Friday, June 25, 2010

Q&A with Teddy Cahill of Ball State Daily News

The Buckeye Nine continues its coverage into the hiring of Greg Beals as Ohio State's new baseball coach. While Beals may be a mystery man to many of the Buckeye faithful, to Teddy Cahill he is not. Cahill has been a beat writer of Ball State during Beals tenure with the Cardinal and can provide more insight into the Buckeyes new coach than anyone.

The Buckeye Nine reached out to the Ball State Daily News writer for a few questions to fill you in on what Beals is bringing to Columbus. The Buckeye Nine thanks Teddy for the time to sit down with us.

B9: You’ve been on the record as saying Beals is a good fit for Ohio State, why is that?

TC: Before I answer this question, I feel I should note that before I went to Ball State I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and was raised to root for the Buckeyes. I’ve watched Ohio State football as long as I can remember and though I’ve stripped away almost all of my childhood biases, I still follow the Buckeyes. I don’t know as much about Ohio State baseball as you do, but I understand how that athletic department works.

I first reported Beals might be a candidate for the Ohio State job when Ball State was in Columbus in May. At the time, I noted he was an established, mid-major head coach with deep Ohio ties and has successfully gone into Ohio and Michigan to recruit. If you look at Jim Tressel and Thad Matta, the last two major coaches hired by Ohio State, they all fit the same mold.

Looking at the five finalists for the job (Beals, Scott Stricklin, Tracy Smith, Chris Lemonis and Kevin McMullan), I think Smith would have been the favorite, but he ended up removing himself. Lemonis and McMullan are popular names and will certainly have the chance to become head coaches soon, but they aren’t what Ohio State wants. Ohio State views this job as a destination. College baseball fans might argue and say no Northern job is a destination, and there are plenty who think Louisville isn’t even an end point. But that’s not how Ohio State baseball sees itself. There always would have been the question of how Lemonis or McMullan would stick around Columbus before they headed back South.

As for Stricklin, I don’t know how serious his candidacy was. I’ve been told by multiple sources that Ohio State boosters don’t like his recruiting tactics and that he might not have even been that interested in Ohio State.

Ultimately I think Beals is a good fit because he’s like a lot of coaches already at Ohio State. He’s got local ties, wants to succeed at Ohio State and people genuinely like him. I think you saw that right away in his introductory press conference when he showed up with the Buckeyes’ tie. He gets what Ohio State means, and that point can’t be underestimated.

B9: In his time at Ball State, what traits or attributes were common on some of Beals’ most successful teams?

TC: At the end of the day, Greg Beals is an offensive coach. That is certainly helped by the launching pad the Cardinals play in, but he knows hitting. When everyone else wanted Kolbrin Vitek to be a pitcher, he saw the bat speed that would allow him to become a first round draft pick as a hitter. In the two years I’ve covered Ball State, the strength has been hitting and that isn’t likely to change.

However, if you look deeper, his most successful teams aren’t just mashers. Like every baseball team, you still have to pitch if you want to win. When Ball State upset Kentucky in Regionals, Beals had a true ace in Ben Snyder on the hill and a lockdown closer in Kyle Heyne to shut the door. His best teams have always had an ace, like Snyder or Perci Garner, but they also always have a lights-out closer. That’s what the Cardinals lacked this year and the biggest reason why they didn’t get another MAC title.

B9: Similarly, what can fans of Ohio State baseball expect from a Beals-coached team?

TC: Some of this might change when he gets access to better baseball players and away from Ball Diamond, but the biggest thing is offense. His teams will hit and score runs. That’s especially important, because the biggest problem Ball State has had under Beals is defense. That might change when he can get more complete players, but at times the Cardinals struggled with fielding.

Beals also likes to run. Not necessarily a lot of hit-and-runs, but if he has speed, he will use it. Vitek isn’t the fastest kid you’ll watch play baseball, but he stole 16 bases this year. In 2009, the Cardinals stole 115 bases, and they must have set the record for double steals. Beals isn’t afraid to run and gave the green light to a fair amount of the Cardinals.

His recruiting record has also been well documented, and that can’t be undersold. Ohio State has fallen off the recruiting map and I am lost about how it managed to land Alex Wimmers. But that will change. Beals went head-to-head with Michigan for Vitek and won. With all that Ohio State has to offer (and the list is long), the overall quality of players in the program will improve. Players like Stetson Allie will always go to the top Southern schools, but there’s no reason why the next level of talent has to leave Ohio.

B9: Should only one Regional appearance during his tenrue in the MAC be of concern to Ohio State fans?

TC: I don’t see it as a concern. Rich Maloney didn’t take Ball State to Regionals at all, and I think he’s done pretty well for Michigan.

Obviously, it would be ideal if Beals had more NCAA appearances on his resume. But the reality is the MAC doesn’t get multiple tournament bids and it really has no hope to. Last year, the Big Ten got three teams into Regionals. That’s not happening in the MAC, which pins all postseason hopes on winning the MAC Tournament.

The MAC is a competitive league, and you don’t have to look any farther than Kent State’s Regional performance last year for evidence of that. Ball State was talented enough to go to Regionals and potentially win a game this year, but after some injuries it was probably two pitchers short at the end of May.

Also, the one time Beals did take Ball State to Regionals, he won a game. Kentucky was very good in 2006 and Ball State scored its biggest win ever. I would say fans can be concerned if they want to be, but they should remember the circumstances Beals was working with at Ball State and what he’ll get at Ohio State. His institutional support alone should be enough to carry him into the postseason.

B9: What do you know of Mike Stafford and what insight can you give as Coach Beals possible lures the ex-Buckeye into a retun home?

TC: I think the best example of what kind of Stafford’s ability is what he did for Perci Garner. For those that don’t know, Garner was initially recruited to Ball State as a quarterback who would have the opportunity to play baseball. He didn’t play baseball as a freshman because then-football coach Brady Hoke was opposed to the idea. After spending two years on the bench, Garner saw he had been passed on the Cardinals’ depth chart and asked Beals if he could still play baseball. Beals gave him a tryout and after a year and a half off, Garner’s first pitch lit up the radar gun in the 90s.

But Stafford took Garner from a kid who didn’t really know where the ball was going to the 77th overall pick in the draft. Clearly, there was talent there to begin with, but Stafford played a big role in harnessing that and helping Garner get to the next level.

Stafford is Ball State’s top assistant and plays a big role in the recruiting process. I don’t know all the guys he’s brought to Muncie, but Ball State had the top ERA in the MAC last year and was near the top again this year.

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