It’s exceedingly difficult to maintain a national reputation in college baseball when you haven’t been to the College World Series in over a decade and it’s been 40 years since your last national championship.
That’s the dilemma the Arizona State baseball program finds itself in.
So, like the Pac-12 school did seven years ago, the program is changing its head coach. Tracy Smith and the administration have “mutually agreed” to part ways.
Smith was just the second major hire for ASU’s then-new Vice President for University of Athletics Ray Anderson just six months after taking the AD job. It followed the hire of Zeke Jones, who is still on board, to run the wrestling program.
Smith and Anderson were friends and Anderson felt confident with his new hire. Smith was a former college and professional baseball player who had already established his reputation in coaching. He was twice named Big Ten Coach of the Year at Indiana and was also the 2013 national Coach of the Year.
Anderson was hoping Smith could replicate that success in the Pac-12. But that hasn’t happened.
The first two seasons under Smith, the Sun Devils lost in the regionals. The next two seasons they didn’t even make it into the postseason.
To make matters worse, his 2017 squad won just 23 games, the first time in 55 years that an ASU team finished a season with fewer than 30 victories.
The next season was a mirror image of failure. The Devils went 23-32 again to become the first ASU team to post back-to-back losing seasons.
Anderson stuck with his old friend, hoping for a turnaround. The 2019 season saw some improvement as that squad upped the season record to 38-19.
And things were really looking up as the 2020 season began. Before the season was shut down because of the pandemic, the Devils were 13-4. But three of those losses came in the first four days on the schedule — to perennial powers Michigan, Villanova, and Oklahoma State. After that, the team won 11 of their final 12 games and were on a roll before the abrupt cancellation of the remainder of the season.
So there were big expectations for the 2021 season. But the season ended three days ago with two straight losses in the Austin regional after a mediocre 33-22 record.
Once again, ASU failed to get past the regionals. The last time an ASU team advanced to the Super Regionals was in 2011. Tim Esmay was still the coach at that time…yeah, the guy who was removed to make way for Smith.
Ray Anderson has gone out on the limb for Smith, even giving him a contract extension that was supposed to run through the 2023 season.
But even an old friend knows when it’s time to move on. That time arrived yesterday.