears clouded his vision as he stared at the dark road and into the finality of his playing days.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever dealt with failure. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to go through sheer devastation,” Swope said. “All I’ve done since I was 5 years old was work to get to that point.”

For nearly a decade, he labored through desk jobs and longed for any way back into the sport. Maryland gave it to him. Swope will make his head coaching debut with the Terps on Friday.

The New Carrollton native wanted to play for them since he was a 13-year-old sneaking into basketball games. Over the last decade as a Maryland assistant, multiple major league teams asked him to be their hitting coach. He rejected them all. Maryland athletic director Damon Evans rewarded that loyalty when the Terps’ head coach position opened last summer.

Swope is home. He’s never left. He doesn’t plan to.

“When I came back here and worked, I think I made $20,000 my first year,” he said. “I lived in D.C. for six years. I grew up in PG County. I live in Annapolis now. The lifestyle and being happy is more important to me than a financial gain.”

A College Park experience

Swope and his childhood friends never needed a ticket.

They befriended an usher at Cole Field House who would let them into Maryland men’s basketball games without one. They maneuvered through the crowd to the standing-room-only section to catch a glimpse of Joe Smith, Duane Simpkins and Johnny Rhodes — Gary Williams’ first team to beat local rival Georgetown.

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Swope went to campus to eat after baseball practices. He drove through College Park every day to get to DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. He played basketball in the yard of his father’s Sigma Chi’s house on Fraternity Row. He couldn’t wait for the homecoming football game every year.

Maryland has always consumed Swope’s life. He chose to play for the Terps, who had a losing record for seven straight seasons before he joined them, over Clemson, which reached the College World Series twice while Swope was in high school.

He led the Stags to Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles in 1996 and 1998, hitting leadoff, playing centerfield and serving as team captain.

“One thing you can’t argue about Matt,” former DeMatha coach Larry Prange said, “he’s loyal.”

Swope, third from right, celebrates with his DeMatha teammates at Bob Smith Stadium. (Photo courtesy of Larry Prange)

As a sophomore at Maryland, Swope saw the football team win an ACC title. He watched men’s basketball’s national championship in 2002 at RJ Bentley’s but didn’t participate in the ensuing couch burning. Swope credits those moments with forging his fierce fandom.

In 2001, the Terps squandered a 22-point first-half lead in a Final Four loss to Duke. The schools also played in baseball that weekend, where the Blue Devils heckled Swope’s squad.

“It was double painful,” he said. “We got a bunch of shit.”

Swope hit .331 over four seasons with the Terps. He’s the program’s second all-time leader in runs scored and hits and fifth in walks. He hit .368 and guided Maryland to a then-program record 34 wins in 2002. He was drafted that summer by Montreal.

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Instead of realizing his major league dreams, Swope worked as a project manager for a construction company and then as a contractor for the Defense Department.

“I was dying inside every day,” Swope said.

Former Maryland head coach Erik Bakich offered Swope a role on his staff to oversee travel, scheduling and budgeting in 2013. After nine years away from the sport, Swope was back — and took a pay cut to do it. He spent the next decade climbing up the program’s coaching staff.

The Terps hosted their first ever regional in 2022, due in part to the explosive offense Swope engineered as the team’s hitting coach. He watched from the outfield during warmups as hundreds of fans wrapped around the stadium and waited to enter.

Emotion overtook him when he jogged to his third base coach position for the bottom of the first inning. Again, tears blurred his vision. But they were different from the ones two decades earlier. Those marked the premature end of his playing career. These showed Swope what Maryland baseball can be at its best.

“I couldn’t hold it back,” he said. “I didn’t even care who saw it.”

How Swope brought a Swiss method to Maryland

At DeMatha, Swope once hit four home runs in one day. He never needed to learn how to bunt. But he’s always seeking an edge. So when Prange asked Swope to hone the skill, the outfielder mastered it.

“If he had an idea, he was willing to try,” Prange said.

Thirty years later, that desire for any kind of advantage has helped Swope reimagine how to coach baseball — and potentially revolutionize the game itself.

Swope met David Genest, a biomechanics expert originally from France, in 2019 via LinkedIn. Genest introduced Swope to motor preferences, a hyper-individualized training method that breaks down a hitter’s mechanics into dozens of minute classifications. In the half-decade since, the strategy has produced countless breakout seasons and attracted transfers and MLB stars alike to College Park — all to work with Swope.

“It’s just in its infant stages as far as blowing up,” Maryland assistant coach Johnny Poss said. “You can’t argue with the success of what he’s done here with the offense.”

But before Swope could understand and implement it, he had to learn how to translate French.

Every evening for nearly a year, Swope repeated the same process. He studied the research in the foreign language, compiled dozens of questions for Genest and asked them on a weekly call that sometimes lasted three hours. Each meeting got Swope closer to installing the technique with the Terps.

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The calls also revealed to Swope how unprepared he was earlier in his career. Memories of coaching players in ways he now knows are counterintuitive haunted him and kept him awake until 2 a.m. some nights.

“My first year was a dark, dark place,” the coach said. “But I was willing to put in the time.”

The Terps hit 67 home runs in 2019. They hit a program-record 137 in 2022 and 131 last season. They’ve also led the Big Ten in walks the last two seasons and cut down on strikeouts. Swope and Genest’s company, Motor Preference Experts, is now the exclusive North American partner with Volodalen, the lab in Switzerland where the philosophy originated.

The strategy hasn’t caught on elsewhere — Swope blames stubbornness — but the coach believes it will change sports in the next five years. Until then, Maryland has the edge its coach has always sought.

Said Swope: “Sure as hell nobody’s doing this.”

If Swope succeeds as Maryland’s head coach, he’ll certainly have opportunities to bolt to schools with higher pay and better facilities. That’s what the Terps’ last three coaches — Rob Vaughn, John Szefc and Bakich — did. They saw College Park as a stepping stone to somewhere better.

Swope doesn’t. One look into his basement explains why.

It features wooden seats rescued from Cole Field House and a Scott Milanovich game-worn wristband. A Len Bias jersey and framed photos of Maryland baseball celebrating after winning its 2014 and 2015 regionals cover the walls. Each piece of the collection marks a memory that strengthened the relationship between a man and school.

Swope, innovative and loyal, finally has his dream job. He never wanted to go anywhere else.

(Photo courtesy of Matt Swope)