After I had a chance to recover from the bombshell news that IU baseball head coach Tracy Smith was accepting the ASU job, I reached out last night to Justin Emerson (@J15Emerson), managing editor of ASU SB Nation blog House of Sparky, to see how Arizona State fans felt about the hire, along with the current state of their program in Tempe.
1) Former ASU baseball coach Tim Esmay resigned a couple weeks ago after four and a half years as head coach. What were the factors that led to Esmay's resignation? I understand that the program has been through some turbulence after longtime coach Pat Murphy's resignation in 2009.
There are a couple of reasons why Esmay have resigned. He is was in the final year of his contract and may have been declined an extension. Another idea is that new Athletic Director Ray Anderson decided it was time for a change to bring in a coach of his choosing, and allowed Esmay to leave on what outwardly appears to be his terms.
After Murphy left, the team was ineligible for postseason play in 2012, but have fallen short of expectations in the years it was eligible. Esmay made it to Omaha in his first year in 2010, but that was essentially with Murphy's players.
2) What other coaches were being considered for the position? And what does Tracy Smith bring to the table at ASU that Esmay - or other candidates for the job - did not have in their profile?
It was rumored as recently as this week, that Arizona State was working hard to lure Monte Lee from College of Charleston, so much so that Charleston offered him a seven year extension. Andrew Checketts at UC Santa Barbara was also a candidate.
Smith brings a proven track record from a big-time conference. While the Big Ten is not considered a power baseball conference, the success he had at a university as well known as Indiana may have been more attractive than one such as Charleston.
3) I understand that ASU will be moving to a new ballpark next season. Coach Smith did a great job at IU leading the team into a new venue on campus in Bloomington in 2013. What prompted ASU to move into Phoenix Municipal Stadium and away from the current facility, Packard Stadium?
Packard Stadium was old and it was time for an upgrade. The timing was fortunate as Arizona State was able to give Packard a proper sendoff on its 40th year this season. The Oakland Athletics just completed the final year at Phoenix Muni as their Spring Training home, so the facility was vacant and Arizona State moved in.
The school hopes to see an attendance boost with the move to a professional stadium, as it saw its neighbors to the south do. The University of Arizona moved in Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, the former home of the Colorado Rockies, in 2012. Arizona saw the fan total rise and even won the national title that season.
4) Who are some of the best current Sun Devil players that Smith will get to work with next year? And are there any incoming recruits that seem especially promising?
There were there players to watch entering 2014, and they're still there in 2015. Junior right-hander Ryan Burr anchored the bullpen his freshman year, then moved to the rotation to start his sophomore year before finishing it back in the bullpen. Junior left-hander Ryan Kellogg has been as reliable as it comes on Saturdays for the Sun Devils, even hurling a no-hitter against Oregon State in 2013 as a freshman and fellow junior southpaw Brett Lilek may have the best stuff out of all of them. When his breaking ball is on, he is filthy, and all three should be drafted next June.
5) The Pac-12 has consistently been one of the best baseball conferences in the nation. Other than Stanford, who we IU baseball fans know all too well, what other teams in the conference will Smith have to look out for while at ASU?
Stanford may still give you nightmares, but it wasn't the best the Pac-12 has to offer. That would be Oregon State, who was ranked as high as No. 2 nationally last season. The Pac-12 also has two of the last three national champions, UCLA in 2013 (still a threat) and the University of Arizona in 2012 (not so much). Washington also quietly had itself an excellent season.
The rivalry with Arizona is very real here, so any coach that comes in and beats the Wildcats will instantly endear himself to the Sun Devil faithful.
6) We profiled Tracy Smith on our site last month, and he's a native Hoosier who has spent all of his college and professional career in the Midwest up to this point. Any advice about Arizona or the Phoenix area for Smith as he makes the move to the Southwest?
Invest in shorts and flip-flops Skip, because it is hot here.
And as simplistic and as shallow as this may sound, my best advice is to win. Arizona State fans as a whole can be a bit of a fickle bunch, but they love their baseball program. Year in and year out, Sun Devil fans lead the west coast in attendance, and just want to see postseason play. It's been a long time since Arizona State, one of college baseball's most storied programs as won it all. Everyone loves college football and basketball, but baseball is special in Tempe, and coming in and winning here will instantly put his name right up there with Bobby Winkles and Jim Brock.
Oh, and it may be hot at the end of the season, but when the year gets going in the springtime, there isn't a better place to be.
7) Final off-topic question: Football coach Todd Graham got a lot of criticism when he left Pitt for ASU after only one season; however he seems to be settling in and doing well in Tempe. Does Graham seem to be committed long-term to ASU, and what's the outlook for the Sun Devils in an always tough Pac-12 next season?
Graham doesn't seem to be going anywhere. There was speculation when former Athletic Director Steve Patterson took the same position with Texas that Graham, a Texas native, would join him, but the hiring of Charlie Strong just about killed off any rumors of Graham's departure.
Arizona State is in good shape. The defense will have some new faces that need to step up, but the Sun Devils are the defending Pac-12 South champions. Graham has the entire town smelling roses since he arrived and they can't be overlooked as a possibility to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.
Thanks again, Justin! We wish Coach Smith the best in Tempe, and I hope you guys beat Stanford every chance you get.