Smith: “This is something I didn’t see coming”

Finally got Tracy Smith on the phone at about 8 p.m. this evening. Some of what he said will be in tomorrow’s story, but what follows is as close to a complete transcript as I can produce of our conversation. My questions are edited for brevity.

Q: How did this come about?

A: Really, this is something I honestly didn’t see coming. I wasn’t looking for it it was not something that was even on my radar screen. Really, we were just plugging away and making sure our recruiting class was in place. I got a call and they asked me if I’d be interested. I was never going to call on it and I was never going to look into it on my own.  I think everybody knows how I feel about this place, but when the call came from them, I mean, truth be told, I view it like Indiana basketball. In the world of college baseball, they have that kind of tradition. I thought I owed it to myself, being in this profession, to listen. I hadn’t been thinking a lot about it, but they talked, I listened. They apparently liked what I had to say. They offered me today, and it was not an easy decision, but I took it.” 

Q: When you get a call like that from a program like that, what goes through your mind?

A: “I’m not 30 years old anymore. I’m 48, I feel like what we have at Indiana, we built a nationally recognized program, so I just was very level headed about it. I was intrigued, I wanted to hear what they had to say. I like what they’re trying to do with the program.  I want to say this. Fred Glass and President McRobbie by all accounts did everything humanly possible to make the decision very difficult. It wasn’t that Arizona State was coming in and they weren’t going to be able to keep me, so they just let it go. They did everything they could do. It came down to me. I’m 48, I love it here, but I’m wired where I love a challenge. I came to Indiana, a school in a northern climate and I wanted to build a nationally recognized program. I feel like we can put a check mark there. I felt like we accomplished something we wanted to accomplish. I want to try to this again at a different institution in a different part of the country. I have some familiarity with that areahaving  recruited southern California. It just fit.”

Q: You mentioned the different area. Obviously you’ve talked at length about the obstacles facing northern schools. How much of an attraction was it to not have to deal with those obstacles anymore?

A: “I want to tell you. The institution,  Indiana University, is doing everything right. There are some limitations because of Big Ten rules and because of how hard it is to get academic money, it’s not an even playing field when you’re coming to ability to get kids in schools. And of course you have the weather and all of that stuff. I want to try it at an institution where — clearly you’ve gotta work hard and it’s not going to fall into your lap — but I want to try it at an institution where I’m not hamstrung as much by the weather  We lose kids all the time because of the weather. We lose kids because we’re the 12th rated conference and not the third rated conference. Those were some of the things it came down two. And I didn’t want to play one institution against the other. I just looked at this job as another personal challenge.

Q: You mentioned getting Big Ten rules and academic money for players. Could you elaborate? I’m not exactly sure what you mean there.

A: “There are restrictions on the ability to oversign when you’re talking about the draft. You’re not able to protect yourself in the draft in the Big Ten like you are in other conferences. And institutional academic aid is a lot more competitive at certain institutions and maybe comparatively around the country. We have not had a lot of kids on academic aid in Indiana in the time we’ve been here because of what they’re competing with in the entire student body for that money. I’m not saying that’s wrong. But it’s just that at Indiana, the students that they’re competing with for academic aid, they might not always be able to match up to that. So if Indiana makes an offer that includes a certain amount of athletic aid and zero academic aid and another school offers athletic and academic aid, money talks in equivalency sports.” (Dustin’s note, an equivalency sport is one in which teams are limited to a pool of money equivalent to a certain number of scholarships to spread throughout the team, usually using partial scholarships. Baseball teams can use the equivalent of 11.7 scholarships on rosters that usually number 35.)

Q: When we talked after last season and you were expecting other offers, you said you wanted to see a commitment from the athletic department to baseball. It sounds as if you saw that. Did that make it harder to leave this season?

A: “It’s all timing. I’ll say it again, there are jobs that, it’s been documented on the Ohio State job that I chose to stay here for reasons other than financia. And there are other jobs in this country that if I didn’t take this one would come in the future and offer to pay more. But it wasn’t about the money. Our administration and this university has treated me with the greatest respect not only through this process but my entire career. They fulfilled promises that were difficult to fulfill. They valued what was going on in the baseball program at a school that traditionally hasn’t. It was actions and not just words even in this case.”

Q: What goes through your mind when you consider what you built at Indiana?

