Hours after Southern California fired Frank Cruz and elevated Dan Hubbs to head coach, Hubbs spoke with Baseball America about his whirlwind first day as head coach at his alma mater and his vision for the future of USC baseball.
I'm sure this was a strange day for you; can you describe the emotions of becoming head coach at your alma mater, and having to take over for your friend two days before the season starts?
"I told my wife and I've told other people, it's bittersweet. I'd be lying if I didn't say this was a job that I've always dreamed of. I played at SC, I love the school, my wife and I met there. But a really good friend of mine lost his job and I'm taking over. And (Cruz was) someone who gave me an opportunity to come back and coach at my alma mater. So I'm kind of sad in that respect and I'm excited for the opportunity. But he's a great friend—I don't know a better way to put it. I think Frank Cruz is a great person who I respect a ton. I think he's a great coach, I think he's a great person, and I think he's a great friend. I think it's unfortunate and sad, everything that's come about, but I told the team, we have to look forward now. We don't have time for anything other than that. We start our season—against Fullerton of all people—in two days. It's not like it wasn't going to be tough enough."
How did the players react to the news?
"The players have been very receptive. I think they're excited for me. We kind of stopped practice in the middle, when everything went down. They played really hard when we practiced, they were very energetic. So that piece was good. My message to the team was we have to focus forward now."
From a big-picture perspective, how do you go about turning this program around?
"I think, hey, we have to recruit well. And quite frankly we have to keep kids from the draft. Obviously one of the things that has happened to this program over, let's say, the last seven years is the kids that have been recruited have signed. Specifically one class, I think they had like Matt Davidson and (Brooks) Pounders and (Jeff) Malm, there were a lot of them, and all nine of them signed. That's the kiss of death, to any program.
"So I think we've done a good job since I've been here of trying to put in place a system of recognizing kids who are less apt to sign—a profile of them, let's say. Does it always work? No. We should be able to do it. But the kids who turn down the draft, by and large, are the kids who value education. Is the 2.7, 2.8 (grade-point average) kid going to turn down $500,000? I don't know, but the 3.6 kid might. So, we're trying to adjust that. That's something we've been trying to do over the last year and a half. We need guys like (freshman lefthander) Kyle Twomey to come to school. That's why those programs (like Stanford, Vanderbilt and Rice) get those guys, because they're better students, in my opinion. And quite frankly, guys will turn down the draft when we start really winning, is my belief. I believe this place is really special. And I think that people will come. I think they will. (Freshman outfielder) Timmy Robinson turned down an opportunity to go pro last year for way higher than the 31st round, because he recognized it. So we're excited about that too.
"Does the price tag affect us? Sure it does. It affects a lot of people, but it affects us. We don't have, let's say, the academic aid available that maybe some other places have. You're talking about an off the charts student, let's say it's a 4.1 (GPA), 2250 (SAT score), then you're in the conversation of getting academic aid. We're not coming across a whole lot of those guys, that are Pac-12 players. So the academic part of it makes it more difficult."
Schools like Stanford, Rice and Vanderbilt have had a lot of success using institutional aid to supplement their 11.7 athletic scholarships. Can USC do more of that?
"I think the difference is our (enrollment) is 17,000, and theirs is way smaller. We're almost three times the size, and let's say our endowments are similar. That means their per-student financial aid has got to be greater. That, I think, becomes the difference.
"I still believe that we can get the players to be a top 10, 15, 20 program year in and year out. I refuse to believe that we can't. And I think we've felt that we're getting closer. I think on the field, we're way more athletic. We have way more options, in terms of who to play on the field. And when you look around at the players on the field for us this year, I think you're going to be like, 'They look different.' With this team, unfortunately, Stephen Tarpley transferred, otherwise we might look a little different on the mound too. He's an extreme talent, and I think he wants to sign. So it was tough when he left. But everybody makes their own decisions. I like the guys we have on our staff, but we have six or seven freshmen, who are going to pitch quite a bit. That's good and bad. I think the future looks bright when you look at our roster right now. So I like where it's headed."
Is this year's team capable of surprising people?
"One of the things I told the kids is we're going to have to play above our age and experience. OK, but so what? The other thing is our freshmen have got to become sophomores sooner than later. Honestly, it reminds me a little bit of the Cal team we had the year before we went to the World Series. We snuck into the regionals, but we had a lot of young players, when you talked about (Tony) Renda, and (Marcus) Semien, Erik Johnson was a sophomore, Justin Jones was a freshman, all these things kind of progressed. And then the next year, we all know the story, we got cut and made it to the World Series. This team reminds me of that team, the year before we went to the World Series. We're going to have our moments, we're going to have a game where everybody's going to be like, 'Do they ever practice?' And then we'll have our games where people will be like, 'Hey, you don't want to catch them when they're going well.' I think our goal is to continue to bring in kids like that who are going to continue to move the program forward. And I think we're building on that. I don't think it's far off.
"Obviously, I'm hoping that we play to our potential this year. And I think that we're capable. I think we're capable of surprising some people. Are we going to need to play well to win? Yeah. We're not going to be able to roll out the bats and balls and go beat up someone, yet. We're not going to be able to make four errors and win, we're not going to pitch poorly and win, but when we play well, I think we can play well with anybody."
What kind of vote of confidence did (athletic director) Pat Haden give you when you spoke with him? There is a lot of speculation out there that if USC struggles this year as many people expect, they could open this job up for a national search. Do you feel like you need to win this year, or did Haden assure you that you are his guy?
"He said, 'Hey, we believe in you. You're our head coach, you're not our interim head coach.' But there's no guarantees on anything. My focus right now is to beat Fullerton, then worry about Bakersfield Saturday, and Nebraska Sunday. All that other stuff I can't control. I'd be doing the kids a disservice if I worried about that. My focus is to get us to play as well as we possibly can this season, and hopefully that should be good enough to prove that I'm in the right spot. I'm not asking for someone to give me anything. I look at this as a great opportunity to try and motivate the kids to play well. But that's going to be my focus right now. I'm confident in what I can do, I'm confident in what the other coaches can do, confident what the kids can do."
Have you determined how you're going to fill the full-time vacancy on your coaching staff? Will you promote your volunteer assistant?
"Adam Dedeaux's our volunteer, he pitched here, the grandson of Rod. Obviously it's an awkward time to figure anything out right now, so I'm trying to do the cost/benefit analysis, trying to figure out what the best thing is for this group and our staff, in terms of cohesiveness, chemistry, in terms of everything. So I haven't made that determination yet. I just learned about all this about 2:30 this afternoon. So it's been a little bit of a whirlwind, and I've been trying to get focused on Fullerton."
USC's statement said it is self-imposing a reduction in the number of practice hours this season. Can you elaborate upon how significant that reduction is?
"Right now, we are cut back on hours. We're still a work in progress on what the final number is going to be. But we're working off 15 (hours per week) right now, as opposed to 20."
"I love this place. I think we're on the cusp of where we need to be—let's be honest, where people expect us to be. No one expects us to miss regionals seven years in a row. So I think we are close. Are we going to get there this year? Hey, no one wants it more than me. I told the kids a year ago when I came from Cal, I didn't come here not to go back to Omaha, when I got a taste of it there. I feel like this is a place that should be going a lot, regardless of what limitations anybody says there are. It's a great place to go to school, it's a great venue, and it's the best conference. There are so many positives that I'm confident we're going to get there."
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