It didn’t take Tracy Smith long to assemble a coaching staff as he took the reins of the Arizona State baseball program less than two months ago. He just brought his old one with him from Indiana.
Since being announced as the Sun Devils’ new head coach on June 24, Smith has built a staff by hiring both assistant coaches away from Indiana University, where he spent the last nine seasons as the Hoosiers’ head coach.
Ben Greenspan played for Smith at IU and then spent the last six seasons on the coaching staff, working with the catchers and hitters and also serving as recruiting coordinator last season. He’ll work with the offense and catchers at ASU, as well as taking over as recruiting coordinator. But the pitchers will be turned over to Brandon Higelin, who was an IU assistant coach last season when the pitching staff put together the seventh-lowest team ERA in the nation and lowest school mark in the last 46 years.
But the recent addition of a couple of new recruits in Tempe marks the official start of the Smith Era at ASU.
Smith has added a couple of left-handed batters to the roster, something he felt was needed going into the next season. Ryan Lillard is an infielder from Urbandale, Iowa, and Elias (Eli) Lingos is a hard-hitting pitcher from Temecula, Calif.
Lingos has now been successfully recruited by Smith – twice. Smith recruited him out of Great Oak High School last year to play for the Hoosiers, but when he departed for ASU, Lingo de-committed. Now Lingos joins Smith in Tempe after completing a senior year at Great Oak where he posted a 2.55 ERA and a .342 batting average.
Lillard also was headed in another direction before detouring to the Sun Devil program. The 6’2″, 190 lb. infielder was planning to play for Kansas State until a staff shake-up gave the youngster some second thoughts. He was also picked by the Kansas City Royals in the 30th round of the MLB draft.
He hasn’t played baseball since his junior year, sitting out last season following elbow surgery, which lowered his selection in the draft, but is expected to be able to make a full recovery before the start of the 2015 season. He hit .372 as a junior.
Recruiting success is going to be critical for Smith, who will try to take a good program to another level. His predecessor, Tim Esmay, won 33 games last season with a team that led the Pac-12 in both team batting average and slugging percentage. Their 19 conference wins were the most in the last four years and the eight conference series wins they captured are the second-most in program history.
But Esmay was forced to resign because it wasn’t good enough for a program accustomed to competing at an elite level. Winning 30 games is sufficient at a lot of college programs, but it’s not considered a sign of success at ASU, where the Sun Devils have posted 52 straight years of 30-win seasons.
They also expect to make it through the post-season and play in Omaha at the College World Series each year. They haven’t done that since 2010, Esmay’s final season as interim coach before taking over as permanent head coach in 2011.
And they haven’t won a national championship since 1981.
The 48-year-old Smith has a reputation as one of the better coaches in the country when it comes to evaluating and developing talent, and that no doubt was an important factor in his hire. In his 18 years as a college head coach, 54 of his players have been selected in the MLB draft and last year four of his players at Indiana were named All Americans – the most in one season in program history.
Now, at ASU, he has great tradition, a program that wins consistently, and tremendous fan support to entice future recruits. And weather that allows for off-season work all winter long, unlike Indiana.
The baseball team also has an impressive new home, beginning next season when they move into their major-league digs at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which they have leased for the next 25 years.
So Smith has the experience, the tools, and the tradition of a great program to work with in his quest to take ASU back to national title contention.
But, then, so did Tim Esmay.
Only time will tell with Smith. But the process has begun.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)