2013 National Coach of the Year Tracy Smith began his coaching career as the skipper at Miami University-Middletown in 1990. He served as an assistant at Miami (Ohio) from 1993-94 and the pitching coach at Indiana from 1995-96 before taking over the reins at Miami, where he would lead the RedHawks to a pair of NCAA Regional appearances, advancing to the Mid-American Conference Tournament finals six times.
Smith transitioned to the head coaching job at Indiana in 2006, a post he would hold though the 2013 season. The Hoosiers won 40+ games during Smith’s last two years in Bloomington and captured consecutive Big Ten Conference Championships for the first time in school history. Indiana reached a regional in 2009 and advanced all the way to the College World Series in 2013.
In 18 years of experience as a collegiate head coach, Smith has racked up more than 600 career victories and seen 54 of his former players selected in the MLB draft- 22 in the first ten rounds and four in the first round.
He was announced as the fifth head baseball coach in Arizona State’s illustrious history on June 24 of 2014.
A four-year letter winner at Miami (Ohio), Smith was a pitcher and an infielder for the RedHawks, and played three minor league seasons in the Chicago Cubs organization.
Inside Pitch chased Smith down to talk about his thoughts on the process, the journey, and being the head coach at one of the most storied college athletics programs in the country.
“When I was coaching at Miami, I could’ve stayed there the rest of my career and been very happy,” said Smith, who led the RedHawks to eight straight 30-win seasons. “But sometimes better opportunities present themselves.”
“[The move] from Miami to Bloomington it was relatively close, so from a family perspective it was a lot easier,” the Kentland, Indiana native said. “With young coaches at any level, if you don’t have a supportive spouse that’s going to support you and understands that it’s going to be a rough road, it’s going to be tough. Fortunately for me, my wife has always been very supportive of my career, so from that perspective it’s been easy. My son transferred out here. We’re happy, but it’s tough moving away from family and friends. The bigger regret would’ve been to sit back and wonder what could have been.”
Smith’s advice to young coaches? “It’s very simple,” the two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year says. “Everybody’s looking at what the next gig is, rather than just pouring everything in to your current situation. I always talk about keeping both feet in today. Kyle Schwarber was always worried about being the best player he could be on a daily basis at Indiana. Far too often, I see young guys to think- and I stress think- that they want to get into college coaching, but they do it for the wrong motivation, for instant gratification.”
“Understand that it’s a process and a big part of it is just being as good as you can be at wherever you are. I would also venture to say that work ethic and reputation will speak for yourself. I’ve always poured everything I had into making wherever I was the best it could be.”
Arizona State baseball has seen more than just a change in its head coach this season, as the Sun Devils now call Phoenix Municipal Stadium (“The Muni”) their new home field. The Muni- where ASU played at 137 games from 1964-74- is the former spring training home of the Oakland Athletics (1982-2014). After a $6.4 million renovation in 2003, ASU is kicking in another $3 million for upgrades, including a new locker room, player lounge, training room, weight room, team room, alumni room, Omaha room (for team meetings and postgame interviews), study hall, video room and coaches offices. The new stadium seats well over 5,000 comfortably, with an overall capacity of over 8,000.
Smith is no stranger to playing a key role in facility upgrades at his programs, and has already done so at his previous stops, with Miami’s Stanley G. McKie Field at Joseph P. Hayden Jr. Park and Indiana’s Bart Kaufman Field.
“I got to miss the whole debate on whether to move from Packard or not,” adds Smith. “It’s been overwhelmingly positive from our standpoint: the kids absolutely love it, the fans and the scouts like the seating options better, and the playing surface is unbelievable.”
In addition to his new team moving to a new facility, Smith will be in charge of a ballclub playing on a (somewhat) new surface- natural grass. “I still think it’s about footwork and putting yourself in the proper position,” said Smith. While at Indiana, Smith oversaw renovations that included the installation of a turf field in 2012.
“If anything, sometimes guys can get a little bit lazy on the turf; you just have to be aware of that as a coach. We didn’t see much of a drop off at Indiana when we went from turf to grass. From a sliding perspective, there are a couple things that the turf does: if you’re not used to it, it can impact the game if you slide past the bag if it’s a little bit wet out. Other than that, it’s all pretty standard. I tell you what; I would only take ground balls on a turf field as a coach!”
“I just think in general, in your profession, you self-evaluate as a professional,” Smith said of the move to ASU. “Do you want to be comfortable or do you want to challenge yourself? Are you wired to be comfortable or are you wired to challenge yourself and make things better than when you found them? If you’re a baseball guy in the United States, where else would you rather be?”