Chris Pollard’s hesitation came from his affection for Appalachian State, not because of any misgivings about the Duke job.
When Duke athletic director Kevin White called Pollard on Wednesday night and offered the Mountaineers coach the opportunity to be the Blue Devils’ next baseball coach, Pollard grappled with the progress Appalachian State had made in his eight seasons as baseball coach.
It wasn’t too long ago the Mountaineers posted back-to-back 10-win seasons. But such adversity was a distant memory this season when Appalachian State won 41 times and almost advanced to a Super Regional, squandering an early lead in a loss to Oklahoma in the final game of the regional.
“It was an incredibly tough decision to leave Appalachian,” Pollard said. “We had a good thing going with the baseball program, and more importantly than that, just great people to work with in the athletic department.”
Even with ties pulling him toward Boone, Pollard ultimately accepted the challenge of being the Blue Devils baseball coach because of the opportunities to work at Duke and coach in the ACC.
“When you line up those two things together, it’s a pretty hard thing to turn down,” Pollard said.
“Exhausted” after seven seasons trying to turn around Duke’s baseball fortunes, Sean McNally resigned as the Blue Devils’ coach in late May.
Contrast the experience of McNally – who went 192-198-1 during his tenure – and the overall history of the Blue Devils – about the most notable thing the program has done over the last couple of decade is produce right-hander Marcus Stroman, who was a first-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft earlier this month – and one has an idea why it wasn’t a no-brainer for Pollard to move.
In some ways, Duke could even be seen as an intimidating job, although that’s not how Pollard looks at it.
“I don’t think intimidating, but I think it’s a tremendous challenge,” he said. “I understand and I know going in that there are unique variables about Duke – first and foremost being you have to recruit a certain type of student that’s going to be successful at Duke University. The challenge of finding that type of student who is also an ACC-caliber baseball player is daunting.”
Working in his favor is the fact that Pollard played at Davidson, another academically rigorous school in North Carolina. He also was an assistant coach there and plans on tapping into the experience to help him recruit the type of student-athlete he believes the Blue Devils will need to succeed.
Ultimately, Pollard believes that’s the way forward for Duke – to recruit better players.
“We need a mentality in place where we don’t take a back step to anybody,” he said. “We want to recruit the very best student-athletes in the country. It starts with players, and getting the players starts with the recruiting base.”
That’s what he did at Appalachian State, which won 10 games the two seasons before Pollard took over in 2004. Now, the Mountaineers have progressed to the point that they’ve won at least 30 games in six straight seasons. Pollard himself said the program is “humming” along.
Five or six years from now, Pollard will hope he’s saying the same thing about Duke.
“It was a very difficult decision, but I’m also excited about being here in Durham and working at Duke University,” he said.