ASU's new skipper embraces high expectations

ASU's new skipper embraces high expectations

After conducting a near two week long coaching search following the resignation of Tim Esmay, Arizona State announced the hiring of Tracy Smith on Tuesday as its new Head Baseball Coach. On Thursday, Smith was introduced to the media at a press conference by Vice President of Athletics Ray Anderson.

"When we talk about head coaches at ASU, we talk about strong leaders," said Anderson. "We talk about passion and we talk about strategic planning and execution. We talk about teachers and developers for our student athletes and we talk about dedicated ambassadors of our university and community. And we also talk about a thirst for championships through diligence and intelligence and work ethic.

"We have all of that and much more with Tracy Smith as our new Head Coach of ASU baseball. Simply put, we have the best out there who is now in here with us. It is my honor, on behalf of President Crow and all of my teammates here at the athletic department of ASU, to introduce to you the new Head Baseball Coach of our Sun Devils, Tracy Smith."

Anderson then presented Smith with his customary #13 jersey that he'll wear in the ASU dugout before allowing the new coach to address the media for the first time as the new Sun Devil skipper.

"I always get asked by my players, ‘Coach, can I get #13,' and I've always said, ‘I'm going to keep that going here but if you hit .385 with 15 home runs and 75 RBI, it's yours,' so I appreciate you holding that number for me," said Smith. "First, I want to make some thank you's. Ray, I want to say personally thank you to you as the Athletic Director. But, when we were going through this process, I want to say thank you also to President Crow because it's about the vision and that was the most attractive piece to me. I appreciate this opportunity and it does not fall short on me and I couldn't be happier."

Tracy played collegiately at Miami (Ohio) from 1985-88. After a brief three year stint in the Chicago Cubs minor league system, he returned to his alma mater to pursue a career in coaching, first as an assistant and then again as the school's head coach in 1997.

In nine seasons at Miami (Ohio), Smith posted a 317-220-1 record and helped guide the Redhawks to two NCAA tournaments (2000 and 2005).

Following his second NCAA tournament appearance with Miami (Ohio), Smith was named the Head Coach at Indiana. Despite a pair of last place conference finishes in his first two seasons at Indiana and just a combined 41 wins, the Hoosiers made their first Big Ten tournament appearance in 2008 after finishing 31-30 and advanced to their first regional appearance the following year.

Indiana won the Big Ten regular season championship in each of Smith's final two seasons in Bloomington, posting a 93-31 record. The Hoosiers also won the College World Series title in 2013 while Smith was named the NCBWA National Coach of the Year.

"It was a tough decision because of who I stand for as a person and my family because we invest," said Smith on Thursday. "What I mean by that is, we invest in our jobs, in our community, in the state, certainly the program and the university, so when you put your heart and soul into something for nine years you want to make sure you're going to some place that's going to do the same thing, and there was no doubt.

"You've got to have a lot of faith and the people that I met throughout the process, I felt this was the place that we would be able to, as a family, be able to jump in and invest, just like we've done in the past. So again, it was a difficult decision, but a difficult decision because I was leaving behind a lot of people that we poured our heart and soul in. But I'm truly thrilled and I would be the biggest fool in the country if I didn't take this job."

Smith's hiring marks the third hire of Anderson's short tenure already at Arizona State. In April, Anderson hired Zeke Jones as the new Head Coach of Arizona State Wrestling and followed that up a month later by appointing Rene Lyst as the women's Gymnastics Coach.

"Since Tuesday, it's been unbelievable the amount of ASU alumni and former baseball players and not just baseball players that have been reaching out," said Smith. "It's like, you talk about a good decision, and the text messages and how everyone has been willing to jump in be a part of that and help me shorten that learning curve, I couldn't be happier.

"It's funny, Larry Fitzgerald called - I was on the phone with him today - and I kept laughing, like, ‘Larry, you're a football guy, you don't know anything about baseball.' But he was just like, ‘Dude, I'm so excited. This is going to be great.' So anyway, we're going to call up on all of those resources, again, to shorten that learning curve because I think that's important."

Smith becomes the fifth baseball head coach at Arizona State, following Tim Esmay, who posted a 201-94-1 in his five seasons with the Sun Devils.

ASU finished 52-10 and atop the Pac-12 in Esmay's first season at the helm in 2010 while advancing to the College World Series but took a step backwards in 2011, finishing 43-18 and second in the conference.

After a pair of fourth place Pac-12 finishes in 2012 and 2013, the Sun Devils struggled to win just 33 games last season, their fewest under Esmay.

"I would be a fool if I didn't talk about expectations," said Smith. "It doesn't fall lightly on me the expectations that are expected at ASU, but as I said, I hope through this process and the years that we're together, you're going to learn what motivates me.

"I understand that national championships are important. I understand that conference championships are important. I understand that. I am the type of person that is going to focus on loving and having a passion for what I do.

"The assistants, the staff we're assembling to put together is going to be about the same thing. And I think and I know that if we lock arms with ASU nation out there, all that other stuff is going to come, and that's the confidence that I have and what we're going to bring to the table."

Of course, this won't be Smith's first visit to Arizona State. In 2005, his Miami (Ohio) participated in the Tempe Regional at Packard Stadium. While the Redhawks were unable to advance past the mighty Sun Devils that year, the experience left a lasting impression on Smith.

"We were bringing in a program that hadn't done the regional thing before or had had the success of what was going on at ASU," he recalled. "I just remember that that was a program and I hadn't experienced that yet in my career. We were at a smaller school trying to build what we were doing and have some success but it was not at the level that was going on here.

The moment that Arizona State called, and I don't know why I thought of it, but I remember a clip of Barry Bonds back when he was playing just doing a pop up slide or something at second base, and that was instantly what I thought. And I just thought, ‘Is this really happening?' To be a part of an institution where those types of names are rolling through here, I'm blessed."

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