Unless you are a diehard college baseball fan, the name Tracy Smith may not be a name you recognize. Tuesday he was announced as Sun Devil baseball's next head coach, and is considered an excellent baseball mind who helped turn Indiana baseball into a Big Ten power. But don't take our word for it.
We met with Ben Raphel at The Crimson Quarry, our sister SB Nation site covering the Indiana Hoosiers, and he answered a few questions we had about Arizona State's new skipper. We also did a Q&A over at their site which you can read here.
A lot of Arizona State fans may not know too much about Tracy Smith or Indiana baseball. What can you tell us about the new coach?
When Tracy Smith got to IU, the Hoosiers did not have much of a baseball history, and were perennial cellar-dwellers that played in an outdated venue and couldn't even qualify for their own conference tournament. Nine seasons later, IU baseball has now won back-to-back Big Ten championships, plays in a new ballpark up the street from Assembly Hall, and was the first Big Ten team to qualify for the CWS in almost three decades. Before coming to IU, Smith led his alma mater, Miami-Ohio, to the NCAA tournament in the early 2000s, so he's had success everywhere he's gone. One thing that Smith did really well was to drum up fan support in Bloomington, and get both students and community members excited about the team. In addition, his son Casey played for IU while he was coach here, and another son, Ty Smith, is on the IU football team.
The main thing we hear about Smith is this 2013 Coach of the Year award. What was that season like as Indiana fan?
The 2013 season was an incredible run. It was the first season at our new on-campus ballpark, Bart Kaufman Field. I think Hoosiers fans knew that would have a good team in 2013, but no one anticipated how far the team would go. For me personally, the best moment of the 2013 season came in our first regional game in Bloomington against Valparaiso. Down 4-1 in the bottom of the 9th, we went on a four-run rally that ended with a Chad Clark walk-off home run for a 5-4 victory. From there, we didn't lose a game until we got to Omaha (including a sweep of FSU and a certain future Heisman winner in the Super Regionals), where we won a CWS game and played respectfully against some of the best teams in the country.
What style of play does Smith employ? He comes from a pitching background, so how was Indiana's rotation and bullpen handled? Did he like to extend his starters? Aggressive bullpen usage?
Smith employed a pretty aggressive style of play at IU. He was not afraid to make pitching changes even in the middle of at-bats, and had a deep and solid bullpen this year, despite losing Ryan Halstead to a torn ACL at the beginning of the season. Our starters weren't often extended, partially because our powerful offense often helped to build up huge leads in Big Ten games. The offense had a lot of power hitters, such as our catcher, Kyle Schwarber, but Smith was able to adapt the offense to a specific field. For example, at the Big Ten tourney this season - which was held at the same site as the CWS - the Hoosiers utilized some small-ball tactics in order to overcome TD Ameritrade Park's huge dimensions.
How is the Indiana fan base taking Smith departure?
I know that among the Crimson Quarry community, we were all stunned by the news at first. However, while we're a little disappointed today, we also understand why Smith took the job at ASU - it seems like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that he couldn't pass up. But we're very thankful for what Smith has done here in Bloomington and we wish him luck at his next stop.
The biggest knock on former Arizona State coach Tim Esmay from fans was in the recruiting department. What kind of star players did Smith bring to Bloomington?
Coach Smith was adept at bringing pro-level talent to IU - you may recall that Schwarber was drafted 4th by the Cubs earlier this month. If you look at our roster, the players primarily came from Indiana/Illinois/Ohio, which makes sense. But Smith was also able to bring guys from Southern California to Bloomington, including our ace pitcher from last season, Joey DeNato.
In the college baseball world, IU (along with other B1G schools) have chips on their shoulders as being "Northern" programs - for our home opener in March they had to shovel snow off the field. But, if Smith can recruit this level of talent to Bloomington - where shoveling snow or flying south for games is a common occurrence up until spring break - he should have no trouble in getting recruits to come to Tempe.
Smith was a Hoosier himself when he went to school. Was he unhappy at Indiana or was the lure of a school like Arizona State too much to overcome?
I believe that Smith genuinely loved coaching here. He came to IU in 2005 from his alma mater and stayed here for almost a decade, so I doubt he was unhappy. However, I think you're right that the lure of the ASU may have ultimately been too much for IU to overcome. This was the right time for Smith to make a career jump - his team went 21-3 in the B1G and IU earned a national seed in the NCAA tournament, but the Hoosiers also lost several players to graduation or the draft, so next year's team was already going to be very different.
And finally, are Sun Devil fans going to be pleased with Smith as skipper?
I think they will be. At IU, Smith was very open both with fans and the media, and well-liked among his peers. Smith seems excited and ready for this opportunity, and if there's any skipper who can recruit the next Barry Bonds or Reggie Jackson to ASU, it's him.
Thanks to Ben Raphel for taking the time to answer our questions, and best of luck to Indiana baseball in the future.