The College Baseball Blog continues our series of interviews with various head coaches around the nation. We recently were able to talk with San Diego’s Rich Hill. He is entering his 21st collegiate season while being in charge of San Diego for the last ten seasons. He led the team to the NCAA Tournament last season when they won the West Coast Conference. They ended up in the Long Beach Regional where they went 3-2 before being eliminated by future NCAA Champion Fresno State.
1. The San Diego Toreros had a 44-17 record in 2008 which broke the school record for wins. The team returns their top three out of four hitters while returning only one starting pitcher from the 2008 team. What are your expectations for the squad in 2009?
Our expectation on the result side of things doesn’t change: Compete in the CWS and win a national championship. We want to own the WCC and go off in the NCAA Tournament. Our expectations are to focus on process – Players will be extremely prepared on game day. Focus and Concentration on executing in all phases of the game.
2. The Toreros pitching staff returns their only one starting pitcher from last years team in Kyle Blair. Who do expect to fill the spots left by Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski who both left after the MLB Draft? Do you expect CCBL All-Stars Matt Thomson and Sammy Solis to step into the rotation or someone else?
Sammy started a ton of games last season and had an All-Star summer. I think your publication ranked him as the “most dominant pitcher.” Matt also blossomed this summer for Orleans. These two along with Matt Couch (Tommy John returnee who was a Cape Cod League All-Star) should form a quality rotation.
3. A.J. Griffin has been one of the better closers in the country during the last two seasons with 25 saves. What makes him so good at closing out games?
His mental approach. It takes a special guy to be a Friday starter or a closer. Tons of deception, great downhill plane, and breaking balls for strikes.
4. Have any of your incoming freshmen impressed you during Fall Workouts? Do you see any of them breaking into the starting lineup/rotation this season?
Bryan Haar (of), Chris Jensen (RHP) and Austin Green (C/of) have all impressed. Haar will start somewhere if he keeps working hard. Jansen should be a good middle/set-up guy and Green will play D late.
5. San Diego is becoming a national player year in and year out thanks to Brian Matusz’s development into a first round pick last season. What made him so successful? Who on your team right now could develop into a special player like Brian?
Brian’s desire to get better! Eric Valenzuela is one of the brightest young pitching coaches in America, who helped Brian tremendously. His change-up and cutter that he developed here took him to that super elite level. Kyle, Sammy or Victor Sanchez could be a Brooks Wallace award winner too.
6. In 2007, We saw San Diego host at Tony Gwynn Stadium which is the home of your rivals San Diego State. Are there any plans to expand Cunningham Stadium so you can host a future regional?
The ball is rolling for our new facility. That’s what we need to be a consistent player for Omaha! If you can host, your chances increase dramatically! Everything is good with the city, that plans are drawn, we’re just waiting for the marketing/fund raising strategy to get approved.
7. Last season we saw the implementation of the Uniform Start Date. What are your early impressions on it? Did you think it has leveled the playing field?
This subject strikes a nerve. I think we are taking away an opportunity for thousands of athletes in warm weather climates to practice and compete in the month of January and early February. Let’s look at these elite athletes who want to go to a place where there are palm trees and Bermuda grass. It should be about the experience of the student athlete and we are bringing this group down. This is not how America was built! I get the whole level playing field theory when it pertains to RPI. And I think this is what this is really about, getting into the NCAA Tournament. We’re trying to create more parity for the sake of RPI and Tourney standings, while the dark side of it is the lessening of the experience and opportunity for warm weather players. We cannot play 56 games in this time span. There has to be a compromise. I think a common start date is good, just move it up two weeks, Reduce the schedule to 52 games and allow 4 in the fall. I don’t think either side would be bitter or happy. The pendulum shifted way to far over and we need to get it back to the only way anything gets done.
8. How will the new rules with the way the scholarships can be split on the team affect your program? Do you think it is a good change for college baseball?
That’s all APR stuff. There are problems with the APR and baseball because of the pro situation and that fact that everyone is on a partial scholarship. Once again, the athlete is the one that pays the price. A coach should be able to give whatever amount to whomever he wants!
9. With the removal of the one-time transfer exemption that allowed student-athletes to change schools once without having to sit out a red-shirt year, do you feel that there is more pressure on a coach to recruit with responsibility or for the student-athlete to be aware of what programs are the best fit for them?
This is a good debate! Pros and cons to each side. I feel the prospect has to do more research, by way more accountable in his decision. So does the coach! When the going gets tough, you can’t quit! I think that’s good, both sides have to do everything they can to make it work, like a marriage!
10. Final question, who has been your biggest influence on your coaching philosophy or career?
Lindsay Meggs, who is at Indiana State, is the best baseball coach in America. He is unbelievable when it comes to coaching baseball. Mike Dunlap, who is the associate head coach at Arizona basketball, is the best coach in any sport that I have ever met. This guy is ridiculous… Spend an afternoon with either of these two and you’ll feel like you can conquer the world!
The College Baseball Blog would like to thank Rich Hill for taking some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us. Special thanks goes to Chris Loucks of San Diego Media Relations for setting up the interview and helping us out throughout the season. If any other SID’s or Coaches would like to do a similiar interview feel free to contact me by clicking here.