Indiana Daily Student

Indiana Man: IU baseball coach sticks with program, has no regrets

IU head baseball coach Tracy Smith watches the Hoosiers play Louisville during the 2009 season at Patterson Stadium.
IU head baseball coach Tracy Smith watches the Hoosiers play Louisville during the 2009 season at Patterson Stadium.

IU baseball coach Tracy Smith thought he knew what the answer would be when he got in his car on June 10.

Ohio State officials had offered him an interview for their newly-vacated head coaching position. Former Buckeye coach Bob Todd had retired, and there it was — the job all his friends and colleagues told him was perfect for him.

A job that came with better facilities, an unlimited budget and a bigger stadium. A job that was better on paper in nearly every way, his for the taking, just four hours away in Columbus, Ohio.

On that Thursday in June, Smith left Bloomington, saying to himself, “I’m gonna take this job.”

Smith was a self-described “Ohio man,” a graduate of Miami University of Ohio, who already had friends within the Ohio State Athletics Department. This was his dream. There was no chance he could pass it up.

***

Smith is leery of mottos and sayings. Most of the time, he said, they wind up being nothing more than cliches, with no substance to them. Empty promises. Hollow words. Though they once meant something, now they are just withered characters on a piece of paper.

That is why the 11-by-14-inch frame he keeps in his office sticks out.

It seems an insignificant piece when compared to the wall-wide, ceiling-high wooden shelf it rests on. But those who have spoken to Smith, those who know the story of why he still sits in this office, know that it is one of the most important items in the room.

The crimson letters read “The Spirit of Indiana: 24 Sports, One Team.” And unlike most mantras he comes across, Smith knows this one works.

***

Smith appreciated how well IU Athletics Director Fred Glass handled the situation. While it was obvious Glass did not want Smith to leave the department, Glass also made it clear that he cared most for Smith’s well-being.

Glass wanted what was best for Smith’s family. He didn’t want Smith to have any “what-ifs.”

As Smith walked through the athletics offices in Ohio State’s sprawling campus, visiting with administrators and coaches from the university’s 35 programs, a question kept creeping up from the back of his head.

In reality, he was looking for the attitude Glass conveyed.

“Could I walk down the hall and have this conversation with this administrator in the middle of the day without making an appointment a month out?” he thought. “Could I go down and interact with this coach and go have lunch with them or sit in their office without having to set something up with them in advance or driving 20 minutes across
campus?”

***

Smith sees “The Spirit of Indiana” as anecdotal. He bases his definition of what it means in that mentality being put into action.

He recalls a drive to IU’s Memorial Stadium while speaking with a fellow Big Ten baseball coach. During the conversation, Smith brought up how well his team works with the football team when it comes to scheduling workouts in John Mellencamp Pavilion, which both teams share as a practice space.

“You are so lucky to have that kind of setup, that kind of environment,” the other coach said.

He remembers when IU men’s basketball coach Tom Crean, a little more than an hour before tip-off of a game at Assembly Hall, sat and spoke with then-baseball recruit Micah Johnson about being a Hoosier. Johnson joined the IU baseball team last year and started every game for the Hoosiers.

Smith sees the Hoosier mentality as “a selfless mentality.” Coaches text each other after games to congratulate them or console them. Glass leaves his doors open to coaches and tries to make himself as accessible as possible to his staff. Those are the intangibles that spirit has to offer.

As Smith said, “Money and big stadiums don’t buy you happiness.”

***

At the end of the day, Smith knew where he stood with Ohio State’s department. He had also made his decision. He got in the car and began the four-hour drive back to Bloomington.

His first call was to his wife. His second, to Glass.

On that Thursday in June, Smith returned to Bloomington, after saying to Glass, “I’m not doing it.”

***

Smith said Ohio State was missing the intangibles IU has. At the time of his job interview, the motto did not yet exist. But the feeling did.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but I guess I was describing ‘24 Sports, 1 Team,’” Smith said. “That’s why I stayed — that mentality.”

He said he has no regrets about his decision. He hasn’t doubted himself for even a second since he came back from Columbus — “not even close.”

“A lot of my colleagues in the business thought I was nuts,” he said. “My response to them was, ‘Until you’ve walked in my shoes and lived in Bloomington, Indiana, and worked in this athletic department, you have no idea.’”

He says the reaction from others within the IU Athletics Department was different. Some were shocked to see him back, stunned to hear he was staying. However, most understood.

“They said, ‘Wow — But I get it,’” he recalls. “There, I felt like you were one of 34 sports. You were another cog in the machine. At Indiana, I don’t feel that way. This is a unique place, man. I don’t think you’ll find this formula in many other places in the United States.”

Along with the IU mantra, Smith also believes in the saying, “If it’s important, write it down.” That is why when Glass put the sentiment he and others in the department feel toward the University in writing, he took that frame and put it in his office.

Smith said he will live in Bloomington when he’s done coaching. His wife settled that fact in the mid-’90s, when he was an assistant coach at IU.

“She said, ‘We will retire in Bloomington, Indiana, whether you’re coaching here or not,’” he said with a smirk and a twinge of laughter.

Now, this self-described “Ohio man” has redefined himself as an “Indiana man.” He is living out his dream.

And there’s no way he will give it up.

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