Tigers' Spencer Torkelson: New coach will keep Michigan baseball in NCAA title conversation

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Michigan's search for a new baseball coach started locally.

It eventually expanded, and on Sunday, the university announced it has veteran coach Tracy Smith, who most recently was at Arizona State but has deep ties to the Midwest and Big Ten footprint — and coached Tigers rookie Spencer Torkelson. Smith replaces Erik Bakich, who led Michigan to five NCAA Tournament appearances including the 2019 College World Series, before leaving last month to take the Clemson job.

Smith was head coach at Arizona State from 2015 until his surprising firing in June 2021. He was 201-155 at Arizona State, with four NCAA Tournament appearances, including the last two.

Tracy Smith, who coached at Indiana and Arizona State, was named the new head coach for the Michigan baseball program.

Smith was 84-45 his last three years, his firing catching many alums and program supporters by surprise.

"My family and I are proud to join the University of Michigan family, and this storied Michigan baseball program," Smith said in a statement released by the university Sunday.

"The standards in the Big Ten Conference and at the University of Michigan are set high, and I am honored to lead our next group of champions. Go Blue!"

Smith, 56, emerged as athletic director Warde Manuel's pick, after the top choice, Detroit Tigers pitching coach and former Michigan assistant Chris Fetter, declined to pursue the job. Central Michigan head coach Jordan Bischel, whose led the Chippewas to three NCAA Tournament appearances in three chances, interviewed for the job but didn't get it, as was the case with Kansas and Ohio State.

The Michigan job is a return to the Big Ten for Smith, who was head coach at Indiana from 2006-14, taking the Hoosiers to the College World Series in 2013 and earning national and Big Ten coach-of-the-year honors. He had 49- and 44-win seasons in his last two years at Indiana, winning back-to-back Big Ten titles, before leaving to take the Arizona State job. Prior to Indiana, Smith was head coach at Miami (Ohio) for nine seasons, advancing to the NCAA Tournament twice. In 25 years as a head coach, he's made nine NCAAs.

Smith is one of eight Division I coaches to lead three different programs to the NCAA Tournament.

Smith has 805 career victories, and has coached 90 Major League Baseball draft picks, 58 in the past eight seasons — including the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, Torkelson, the Tigers' first baseman.

"I really liked playing for Skip," Torkelson said Sunday at Comerica Park. "He knows how to develop players. You see the players he's coached. He doesn't have a national title, but the way he recruits, the way he develops players, I wouldn't be surprised if Michigan stays in that conversation.

"There's going to be a lot of dudes coming out of there, that's for sure."

Smith began his coaching career at Miami University-Middletown, then was an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio) before becoming pitching coach at Indiana from 1995-96.

Smith was a pitcher and infielder in college at Miami (Ohio), and was a 39th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs in 1988. He played three seasons in the Cubs' system, rising to high-A ball, before retiring from playing.

During his collegiate playing days, Smith got to play against Michigan.

"Having competed on the field against the likes of Barry Larkin, Jim Abbott, Casey Close (high-profile player agent) and many others, I am aware of the tremendous talent and tradition of this program," Smith said.

"Succinctly put, Tracy is one of the best collegiate baseball minds in the country," Manuel said in a statement. "He is a tireless recruiter who can evaluate, project, and develop talent at the highest level of this sport."

Financial terms and the length of Smith's deal wasn't announced Sunday. His predecessor, Bakich, made over $600,000 — and more than doubled that by going to Clemson, where he got his coaching start. He received a six-year, $6.25 million contract at Clemson, which is paying his $150,000 buyout to Michigan. Bakich's latest contract at Michigan was to run through 2024.

Smith had a base salary of less than $400,000 at Arizona State; he received an extension going into the 2021 season, and had two years left on his contract when he was fired.

His coaching staff hasn't been announced. The only other coach listed on the Michigan baseball staff is former Tiger Brandon Inge, who was a volunteer assistant for two years under Bakich, 44. Assistant coach Nick Schnabel followed Bakich to Clemson. Smith also will have to rebuild a roster that has lost several key players to the transfer portal since Bakich left, including infielder Riley Bertram and catcher Jimmy Obertop.

Smith and wife Jaime have three sons, Casey, Ty and Jack.

Chris McCosky contributed

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @TonyPaul1984