A: “I’m really proud. I am. I don’t say that to be bragging. I’m very proud that I’ve had a lot of people who say they never even thought of baseball at Indiana or somebody’s who’s never even watched a baseball game before have become invested in the program. You just look at the gorgeous stadium and the athletic director and the administrative support. Everyone has gotten into that. I’m proud that they made an investment in us and we were able to deliver on some level on that investment. I said it a thousand times and I meant it. I love winning, but just as much, I love giving IU people something to cheer about into the summer. I enjoyed building our fan base as much as I did winning.”

Q: What would you say to the person who will be your successor?

A: “I’d say you’re lucky because the culture in our athletic department and our university, you can’t describe it. You’ve gotta be in it to feel it. We have momentum to build on. We have a gorgeous stadium. We have a fan base that appreciates baseball and that is growing. And I would wish them the best of luck. I hope they take advantage of it and I will be rooting like crazy for it to succeed. I will definitely be doing that.”

Q: You talked about having to overcome the obstacles to win at Indiana and you obviously won more than Indiana ever had, but at Arizona State, you don’t have the obstacles and that level of success is the expectation. What do you think that will be like?

A: “I always argued against that when we recruited. I told players that for all the advantages (schools like Arizona State) have they should be doing well. Well, I guess now I’ll find out. I’m OK, I’m comfortable with it. I know what the expectation is. It’s College World Series. It’s national championships. It’s all of that stuff. That’s how you’re graded. But I’m the type of person, I’m not going to chase and be motivated by having to get to the College World Series or I’ll be fired. I’m going to give you my best effort every day come to work and every day and give you everything I got, and if I do that, I’ll be comfortable with the result. If it doesn’t work out, I’m not going to be regretting making the decision. I don’t want to look back and say I didn’t take a challenge that was presented in front of me. It was not an easy decision and I know the expectation is different, but I’m just going to go be Tracy Smith and be who I am.”

18 comments

  1. Oh Please!

    He sounds as though a job offer from another school was ‘out of the blue” and that the only focus he had was on IU Recruiting. If indeed this is true, he’s a “dope” and I don’t think he is but apparently he thinks we are.

    Of course he should go to Arizona State. It’s a Baseball Program that can be a “Really Big Time” Baseball Program with access to massive recruiting areas and ASU can play all the time due to the weather.

    I don’t blame him at all for going to Arizona State. It does annoy me that he makes it sound as though leaving IU for a better situation was a surprise and almost ‘forced’ upon him.

    I thank him for making IU a ‘power’ in Big Ten Baseball and I hope that due to his efforts, we get another coach who can maintain the program and then move it forward.

  2. Ehh. Sounds like Tracy genuinely loved it in Bloomington. It sounds like to me that it was he didn’t take the decision lightly. He’s had the opportunity to leave to better jobs before. Maybe not ASU prior to the last 2 years, but he could have taken many easier jobs before then.

    I don’t think he’s trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. ASU came calling, it’s a top program and he’s going to do really well there. But he has gone above and beyond in praising his now former bosses. Sounds like he really had a good connection with Glass and McRobbie.

  3. Please. He used the magic words. All sports fans know that the translation of that phrase by heart.

    “It’s not about the money.”

  4. Yes the $ talks. In most instances it is more about opportunity. The collegiate hardball opportunity is greater at ASU than IU. The upside is the collegiate baseball world is loaded with good coaching talent. I believe there is more talent than there is opportunities because of the North/South climate advantage.

  5. I would never want to play ball in that 100°+ plus Arizona heat or the swamp weather and stick-to-your-skin humidity found in Florida during the summer months. Are these really year-round ideals?

    Central and Southern Indiana had a rough winter this year, but in reality, the southern half of the state is nothing compared to the harsher climate found in the northern quadrant(latitudes approaching Chicago and northward).

    There is hardly anywhere in the country where the autumn months are more comfortable and beautiful for outdoor sports than Indiana. The grass has never been greener due to our abundance of precipitation. The varied seasons in Indiana is a true treasure and should be seen as a selling point. It is once again that Establishment mentality that sells the smog and congestion of the East, the excessive humidity of the South, the drought often seen in Texas and the Southwest, and the mud slides/wildfires of California(not to mention even more headaches with traffic, smog, and unhealthy air)as a Utopian paradises of advantage.

