Arizona State University is trying something different in an effort to turn around its sagging baseball program.
The Pac-12 school just hired a new head coach with no coaching experience.
No college coaching experience. No professional coaching experience.
But Willie Bloomquist is steeped in the tradition of the Sun Devils program. And the school’s athletic director, Ray Anderson, figures that will go a long way toward success for the former ASU baseball player.
“My view is what a head coach in baseball does, as much as anything, is set the culture and tone, energy, and environment for excellence,” explained Anderson when introducing his new coach two days ago. “I believe Willie will overcome any on-the-field coaching he may not have in his resume by all the other things he has accumulated.”
He was so convinced of that theory that Anderson sought out the 43-year-old Bloomquist and convinced him to leave his job in the front office of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization to take over an ASU program that is more than a decade removed from the days when Pat Murphy turned it into a consistent national contender.
Murphy was forced out of the program in November of 2009 amid an ongoing investigation into NCAA violations. That move came after Murphy, a three-time conference Coach of the Year, had spent 15 highly-successful years running the program. His teams won four Pac-10 titles and made four appearances in the College World Series.
After Murphy’s departure, ASU stuck with experience, first elevating Tim Esmay into the head-coach’s seat from his position on Murphy’s staff, and then hiring Tracy Smith away from Indiana where he was a two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year and also a national Coach of the Year.
With Smith, who ran the program for the last seven seasons, the ASU brass moved away from the idea of hiring someone with a Sun Devil pedigree. Esmay played at ASU and was on the 1987 CWS team, and later coached at the school, first as an assistant coach for a couple of years in the late ’80’s and then again in 2005 when he spent five more years on the ASU bench as an assistant.
Esmay, and his whole family, bled maroon and gold. Both parents graduated from ASU. So did his brother and his wife, and his wife’s mother.
Contrast that with the Smith hire, when ASU went outside of ‘the family’ to replace Esmay, based solely on the success Smith had on his coaching resume.
Now we’re back to hiring an alum who is steeped in the tradition of the program. Bloomquist grew up in Washington, but was a star infielder for ASU who helped the 1998 team reach the CWS championship game and was named the 1999 Pac-10 Player of the Year. He is a member of the ASU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Bloomquist played 14 seasons in Major League Baseball, including a brief stint with the Diamondbacks, before retiring in 2016.
He admits that getting an ASU team back to the College World Series “is going to be a difficult task,” especially with today’s parity in the college game.
Whether a lack of coaching experience is going to make it too difficult to get an ASU team to Omaha anytime soon remains to be seen.
We’ll just have to wait and see how long Anderson is going to give the new guy to prove his playing experience can translate to coaching success.