By STEVE KRAH
Brian Smiley has enjoyed success in his time on the Indiana State University baseball coaching staff.
The Sycamores earned three NCAA tournament berths (2012, 2014 and 2019) with Smiley in the fold. From 2010-20, ISU is 340-230.
He has recruited and brought plenty of talent to Indiana State. Some of those players include Major league Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections Sean Manaea (first round), Jeff Degano (second), Jake Petricka (second), Dakota Bacus (ninth), Clay Dungan (ninth), Colin Rae (12th), Triston Polley (16th) and Ryan Strausborger (16th).
Manaea pitched in 11 regular-season games for the 2020 Oakland Athletics.
Petricka has pitched in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers.
Bacus took the mound in 11 games for the 2020 Washington Nationals.
Rae pitched in nine regular-season contests with the 2020 Chicago Cubs.
Outfielder Strausborger played 31 games in the big leagues with the 2015 Texas Rangers.
Smiley has been on ISU staffs helmed by three different men. He was hired by former head coach Lindsay Meggs in the summer of 2009.
After Meggs left to become head coach at the University of Washington, Smiley served four years on the staff of Rick Heller.
When Heller took the head coaching position at University Iowa, Smiley followed him to Iowa City in the summer of 2013 and came back to Indiana State upon the hiring Mitch Hannahs, whose first season as the Sycamores boss was 2014.
As assistant in his first eight seasons at Indiana State, Smiley was named associate head coach in August 2017. He’s done about everything a coach can be asked to do in his time in Terre Haute.
“I’ve done everything from laundry to you name it,” says Smiley.
His current duties include defensive responsibilities and coaching third base on game days.
Smiley is also ISU’s recruiting coordinator — a job that has been made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Players being recruited can not meet on-campus with coaches — though there have been times where they could tour the school through the admissions office — and coaches have not been able to see players in-person at summer tournaments because of the dead period imposed by the NCAA by Division I baseball since March.
“We’re having to make decisions based on video and a coach’s word,” says Smiley. “You don’t get a good feel of how they play the game. You’re just grading out their tools on video.”
Under ideal circumstances, Indiana State would like to see a player at least two or three times and get the assessment of multiple coaches.
“(Recruits) can’t watch us practice. They can’t eat with us. They get to know us as coaches. We can’t sell them on things we normally would. There are guys that haven’t really been here that are committed to us.”
On a positive note, fall practice went pretty smoothly for the Sycamores though the window was moved up from the original plan of ending around Thanksgiving (ISU started in September and ended in the middle October).
“It was the right decision, says Smiley. “We feel like we were pretty fortunate. We got through team segment pretty healthy. We missed a few quarantined freshmen.
“With all our instrasquads, 90 to 95 percent of the team could participate. We could have been missing main players. You have that and it’s difficult putting in anything (as far as plays or schemes).”
Indiana State experienced good weather and went from individual practice to team and back to individuals.
The university has gone to virtual classes for the rest of the semester and most of the team has already returned to their homes with a plan of coming back to Terre Haute in January.
Smiley is a 2003 graduate of Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons each for head coaches Dave Bell and Paul Quinzer and earned three all-Big Eight Conference selections and helped the Wildcats to conference titles in 2002 and 2003.
“(Bell) was intense and hard-nosed,” says Smiley. “He demanded a lot and typically got a lot in return.”
Smiley says Indiana State alum Quinzer’s coaching style was more laid-back.
An infielder who played mostly at third base, Smiley started his college playing career Triton College in River Grove, Ill., playing for Trojans head coach Bob Symonds.
When Symonds retired, Smiley transferred to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and played for Hannahs.
“Mitch is a born leader,” says Smiley of Hannahs. “He’s an outstanding motivator. He is someone who is going to practice what he preaches.
“You know what you’re going to get. The words coming out of his mouth aren’t fake. He’s genuine. He cares about his players and they know that.
“What sets him apart from others is that he knows how handle tough situations and doesn’t rush. His decision-making is on-point all the time and that’s underrated.”
After his two junior college stops, Smiley played two seasons at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for Trojans head coach Jim Lawler, who has also been the pitching coach at Texas A&M.
Smiley began coaching career in the summer of 2007 with Dubois County Bombers as an assistant coach. He quickly named manager of the wood bat college team and served in that capacity for three seasons. He also was a student assistant Little Rock and coached at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College for Jaguars head coach Tim Bunton.
“I did pitching at Danville and helped with everything,” says Smiley. “I learned a lot from Tim. I’m very grateful for my year at Danville.
“He was very good with cuts and relays and being in the right place at the right time.”
Brian and wife Katie Smiley have three children — Isaac (5), Christian (4) and Vivian (2). Katie, whose maiden name is Grossman, is a 2004 Evansville Memorial High School graduate who played soccer at the University of Southern Indiana.