    Mr. Smith is doing what they all do. He’s seizing his opportunity while he’s still a hot commodity. He’s securing the future of his family. And maybe he’s also wanting a bit of a fresh start for his children(getting them away from the false “celebrity” of petrified rock stars that must use Bloomington(the massive national following that existed around IU Basketball for decades) as some sort of foothold to feed their dwindling stardom/egos/notoriety. It’s easy for naive kids to get pulled into such small town celebrity or to attach themselves to the percieved importance and magnetism they convince themselves to believe such attachments can command.

    Bloomington has never been more removed from the uniqueness of real and honest introspection that once defined its all-inclusive and liberated existence as a sort of Woodstock college town. Today, the achievements are overblown and the natural beauty of any flaws is quickly covered with piles of makeup and pious blow. It’s no wonder that old rock stars nest there. The uncultured always seek to attach to anything that hints of celebrity. Indiana University once made its own “celebrity” through inclusiveness and principles to not look down on those not adhering to what would be considered mainstream Midwestern conservatism. Now it’s a billboard town that sells a pious form of “we’re better than you” that attracts men like Tom Crean.

    Smith brought a glimpse of what Indiana University should be in the more prominently displayed sports. He brought a slice of humbleness and quiet achievement that should define all of our programs. He didn’t make more of his successes than they were. He was obviously a great teacher of the game. He was the type of coach/leader that Indiana should always and foremost seek in their choices of example for young men and women.

  6. Harvard, not to get all into that, but the weather discussion isn’t about whether or not the overall weather at Indiana is enjoyable, it’s about the weather as directly related to the baseball season as constituted in the college game. September and October might be quite nice for outdoor sports, but it doesn’t matter that much because you can’t do anything but practice at that time. There is a fall practice period which Indiana takes full advantage of, but the spring practice period begins in about mid-January when there’s snow on the ground. At Arizona State, they can practice outside at that point. At Indiana, they’re indoors playing on a facility built for football. At Arizona State, when the season starts in mid-February, they get home games and relatively short road trips. At Indiana, they have to go to places like Arizona and Texas and Florida to play games. The constant travel in the first 4-6 weeks ultimately takes its toll. If the college season were the same as the pro season, northern schools obviously wouldn’t have nearly the same disadvantages, but when the season starts in mid-February, that changes the dynamic a lot.

  7. I suppose you’re right, Dustin.

    But we should always be a bit cautious in inferring immense advantages or disadvantages. Lack of success finds it easier to seek a home in such excuses. There is no finer football weather for the fall/winter game than found in Indiana. It’s our surrounding Midwest football competition that may make for most the difficulties in ever bringing a football program to life at Indiana.

    But how much surrounding competition exists on the baseball diamond? Did Butler’s success in basketball come as a sole result of Stevens’ genius, or was it also fueled by the fact that Indiana U. was experiencing the turmoil from an iconic coach run out of town followed by an NCAA witch hunt in a future hire?

    Smith will find less strain on his team due to travel/weather issues, but don’t you also believe he’ll find higher expectations and recruiting battles with a plethora of programs you’re competing against that have all the same advantages? And within all the Big 10 schools, wasn’t/isn’t the baseball weather still more ideal in Bloomington than most the other states/programs(outside of Nebraska and Iowa which would seemingly have even more difficulty in luring/tapping into the Southeast area for recruits)?

    I tend to still think the move has quite a bit to do with “all that” more than weather. I understand that you can’t ask questions about “all that.” But I also honestly think it has to do with making a fresh start for his family and more financial security for the latter years of his coaching career. Maybe success at Arizona State could even open up some chances to coach in the big leagues?

    But back to the weather excuse…Doesn’t Bloomington still have some weather advantages over Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago, Columbus, Happy Valley, East Lansing, and Ann Arbor. And isn’t Bloomington the closest program for a pipeline to Southern recruits? The weather is still not nearly as brutal as the January through March months of many our BIG counterparts. The Big 10 may have the overall disadvantage in terms of weather, but having that most southern location at our southern Indiana campus paired with a very high quality coach maybe proved a hint of advantage where none was thought to exist along with something that the defeatist mentality would have comfortably clung to for many decades.

  8. @Harvard

    College baseball practice starts in Jan and games start in Feb. IU never plays at home the first month and a half the season, and in many years get their first outdoor practice during on their roadtrip for their first games. Weather is a HUGE deal for IU and big ten baseball.

