'The right situation': New baseball coach Tracy Smith finds fit with Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Without a college baseball coaching gig last year, Tracy Smith became an avid Netflix viewer and happily devoted himself to grandfather duties.

Smith remained involved in baseball, too, he said, but for the first time since 1997, he wasn’t a head coach. He wasn't coaching at all.

Now, Smith’s Twitter bio includes his two most important jobs: "Head Coach Michigan Baseball and proud grandfather of Maverick Smith." Smith was hired to take over at Michigan in early July replacing Erik Bakich, who left after 10 years with the Wolverines to become the head coach at Clemson.

Tracy Smith speaks about his new role as Michigan's baseball coach during a media conference on Tuesday.

Smith, 56, had an introductory meeting with media on Tuesday inside Ray Fisher Stadium, which is undergoing a facelift, including the installation of a new field.

It would not be a stretch to make the connection of a new beginning all around. He was happy last year. He is happy now. Smith said the beauty of where he is in life, personally and professionally, gave him the luxury of not being a coach who needed a job but one who wanted to work again.

“From a coaching perspective, I feel like I’ve done darn near everything,” Smith said, adding he has checked most boxes except winning a national title. “For me and where I was at 56, grandbaby, all of those things, I was comfortable in life. Did I want to coach again? Absolutely, but it was gonna have to be the right situation.”

Michigan, a program that was national runner-up in 2019, felt right and familiar to him. Smith played baseball at Miami (Ohio) and faced the Wolverines as a player back in the day. He became the head coach at his alma mater in 1997 then coached at Indiana, leading the Hoosiers to the College World Series in 2013 and winning Big Ten coach of the year. His most recent stop was Arizona State, where he coached from 2015-21 and had a 201-155 record over seven seasons before he was dismissed.

“We never really wanted to say it when I was at (Indiana), but this is a different beast,” Smith said of Michigan. “The national brand, the ability to realistically play for a national championship was very important to me because if I was going to get out of the grandfather thing, it was going to have to fit on a lot of levels.

“Everybody talks about winning a national championship, but I think you have a realistic chance to do that here by the support that’s given to the program. I think recent history speaks to that.”

Recruiting is a top priority for Smith, who has a roster somewhat depleted after Bakich’s departure. A handful of current players and incoming recruits decided to follow him to Clemson. With Smith's late hiring, the transfer portal deadline had passed.

More: Erik Bakich's move from Michigan to Clemson leaves baseball stars with decisions to make

“The recruiting, that was probably the immediate priority for us with the timing of everything going on,” Smith said. “Everybody is still trying to figure out the portal and how that impacts recruiting at a baseline level. We were faced with a little bit of a challenge, so our immediate thing was, let’s stabilize what we have currently going on, let’s see what our roster is, what do we have left coming in the (next) class.”

Smith spoke of “sustainable success.” That means assessing who is already in the program and moving ahead with what he inherited. He said it will be a “fresh start” for everyone and that they all will have an opportunity.

“We’re going to take our time,” Smith said. “We’re not going to panic. We’re going to get after recruiting — and we have — but the timing of it has been a little problematic, but not something that we can’t overcome in time.”


Twitter: @chengelis