Looking to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Blue Devils have found a new baseball coach.
Chris Pollard, the head coach at Appalachian State since 2004, was introduced as Duke’s new head coach at Jack Coombs Field Thursday afternoon. Pollard was offered the job Wednesday evening after Sean McNally resigned from the position May 30 after seven years.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me professionally but just as importantly it’s a great opportunity for my family to become part of the Duke family,” Pollard said.
Family was a buzzword for Pollard in the decision-making process, saying his wife and four- and six-year-old sons were major factors in accepting the position. It was difficult to uproot not only his family but also his career, after compiling a record of 244-210-2 in eight seasons, including six consecutive 30-win seasons.
The Mountaineers finished this season with a 41-18 record and a 21-9 record in the Southern Conference, good enough to win the league championship.
Pollard, whose successful season earned him the 2012 Southern Conference Coach of the Year, was offered the position after a three-person committee chaired by associate athletic director Brad Berndt narrowed down the initial candidate list from 120, Berndt said.
Berndt, who was joined by associate athletic directors Gerald Harrison and Nina King, declined to give contract specifics except for noting it is a multi-year contract.
“He’s a family guy and could set a good example on the field and off the field,” Berndt said. “He’s had a tremendous amount of success everywhere he’s been as a coach, but more importantly than that we thought we had the right man for the job—a man that could be a leader and mentor to our kids.”
Pollard has made a career out of reversing the fortunes of programs, first at Pfeiffer and then at Appalachian State. At Pfeiffer, where he received his first job as a coach in 2000, he took over a Falcon team that had suffered losing seasons in three of its last four years. In 2003 he took them to a league title in the CVAC with a 33-17 record, and repeated in 2004 with a 41-14 record.
He took over a program with similar struggles in the Mountaineers and after winning just 10 games in 2005, won 24 in 2006. Since 2007, the team has won at least 32 games in each season.
Pollard said the key to rebuilding any program begins with recruiting student-athletes who can balance academics and athletics, something he learned as recruiting coordinator at Davidson after he pitched there from 1993-1996.
“We absolutely want to recruit nationwide,” Pollard said. “We’re going to make sure we hit every part of this country to try to find guys. The Northeast will be important to us, Florida, California and Texas—and the one thing I mentioned in my interview, and I mean this very sincerely, I’ve got a lot of great relationships in North Carolina.”
Both Appalachian State, in Boone and Pfeiffer, in Misenheimer are located in North Carolina.
Pollard was also successful at Appalachian State in turning those recruits into professional ball players. Thirteen players Pollard recruited were selected in the MLB Draft, including three who were a part of his initial recruiting class getting selected within the draft’s first 12 rounds in 2008.
Pollard cited playing in Durham Bulls Athletic Park as a major element he will try to sell in trying to attract top-level recruits, though the process in getting them to be professional caliber does not end with their recruitment.
“One of the things we took a lot of pride in at Appalachian is that none of those guys were drafted before they got there,” Pollard said. “Time in the weight room is critical. Keeping them healthy is a big part of it…. But there’s no shortcut to it. It’s a lot of hard work.”
This year Blue Devil Marcus Stroman became the first Duke baseball player to be selected in the first round of the MLB Draft.
Although Pollard said he has had limited time to begin evaluating his current talent, he said he is encouraged by some of the recruits coming in and had time to get a sense of the Blue Devils’ talent when Appalachian State and Duke played twice this season. The Mountaineers won both contests.
“Ultimately, this is a great sell,” Pollard said. If you’re a top student athlete, a top baseball player across the country, who wouldn’t want to take a hard look at Duke University? You’re going to get one of the best degrees in the world and have a chance to play in the ACC.”
Pollard’s return to Durham brings back memories for the 38-year-old, whose first trip to the city coincided with his decision to quit his career as a player.
In 1997, he had just finished his season in professional baseball and was preparing for another shot at an invitation to spring training. But Chris McMullan, Duke assistant coach at the time, had taken a job in the Coastal Plain Summer League as head coach of the Rocky Mount Rock Fish and hired Pollard as his pitching coach.
From there, Pollard hung up his playing spikes and in 1998 was invited to coach the Durham Braves.
“I’ve had a lot of emotions over the last 24 hours,” Pollard said.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.