MLB veteran returns to college to finish degree, join Tigers staff
By Oliver Macklin
Former Brewers and Astros third baseman Bill Spiers, now a student assistant coach for the Clemson football program, joined MLB Network's Hot Stove Wednesday to discuss his career transition from professional baseball to college football.
Spiers, a native of Orangeburg, S.C., was the 13th overall pick in the 1987 Draft by the Brewers and played 13 seasons in the Major Leagues. He never graduated from the university, leaving early to begin a career in professional baseball.
When Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney found out Spiers was eligible to return as a student to finish his degree, he insisted the former big leaguer join his staff.
"[Swinney's] so big on all his guys graduating," Spiers said in the interview with MLB Network. "He's like, 'You've got to show your kids what's right and finish what you started. You know you can come work for me and get your degree.'"
At first, Spiers says he was hesitant. A 48-year-old former MLB player returning to college to earn his degree seemed a bit crazy to him, but after coaching football at the local high school for over a decade, he decided to give it a shot.
"[Swinney] saw me at spring practice and said, 'You know what? You've got to be on this staff,'" Spiers said.
Spiers received a scholarship to play baseball at Clemson, where he served as the team's shortstop. In 1986, he returned to school after playing summer ball in Alaska when word got around campus the team did't have a starting punter for their football team.
A quarterback and punter during his time as a multi-sport athlete in his youth, Spiers always had an affinity for kicking a football. He knew he had the talent and love for punting, but wanted to make sure it was OK with Clemson baseball coach Bill Wilhelm.
"I really figured he'd say 'no'," Spiers said. "I think what I really found out in the end was I freed up a scholarship for him, and he agreed to let me go out and do it and take the fall off."
Spiers won the job to become the Tigers' starting punter, and his love for football brought him into to coaching after his playing career in the Major Leagues. He began as a volunteer coach for the football and baseball teams at Calhoun Academy in St. Matthews. He was promoted after the head coach of both teams left for another school before the 2015 season, and Spiers went on to win state titles with both programs.
That's when Swinney made the move to bring Spiers on board.
"I want you on my staff with your experience, your life experiences," Spiers recalls Swinney telling him.
Clemson's program Tiger Trust allows former professional athletes to come back to school and earn a degree if they left the school in good standing. The program gave Spiers a chance to enroll back in school at the university and join the football program as a student assistant coach.
"It just gives us extra years with our kids, and to be a part of this program is pretty special," Spiers said. "It's really pretty cool."
Spiers reached the National League Division Series three straight years with the Astros from 1997-99 and had a walk-off single off Padres closer Trevor Hoffman in Game 2 of the '98 NLDS. He now has a BCS National Championship to add to his resume after Clemson defeated Alabama, 35-31, Monday night to win the title.
When asked if the walk-off hit compared to winning the college football championship, Spiers said it would have needed to be a home run to compare.
The 50-year-old is just loving the opportunity to offer advice to the student-athletes he now coaches and attends class with.
"The experiences that we had in our life and with some of these guys moving onto the next level … it's just good that we can get in their heads a little bit and share some things with them," Spiers said.
Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.