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‘We are staying the course’: ASU retains baseball coach Tracy Smith

Despite leading the Arizona State baseball team to back-to-back losing seasons, Tracy Smith will remain as coach, ASU Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson said. (Photo by Jordan Kaye/Cronkite News)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State baseball coach Tracy Smith will return in 2019 despite the team’s back-to-back losing seasons, arguably the worst two-year stretch in the program’s storied history, ASU Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson confirmed on Tuesday.

Anderson said he still believes Smith is the best man to lead the team’s rebuild in the future.

“We are retaining Tracy Smith as our head baseball coach and (are) excited about the way forward,” Anderson said, speaking inside the school’s Carson Student Athletic Center in Tempe.

“I get it. We all want ASU baseball to be at an elite level. We are staying the course because we believe Tracy Smith has a plan, he’s shared with us, that will get us there.”

During his over 20-minute presser, Anderson laid out several key reasons for bringing Smith back and what to expect from Sun Devils baseball in the future.

RECRUITING

Smith is just 117-110 in four years at ASU, the worst winning percentage by a coach in school history. But on the recruiting trail, Smith has returned the Sun Devils to near-elite status.

In the four years before Smith’s hiring in the summer of 2014, ASU’s averaged just the 17th-best recruiting class in the country according to Perfect Game rankings. Only twice during that time (a period when the team was coached by Tim Esmay) did the Sun Devils crack the top 15. In Smith’s first three years, ASU finished in the top 12 all three times and averaged the eighth-best class in the country.

It’s an improvement Anderson hasn’t taken lightly.

“We are very, very enthusiastic about Tracy’s job and this staff’s job in recruiting,” he said. “It’s not coincidental that five or six or seven freshmen started in our lineup. Last year our recruiting class at ASU baseball was one of the best in the country.”

That class included Spencer Torkelson (who broke the school’s freshman home run record and finished the regular season leading the NCAA with 25), Alika Williams (who hit .280 with 20 RBIs), Gage Workman (.276, 25 RBIs) and potential pitching ace Boyd Vander Kooi (who went 3-3 with a 3.00 ERA in an injury-shortened season).

Anderson also said he didn’t want to “disrupt” the program’s future recruiting classes – which Anderson claimed are stocked with pitchers that can bolster the team’s lean staff – by making a coaching change.

“Those freshmen and sophomores and those pitchers need to have upgraded performance next year because now you have one, two and three very solid recruiting classes that should be able to put it together and play competitive baseball at a level we anticipate,” Anderson said.

CULTURE CHANGE

Though ASU’s record was the same this year (the Sun Devils finished 23-32 in both 2017 and 2018), the chemistry in the clubhouse has improved dramatically, said Anderson and Smith.

After Saturday’s season finale, Smith said his emotions entering this offseason were “night and day,” different than how he felt a year ago, a season when his team’s locker room atmosphere was, as Anderson described it, “toxic.” This year, a younger roster maintained its bond despite another season of difficult results on the field.

Anderson, who said “culture in my view is not just important, it is everything,” was pleased to see the progress and mentioned that parents of current players pleaded with him to retain Smith as coach.

“Sometimes when you come in, you adopt certain things that are going on. Certain things in the culture. We had some of that,” Anderson said. “I believe Tracy is the guy who can continue to evolve our culture because he’s shown it this year.

“Our culture is emerging in a much more positive way and Tracy has been responsible, in large part, for that. We anticipate that will be part of the plusses moving forward by retaining him.”

ANTICIPATING “SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENT”  

Anderson didn’t guarantee Smith (whose current contract runs through 2021, according to azcentral, and pays him over $400,000 per year, as reported by the State Press) anything beyond 2019.

The athletic director said he wants to see “significant improvement” next season and declared the baseball program’s long-term goal is to get back to a College World Series. ASU hasn’t been to Omaha since 2010, the longest CWS drought in its history.

“We are going to try to stay the course with Tracy,” Anderson said.

“We are not focused on anything but trying to put together a baseball program that will get us back to the College World Series.”

Anderson also said he isn’t setting a specific target Smith will need to achieve to keep his job after next year. He instead is hoping to see the team placed back on the “right trajectory.”

Asked what he would do if Smith can’t produce the requisite progress, Anderson paused before answering:

“That’s a rhetorical question, isn’t it?”

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