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Thank You, Coach Smith

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After two years of unprecedented success at Indiana University, head coach Tracy Smith is leaving for warmer pastures in Tempe, Arizona, where he'll take the same position with Arizona State.

USA TODAY Sports

I found out the news about Tracy Smith while in the car. I was hours away from my destination and dealing with touch-and-go cellphone signal. It gave me a lot of time to think about how I felt about it and no real way to immediately express it to anyone. If I had written this article right when I heard the news, the headline would probably have been a single expletive or just a string of jumbled, incoherent letters followed by prognostications of the program's doom and how nothing gold can stay.

The stigma of the "northern team" seemed to always bother Smith. It's not that he believed it in any way whatsoever, but any time he was asked about it you could almost sense him groaning internally. In his tenure, he had built up a program that earned its right to play alongside baseball's elite and yet, still, he had to endure the questions that come along with being a second-class collegiate baseball citizen: inquiries into the worthiness of their schedule, hypotheticals about how well they would compete in a better conference, etc.

Furthermore, with the nucleus of the team that brought Indiana to such great heights now scattered amongst a handful of pro baseball franchises, Smith's stock might never be higher than it is right now, at least not for some time. If he had any ideas of leaving Indiana, now would be the time to make that jump. In Tempe, there will be no questions about the strength of the conference or having to spend the first month of the season romping around the warmer parts of the country in search of opponents, because your campus will already be there.

I wish Coach Smith all of the luck in the world and can't thank him enough for what he is done in Bloomington. I, personally, wouldn't hesitate to mention him in the same breath as Yeagley, Knight, and Counsilman, based on his overall success and what the program became while he was captain of the ship.

So what happens next for the hardball Hoosiers? The cupboard hasn't been left bare by the departing staff but a backslide from the past two years is all but certain given the enormous talent that was lost to MLB and graduation. Obviously, IU has a coaching search on their hands and enormous shoes to fill. Long considered a "destination job" for basketball, the Hoosiers are in a much different role for baseball. Regardless of their success, their geography will always prevent them from being considered as a "destination" for baseball coaching talent.

The sobering reality is this: a coach as good as Tracy Smith won't stay at Indiana when he, himself, is a native Hoosier. So who on this earth will? Indiana will have to hope to catch lightning in a bottle again and acquire an elite program builder with plenty of baseball acumen, that is not yet a well-known commodity.

Good luck, guys.