Mark Wilson: “It’s going to be a much younger team”

One of 2014’s biggest question is: how is the Mosconi Cup USA Team ever going to come back from the depths it fell into last december.
Surprising many observers and insiders, Matchroom nominated a captain for Team USA only three weeks into the new year, with what seems to be a plan in mind and a new approach to the event for the Americans. Mosconi Cup veteran and professional coach Mark Wilson has been one of many centers of attraction during the recent Derby City Classic where everybody had something to say about his nomination.
We decided the best thing to do was to talk to the man himself, and he literally answered all our questions.
AZB: Mark, congratulations on being nominated Mosconi Cup 2014 Captain. We’ll start by talking about you. Europeans need to know you better and maybe a lot of our countrymen don’t know you enough.
Mark Wilson: Thank you. Let’s do this!
AZB: Which of your personal jobs or experiences you think will help you the most in your mission as the 2014 USA Team Captain?
MW: Well, I actually think my school background will probably help me the most. Because learning leadership, and the value of hard work... And maybe even going back to my parents you know. I think that would possibly be better.
My job is fun, because I play pool. And I love pool. But that part of my life will probably not help as much, although I had good coaching. My commentary job in pool will help. Because I feel like it helps me get to know the players better, their strengths and their weaknesses.
AZB:You have played the Mosconi Cup twice, the two first years (1994 & 1995). Do you think it will help you in your approach towards the job you've been assigned?
MW: It will, because I understand and appreciate the magnitude of the event. The first time we went there - this was twenty years ago - never before there had been this degree of professionalism and organization surrounding an event.
...And then, Live TV! If you’re not ready, it will cause you to blink. And if you blink, Europeans’ve got you, you know. So... We’ve got to prepare for that. So I do think it will help a lot. Even since its inception, that was year one, there had been nothing like it, and now it’s grown exponentially since then.
And then the second year, as a most interesting side note, Alex Higgins played in the event. His health was in deep decline at that time, as well as his stardom, and so in the practice room I was thinking:  "oh well, Alex Higgins, this shouldn’t be too bad". He didn’t know 9-Ball, he was such a happy-go-lucky kind of a guy that nothing necessarily applied to him other than having a good time. But when he got there on TV... While having played mediocre in the practice room, he would go out there in front of the cameras and just flourish, you know... Even his own teammates were stunned. He really bounded them with that experience.
Then Sky Sports played that biography, when we were in the practice room. And we’d been with Alex all day, and with Jimmy (White) too. Him and Jimmy were like arm and arm, you know. Jimmy brought out the best in him. And the is biography was absolutely tear-evoking. And then you’re with him! And I just remember... We lost that particular time, but... If we were gonna lose, and Alex Higgins won, it was OK. You know, I mean... Because he needed it so bad!
AZB: Johan Ruijsink has changed Europe's fate since 2006. In the 6 cups he has played, he's undefeated. Have you had a look at his successes, studied his choices and his approach of the event?
MW: Good point. Well, I’ve certainly noticed the fact that he is the bonding agent for his entire team. And you have a team that’s pretty moldable, but he’s still getting everybody on the same page.
The story was related to me that, he came into the practice room an hour and a half before the Mosconi Cup was to kick off, when there’s wives, girlfriends, hangers, watching the players... Then he claps his hands, and he says "Thank you everybody for being here, but now we need some solitude", and he runs them all out of there, and they’re all together. There’s nothing like that on the American side. He has a degree of discipline, he makes the calls, they’re all on board. They trust him, respect him, and he kind of commands authority. So in that regard, I’m looking at what he does.
As far as players selection, you really can’t go wrong with what they have, so... I think anyone could coach that!
AZB: Is Johan an example to follow for you or do you plan to do your own thing?
MW: Yes, very much an example to follow. As well as many of the European players are. One of the components in every process, would be to say "tell me something about Niels Feijen", or "tell me something about Ralf Souquet", because I want to engage my potential players as "well, this guy’s really good, he trains like an athlete. Oh, he’s got a coach with him. He works hard every day... He’s the most improved guy at the Derby City for the last five years".
I want them to say that so then we can ask ourselves "OK, then what’s the next step for us to beat him?", you know... Because they’re such good examples and good role models...
Hey, listen to this. This is the essence of it. I’m in the hallway (of the Derby City Classic) with one of my older best friends, and he says "you know, these American guys... I don’t know about them. If my daughter came to me with one of the Mosconi Cup players from Team Europe and said they were gonna get married, I’d be OK with it. With the American guys, no way!"
It was such a telling statement (laughs). But it is true, we have to be better individuals if we want to be better players. We’re going to have to learn some character, some integrity, professionalism...
AZB: Let’s talk about the players now. The first question is one everyone’s minds. How will you handle the pressure from all these pros all of whom will be telling you that they deserve to be on the Mosconi Cup team?
