On June 14, the Blue Devils introduced Chris Pollard as their new baseball coach, replacing Sean McNally after his resignation on May 30. Pollard, had previously been the head coach at Appalachian State since 2004 and had registered six consecutive 30-win seasons before accepting the position with Duke. The Chronicle’s Danny Nolan had the opportunity to speak to Pollard about his transition to Durham and what he has been doing since he was hired.
The Chronicle: What have you been up to since you were hired as coach?
Chris Pollard: The official hiring was the 14th and on the 15th we had a series of meetings and conversations just to keep the human resources part of the equation. Then I was back in Boone for a week, closing up the books and making sure everything was left in order, as it should be at Appalachian [State University]. While I was back in Boone, I spent the bulk of that week talking with potential candidates for our pitching coach position. I really spent an inordinate amount of time talking about our pitching coach position. We were able to get both of our assistant coaching positions filled during that week, which was big. So now all of our full time staff is hired and our recruiting coordinator is already on the road. He went out last night and will be in California through the week….The other thing that I’ve done a lot is just reaching out to the current players, talking with them, seeing what they’re up to, how summer ball is going. And then obviously we’ve been on the phone with recruits, so we’ve had several kids out on visits. We’ve tried to reach out to a bunch of kids through email and get in touch with them. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, that’s for sure.
TC: You mentioned in an earlier interview that you needed to hit the ground running with recruiting, do you think you’ve gotten off to a good start with everything that has been going on?
CP: I think that certainly we’re all playing catch up and we probably will be for some time. That’s nobody’s fault. It’s part of the transition process that takes place when you have a coaching staff change. We’ve tried to be efficient and we’ve worked a lot of long hours over the last 10 days, and will continue to work long hours, and do the best we can to make up some of that traction. I think slowly but surely we’ll begin to do that. I think that with kids we’ve had on visits we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, and that’s a big part of it. We’re making some ground for sure.
TC: Something else you’ve mentioned is this aggressive approach to baseball—can you talk a little bit about what you are going to make Duke an aggressive team?
CP: It starts with a mentality. You have to first set a tone in the culture, a mentality of how you want to play the game. We want a toughness, we want an aggressiveness, but we also want a looseness. There are three words we talk about in every pregame meeting and our guys will hear ad nauseam, and that is: looseness, energy, and effort. I think that toughness goes hand-in-hand with all of those. If you’re playing a game loose and you’re playing with a lot energy and effort, you’re going to be aggressive. When you’re loose, you allow your instincts to take over. Obviously when you give good energy and great effort, it allows for that aggressiveness.
But you have to practice it. One of the things we’ve tried to do in our practice model is reward aggressiveness within the flow of practice, and make sure to never penalize guys for being over aggressive. In our practice setting, making an extra base, trying to make the diving play instead of pulling up and playing the ball in front of you, those are just two examples from me. We’re never going to penalize a guy if he gets thrown out for trying to stretch a double into a triple, because we want them to push the envelope. By pushing the envelope, you’re able to push past some of your preconceived limitations and find out what your real limitations are. Again it goes back to guys being loose and having fun with it and not being afraid to make a mistake. I don’t think you can play baseball afraid to fail. As a hitter you’re going to fail 7 times out of 10. Baseball’s a game of failure; you have to be able to flush that out and move on to the next pitch and next play.
TC: How do you transform this offense, one of the worst in the ACC, into a unit that can compete in the ACC and eventually a College World Series berth?
CP: We need to get more physical, that’s for sure. We really want to be aggressive in the weight room and developing guys. That athleticism translates on the field. That’s part of it, having a plan in the weight room and in the strength and conditioning on how we become more physical as a club. You have to be able to adapt offensively to what you have. Right now we don’t have a ton of power or great speed, so we’ll have to do a good job of being opportunistic. When you don’t have guys that can just drive it out of the ballpark and you don’t have a team that just has blazing speed that’s going to put pressure on teams, then you have to really execute and be fundamentally sound in your offensive execution.... We’re going to have to bunt; we’re going to have to hit and run; and taking extra bases in ways other than the straight steal. We have to make sure that as an offense we’re opportunistic.
TC: Do you think an offense that manufactures runs can compete this year? What are your expectations as the head coach?
CP: We’re going to compete in the weight room, the classroom, in conditioning and our practice setting. When you do that, you start to get good at competing. Do I expect them to go out there, night in and night out, and be in a position to win ballgames? Absolutely.