Behr: Duke hits home run with Pollard
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
This time, Appalachian State's athletic department is looking for a new baseball coach. Duke plucked ASU's Chris Pollard with the idea of having the coach do for the Blue Devils what he did for the Mountaineers.
Make them into an NCAA contender.
Pollard made Appalachian State baseball relivant, especially this season. Smith Stadium was home to record crowds this season.
Still, ASU lives the life of a mid-major college. They find successful coaches, and then the big boys take them away.
Everybody does it. Appalachian State grabbed Pollard from Division II Pfeiffer. Pollard turned the mediocre Falcons into a Division II NCAA playoff team. Pollard's final season at Pfeiffer was his most successful, having guided the Falcons to a 41-14 record and a berth in the Division II playoffs.
One year later, Pollard was coaching in the High Country.
Pollard had his work cut out for him. He took over an ASU program that won 10 games the season before, and lost games by scores of 20-0, 20-2, 16-0. ASU also lost its first 12 games of the season.
Those were the days.
It took Pollard a while to get things turned around. His first team won exactly 10 games, and Pollard killed more grass at old Red Lackey Field walking from the dugout to the mound changing pitchers than a desert sun ever did.
Change doesn't happen overnight.
But it did happen. Pollard put together six straight 30 win seasons with a program that had not won 30 games since 1986, when the Mountaineers went 40-13-1.
Eventually, the 20-0 losses to Southern Conference powers were a distant memory. It's what Duke wants to see.
There was no magic formula used. Pollard simply upgraded the talent level. He made an impact on the roster by recruiting Impact talent — players who play on Impact.com baseball teams and in Impact.com tournaments.
He plucked the 2005 4-A player of the year Aubrey Edens, and the 2005 2-A player of the year Jason Rook. They struggled as freshmen, but were key components of the turnaround.
In the last five seasons, 13 Mountaineers were selected by Major League Baseball teams in different drafts.
That includes the four players — pitchers Ryan Arrowood, Seth Grant, Nate Hyatt and catcher Tyler Tewell — from this season.
Pollard is likely to have a bigger recruiting budget at Duke. Blue Devils pitcher Marcus Stroman was drafted 22nd overall by Toronto, but even Stroman could not keep the Blue Devils from having the worst ACC record in 2012.
Duke (21-34) finished in the cellar of the Coastal Division with a 9-21 league mark. That is worst in the ACC behind Boston College and Maryland, who shared the Atlantic Division cellar with 10-20 records.
No doubt, Duke wants division championships out of Pollard. That could take some time.
Even with Pollard's success, the Mountaineers were still “the best of the rest” for most of his tenure in the SoCon standings. Appalachian State never finished higher than fourth in the league until 2012.
This year, in a breakout season, the Mountaineers finished 21-7 in the conference — 41-18 overall — and grabbed a share of the Southern Conference regular season championship.
The Mountaineers also pulled off 1-0 and 11-1 upsets over then No. 7 LSU, and grabbed Charlottesville (Va.) Regional upset wins over Oklahoma and Virginia. A stockpile of pitching that was superior than everybody else in the regional propelled Oklahoma to the super regional, but ASU definitely had the Sooners' attention in the regional's final two games.
No doubt, all of that caught Duke's attention. No doubt, the Blue Devils, beaten twice by ASU this year, expect Pollard to do the same for them.
Even with bigger budgets and bigger prestige, Pollard is not guaranteed success. The Southern Conference is one of the top mid-major leagues in the nation, but the ACC's Florida State and North Carolina are no strangers to the College World Series.
Taking Duke to that level won't be easy. ASU hopes it can find a coach who can keep up the standards that Pollard established.