MW: Sure. I was actually aware that I was going to have this job two weeks before it was announced. So I was naturally thrilled, excited, and yet a little bit tacked with the responsibility that comes with it. Because you can’t critize any of the previous coaches: they didn’t really have a chance. They didn’t have some preparation time. And in many cases,  when you find out you’re coach, you wonder "I’m the coach, what does that mean?" because these guys have great talent, huge egos... how are you gonna do it?
So, with that position, also comes public scrutiny. Or questions: "why did he do this?"... I was thinking about that and I thought, I’m just gonna have to man up and make my decisions based on my heart, because I’ve always loved pool, so... You know, if somebody criticizes me: "why did you select him over the other", or "what are you going to do?", "do you feel the pressure?"... Of course I do. I’m going to make these decisions well thought-out, and it’s not MY team. It’s not OUR team - meaning me and the players - but it’s everybody in the US’ team. Let’s get some of them engaged.
I will have a very transparent process, so at least people understand where everything comes from.
AZB: What methods and criteria will you use to pick team members that you can discuss publicly?
MW: Well, I don’t have anything to hide. It’s not about me. And I think, when there’s mystery, particularly when it’s something that has always been semi-unscrupulous, or people didn’t know... When there’s mystery people tend to always say "that’s his friend, that’s why he’s doing this", or "I don’t like this one", "what he’s doing here is wrong"... There’s always going to be some of that.
So, I’d rather just have openness, because that’s far more engaging and people feel better about it. Now, undoubtedly over the next year I’ll make some mistakes. But they will be mistakes that are well thought out, and well intended. They won’t be mistakes of under headedness, or smacks of favoritism.
For me, there’s a couple of ways to win here. We can win the Mosconi Cup. And I really want to. But we can also help American pool, and that’s the big picture.
AZB: When will you start making a list of names who you think will make the team? Will it be made public? official?
MW: Oh, it will definitely  made public. It’s just that right now, I don’t want to disclose that for a couple of reasons. One, it’s not fair to Accu-Stats video to stir up any controversy here. It’s not fair to the Derby City Classic promoters that there’s negativism surrounding their biggest event of the year. It will definitely be disclosed within a couple of weeks.
Off camera, I’m getting organized, doing some interviews with the players, and I’m watching them more keenly than I might have. And really, the criteria for the team has very much nothing to do with your playing. It’s got to do with your character and your image. We’ve got to get back to discipline, we’ve got to get back to dedication. I want athletes, I want people who want to work. And I want the youth element.
So, if you have so many questions, it’s gotta be in there. So I’m going to tell you right now: it’s going to be a much younger team. One thing you can never guarantee is the win, that would be silly. But I will guarantee you, you’ll be proud of the team. They will behave. That, we’ll have together, we’ll have unity for sure.
AZB: How often do you plan to get in touch with your players before the event, and at which occasions will you meet?
MW: Well, it’s always budgetary. If it was up to me, we’d live together for 10 months (smiles). But I have other jobs, and duties. So, that said... We’re going to stay in touch either on Facebook, emails, at tournaments. We will see each other. I have a training facility at Lindenwood University that the school has agreed that I can use, it’s state-of-the-art and including brand new Diamond tables that the Mosconi Cup is played on. So, I have many progressive training ideas.
AZB: That all sounds very good! Now, the Blackpool Tower Circus is a very rowdy place. The fans will be screaming oaths at the Americans. Is this any place to break in newbies to the Mosconi Cup or would that just be sending them to slaughter?
MW: That’s a good question. Because it is threatening if you’re a veteran player, to go here. Because we’ve never played in such a place, something as fancy, and in front of the fans. Now they’re also throwing some kind of a soccer-hooligans sort of background.
So if you’re a not a pro, not used to be intimidated at all, this would do it. This could break you. Great lights, Live TV... You could flinch.
That said, what we’ve done in the past, hasn’t worked. So the risk is nil. We’re getting worse, we’re not getting better - and we’re getting much older. Now if we take some new faces, some younger guys, then there’ll be some other younger guys saying "hey, there is a chance, maybe I should clean my act, maybe I should try working really hard". This is such a cool program. The idea is that I would like to have this as a model in the United States for people to aspire to. In the past, we’ve never had anything really to work for.
Now, if you were to ask a European player - whether they’re on the Mosconi Cup or not - "Tell me a little something about you’re training, how’s that going?", they would tell you "well, you know, I have a nutritionist, I’ve been planning and playing in all the events, and I’ve been practicing almost 10 hours a day".
And then you go to an American pro, pick any one... He would tell you "well, I haven’t been playing much. But the last two weeks I’ve been trying to hit them a little bit better"...
I mean, how are you going to beat those guys that way?
That’s the difference. We’re going to bring in this level of professionalism and polish. So the preparation is going to be very, very important.
AZB: So that’s what you mean by helping American pool?