  9. If the weather issue is such a HUGE disadvantage, I guess Smith and the Hoosiers’ success will be something to treasure for the ages. They obviously proved it could be done despite the weather. They defied the conventional thinking and the odds. They became for baseball what the Nick Goepper of Olympic winter sports success could only find in the Rockies of a Lawrenceburg summer.

  10. I never did inquire about the Arizona State coach…Did he get fired or was he already moving to another program.

    Is the Arizona State coach a quality coach? Was he justifiably canned or are the expectations simply unrealistic to always sustain greatness(much like the success that was always expected from Knight once winning titles takes real root).

    Would the Arizona coach consider the job at IU?

  11. Harvard,
    I did kind of ask about “all that.” Notice Smith’s quote about all of the expectations at the end there. Indeed, Indiana did have an advantage on the rest of the Big Ten, which manifested itself in part once it got a suitable facility. But no, it doesn’t have at least a geographically based pipleline to southern players. Smith had a contact in southern California who helped him a lot in finding players out there. But keep in mind, before Indiana, no Big Ten team had reached the College World Series since 1984, and at that time, the NCAA Tournament was regionally structured, which meant that there was at least one team from the midwest and one team from the northeast that got to Omaha every year. Since the NCAA switched to national qualifying, no Big Ten team had reached Omaha until Indiana.

  12. Well, that California contact should help him at Arizona State.

    Thanks for educating me on all the dynamics at work.

    Hate to bring this up, but it sorta surprises me that Tracy Smith would even bother placing comments on Hud Mellencamp’s twitter page. I just found one comment from Tracy concerning the World Cup upon brief look…But when I saw the sea of ‘eff this’ and ‘eff that’ immaturely littering the pages of Hud Mellencamp’s twitter offerings, it just sorta surprised me that any adult would want to be part of that.

  13. Your comments about weather is true; imagine in the heart of the BIG 10 basketball season, ASU will be holding spring practices. At a time when the BIG10 BBall tourney is being held,ASU will be playing their first games.As for money,I dont think it is “personal”,I interpreted the money issue to be institutional and how much assistance could be offered because of conference rules. Like Coach Smith said “hamstrung” by regulations

  14. Harvard; I went to the Tempe,Az newspaper site. AD Anderson “forced resignation” with 1 year left from Tim Esmay. Esmay had a 33-24 record BUT lost 2 games ina row in regional for first time since 1992. CTC should be glad he isnt coaching at ASU

  15. Well, there’s no rule that keeps them from paying Smith, though. It just makes it harder for him to give players something closer to a full scholarship. For instance, if Smith only has a quarter of a scholarship left for a player and he can get money from academics to make it a half scholarship, that does a lot for him to get the player. But if the competition for that money is higher and he can’t make it happen, that kid has to pay 75 percent of the cost of his schooling. But there’s no rule from the Big Ten that says you can’t pay Smith like a Pac-12 school can.

  16. TJ-

    And he(Esmay) was an ASU alum…Wow. Those are some pretty damn high expectations Tracy Smith will be entering.

    There was some recruiting violations and sanctions in their recent history. From the little research I did(not noted in any of Dustin’s pieces), it appears Emsay was the assistant at the time of the violations. Hopefully(as far as Smith is concerned), there is nothing unscrupulous still tucked under a rug somewhere.

  17. Arizona and California are to baseball what Indiana is to basketball. In the 5 years I lived there as a kid, we played year round. We loved the heat and didn’t know what a winter jacket was.

    Tempting Indiana high school basketball kids to attend schools where the weather is warm and the girls shed winter coats for bikinis is an easier sell than getting kids who grew up wearing shorts to come up to gray skies, snow and ice. In general. Plus, the practicalities of baseball which everyone has articulated extremely well already on top of it.

    However, I’m the exception to these tendancies. Indiana was the only cold weather school where I applied. There wasn’t another school even close to making that decision difficult.

  18. No one should be surprised by Smith accepting this offer. Much better weather, more money, a school with much lower academic standards – making it easier to recruit players, and a stronger baseball tradition. People forget that these coaches are extremely competitive people. They want to win, and win BIG. Smith now has a legitimate chance to win a national championship some day. Realistically, he did not have that chance coaching at IU.

    We should be grateful for him lifting IU baseball up to a different level and then focus on getting the next coach who can continue where Smith left off. Glass appears to have the money necessary to attract another really good coach. Let’s hope it is a man who can continue recruiting High School talent from beyond the Midwest when necessary.

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