Nov. 5, 2013
The following article was published by Sean Ryan, the co-founder of CollegeBaseballInsider.com, on Nov. 1. The original article can be found here.
By Sean Ryan
As Indiana was preparing to play at Florida State in the Super Regionals, a Hoosier made news off the field.
The day before IU and FSU opened their series, pitching coach Ty Neal was named the new head coach at Cincinnati. But before he could report for duty for the Bearcats, Neal had to make a trip to Omaha as the Hoosiers stopped the Seminoles for a berth in the College World Series.
Neal spent eight seasons at Indiana and also coached with Hoosiers coach Tracy Smith at Miami (Ohio). An Ohio native who grew up less than an hour from Cincinnati, Neal takes over a Bearcats program that went 24-32 and will play its first season in the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
First Inning – Take me through the process of your hiring, as it seemed to happen quickly, even as Indiana was prepping to play FSU in the Super Regionals.
Coach Tracy Smith was very helpful and understanding in allowing me to entertain a possible new position while the Hoosiers were piecing together a Championship season. UC AD Whit Babcock visited with me in Bloomington after we had won the Big Ten Conference Tournament. My Sport Administrator, Maggie McKinley, called on a Monday and asked if I was available for Whit to come and visit on Tuesday (May 28). Apparently the interview went well, and I drove over to Cincinnati for a second interview just after winning the Regional. I then received a call from Whit Friday morning just before the Super Regional asking if I wanted to be the next head coach at the University of Cincinnati.
Second Inning – What made Cincinnati a good fit for you at this point in your career?
I am an Ohio guy, and I knew this was a place with a beautiful campus, great academics and a top-notch facility. But the best part about it is the people making it tick. President Santa Ono, Whit Babcock and his administration are real people and, most importantly, good people who expect great things from everyone around them. That is the only way I know how to operate, so it’s a good feeling coming to work every day with people as humble yet hungry as I am. As a competitor and having the desire to play at the highest level, the American Athletic Conference will allow this program to play quality opponents each weekend to prepare us for postseason play. Our geographic location will also allow us to keep a strong schedule. Our midweek games become Kentucky, Louisville (after 2014), OSU and Indiana. Combine our conference schedule and our midweek schedule to our early-season southern trips, and we can position ourselves to be eligible for an at-large bid each year (if we take care of business). Strength of schedule is very important for postseason play, and we have the ability to play a very competitive schedule here at UC.
Third Inning – Describe the experience of helping lead Indiana to the College World Series.
The experience of helping IU reach Omaha was a long process, which started when I went over with Tracy Smith in 2005. The Hoosiers didn’t wake up one day and say “Let’s go to Omaha this year.” This took a lot of what I call “blood, sweat and tears” from a lot of different people. It took a lot of people making big-time sacrifices to make that happen. This is what college athletics is all about – you put your heart and soul into the program in hopes of competing for a Championship. I know my wife and kids made big-time sacrifices, just as they are now, but that is what it takes. I personally made the decision to involve my family as much as I can, and it is very rewarding to know that a team and a coach can make it to Omaha and still be a family man.
Fourth Inning – When the season started, could you have anticipated it ending in Omaha? When did it sink in that it could be a historic season?
I have seen a lot of great college baseball players over the years. This team, just like the previous IU teams, was very talented, but what separated this team was their desire to prepare collectively as a unit. We had no egos and this allowed the players to enjoy each other’s company and put the program goals over their own. I am a glass-half-full kind of guy, so I go into every season feeling like the organization I represent should compete for a Championship. If you are not creating a Championship Culture you will probably lose important days along the way.
Fifth Inning – What are some things you learned coaching with Tracy Smith at Miami and Indiana that will help you as a head coach?
He is extremely competitive and has a knack for getting things accomplished. I have witnessed head coaches take a passive approach in some areas of their program, and it has cost them championships, wins and sometimes even their jobs. Tracy Smith is very detail oriented and allows his staff the autonomy to do their jobs, but the second an area is slacking he will step in and make sure it is back where he expects it. He expects the best from everyone each day and it creates a competitive culture. He was also a trained scout so I picked up a few things in evaluating players, too. I feel he prepared me for this job, and I owe a lot to him for giving me an opportunity to learn and develop under his eye.
Sixth Inning – You grew up less than an hour away from Cincinnati. What memories do you have the city, and how does it feel to be coaching so close to your hometown?
Cincinnati is a baseball town. My dad used to take my brothers and me to Reds games as kids. I grew up in the “Nasty Boy” era. I do have to say when I think of Cincinnati I think of Pete Rose. I wish every kid out there played the game the way he did. My dad has come out to a few of my practices this fall, and it is a good feeling being able to share this opportunity with him. Being at the University of Cincinnati is an unbelievable opportunity for me and my family. If you knew anything at all about what it took for me to get here, you would understand what it means to me. I relate everything to music (country specifically), and Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers” is how I describe this amazing opportunity. I was snubbed on what I would label as “lesser” jobs the past few years. I am appreciative now I wasn’t the right guy for them…
Seventh Inning – You pretty much coached every position at Indiana. If you had to choose between pitchers or position players, which would you prefer to coach?
Ha! I love this question. I am a pitcher by trade and love talking pitching. However, I do believe my personality is more served for being around and grinding with the position guys daily. I consider myself a baseball guy and interacting with the position guys allows me to do it daily. Pitchers live a somewhat boring life and have to possess patience. I will say this, when I pitched in college, I made sure I busted my tail on my pitching workouts but then when the work was complete, I had fun being at the yard. I handled the fungo, I shagged flyballs, anything to make my time enjoyable.
Eighth Inning – After coaching the Bearcats this fall, where are some of your strengths?
We have a group of hungry young men! We do have some talented guys in the program with most of them being position guys. I do think we will find a way to score some runs this spring. My expectation of course is for us to compete for an AAC Championship and we are preparing to do so.
Ninth Inning – What are three things you look for in recruiting pitchers?
You must begin with physical tools because this is something we cannot teach.
1. Physical Tools (arm strength, body type/size)
2. Can he command a 2nd pitch off same arm slot?
3. Competitive Spirit