MW: Exactly. Having something up there, because right now American pool public is not proud. They’re really offended. Because they spent money to go watch. And that’s one thing in sports, to lose. It happens. But it’s another thing to not represent and actually to repulse your own family. People were saying "well, I did see some good pool, at least I got that"... But they were talking about the other team! It’s depressing. And it’s disrespectful to the sport. That’s something I will not tolerate and if you don’t have an understanding of honesty, integrity, respect, you’re out. I don’t care if you can run 500 balls. I’ll just go with where fire’s at.
AZB: More questions about the team. Team USA's personal relationships on the inside have always caused trouble with members not getting along, no real team unity. European members come from different countries but their bonding seem to be far stronger. Do you think this is something you can make work for Team USA?
MW: 100%. This is part of the interviewing process. I’m not interviewing anyone that I think can’t put up with that. Don’t tell me you’ve won the "Ocean State Open" or something. I don’t care, it doesn’t matter. It’s about what we do in the next ten month, and so we need to be starting off with good material. So there won’t be any personality complex allowed on the team. Way more so, we have to become a family. You have to have my back, I have to have yours. There’s trust and respect. I would do anything to help you. You’ve got to have that brotherhood instilled in this thing, and I think it’s the only chance we have to go over there and win.
We’re not playing for America. I’m playing for you. I don’t want to let you down, partner. You know... That’s going to be far more propelling. Europeans aren’t playing for their country, it’s not even a country! They’re from different countries, you know... And then there’s Team USA who comes with good intentions, you screw your cues together and put them in the center of the table and "hey, we’re a team, we’re going to do it for the USA!"... But you didn’t prepare. There’s no way you could win.
When you go to a place and you don’t feel like you’ve worked hard, prepared hard, you’ve earned the right to win, you deserve to win... Then you look over at the other team and you see what they have and there’s that little thing in the back of your mind that says "my god, I hope I get lucky. If I play well, maybe I’ll get a couple of rolls here and there. I think I could do it."
But you don’t have that drive, you feel beat.
AZB: Look at the European team from last year: all of them World Champions, three US Open winners, a BCA Hall of Famer, and so many major titles it’s hard to even list them. Now, can you possibly put someone on the team who has never won a major event up against guys like that? 
MW: Yes. I mean, it only makes sense. We put the other guys out there, and what happened? It wasn’t even close. In seven years, we’re a hundred racks behind! So it’s not bad rolls we’re getting.
Naturally, it’s dangerous, but really, what’s the risk? I think we’re going to have to go with this (a younger team). And let’s suppose that people will say "hey Mark, you’re not taking the very best five players. But maybe you’ve got good character there, I’ll give you that.". Then what, we would take the others? The ones that have won the titles? But in five years, what are we going to do? Where are they going to be?
I mean, look at Europe. How much longer do you think you’ll have to fight Niels Feijen, Thorsten Hohmann, Darren Appleton. A long time yet! So, we’ve got to start laying the ground for the future. It’s not a "I want it done" type of thing. Plus, we possibly don’t have the horsepower to think like that anyway.
AZB: So, back to the problem: We think you need seasoned players who have won big ones. But those Americans are not known for their ability to be coached or be part of a true team. What is your solution to that problem?
MW: Well it’s the same question. That’s why I’m going with character. Because I try to have some open-ended questions to the interview when I talk to the players. For example: "if you’re selected, how will we be a better team?" Because you know, I want to mandate to them. I want to engage them and I want them to want it. Sometimes, you rephrase the question and you’ll get answers that they think you will like to hear. But I’m trying to get the baseline, to understand better where you’re coming from. So I can get a feeling for the sincerity, or if they’re trying to tell me what they think I want to hear.
Plus, we have ten months to prepare. You might say "hey, I’m going to train real hard, I’m going to practice". But you’re in a larger group, you’re in a competition now. To be one of the five. You’re in a select group, but you’ll be firing for five spots. I don’t know yet if there will be 12, or 10, or 8. But in the amount of time that we have, I will find out who really wants it. I will find out who really has good character.
In a couple of months, I might hear "well, I really haven’t started yet, you know...". But there’s no time for procrastination. I want the five other people to feel that way too.
AZB: One last question about the event. America went from losing 11-9 in 2012 to losing 11-2 in 2013. Does this show that short-race 9-Ball is a coin flip situation where anyone can win? If so, how come the coin always lands Euro-side up? If not, are the Americans getting that much worse or the Euros that much better?
MW: The Americans are what they’ve always been. It’s just that the Europeans are coming every year with a higher standard, and totally unified. And now, it’s starting to really get worse for us. So given what we had, we would seldom lose 11-2, but we were going to lose if we didn’t change something, you know. So it’s not going to be like we were ever again going to be a threat if we continued on that road. We might accidentally win a match, but it’s not going to be... You know, the 11-8 overall record is still in USA’s favor. But it will diminish, if we don’t do something different.
Thanks to Mark Wilson for taking the time to answer our questions and good luck to him and team USA in the 2014 Partypoker Mosconi Cup.