RICH HILL REFLECTS ON HIS SUCCESSFUL RUN AT THE HELM OF USD BASEBALL
Head Baseball Coach Rich Hill has built the Toreros into one of the most successful Division I programs on the West Coast. Since taking over in 1999, he’s led the Toreros to five West Coast Conference (WCC) Championship titles and recently earned his 500th win at USD.
Q: Pardon the pun, Coach, but USD Baseball sure seems to be swinging a hot bat right now.
“Yep. I’m really proud of where our program is, and where we’re going. There’s a lot going on, and it’s great to have a real buzz in the air about this team and the prospects for the future.”
Q: What were things like when you first arrived back in 1999?
“Well, I can tell you that we wanted to change the culture immediately. We had pencils and cups made up that had USD as the NCAA West Regional Champions, and handed them out to all the players at the first meeting. I told the guys to take them home and show their parents, their roommates, their friends. And we just went to work.”
Q: There have been some huge wins along the way that helped shape the program into what it is today. Any particular games stick out?
“The first thing that comes to mind is the sweep of Texas in 2006. Texas football had just won the national championship, and the baseball team was ranked No. 1 on the Coaches’ Preseason Poll. They came in here and we swept them, and I really feel like that put us on the map.
And then there was the 2008 NCAA regional. We beat Long Beach State in the morning game, and we came back and beat Fresno State in the nightcap (Fresno State went on to win the national title that year) to get to the regional title game. That established a new benchmark for us.”
Q: We’ve got to put you on the spot: Who’s the best player you’ve ever coached at USD?
“I’d have to say A.J. Griffin ’11. I remember when we first were recruiting A.J., and my assistant coaches were telling me that we had to have this guy. I saw him throwing in the low 90s during high school playoffs, and really felt like he was our guy, so we went after him and got him. When you stack his four-year career up as both a starter and a reliever, that kind of a career is really once-in-a-lifetime at this level.”
Q: Fowler Park has the potential to be a real game-changer for the program moving forward. What have been the immediate impacts of playing in such an amazing facility?
“Have you seen the place? That should be self-explanatory. What it’s done immediately is impact the 2013 team in ways I haven’t seen before. The guys are grateful to the commitments of those who have gone before, the commitment of the university and the commitment of Mr. Fowler. It’s raised the intensity, and I know everyone can’t wait to get down here every day, myself included.”
Q: How has your coaching philosophy changed over 15 years?
“My approach has changed, is changing and will continue to change. I mean, you have to in order to get the most out of your players. There’s a real mental toughness that needs to be developed in baseball, you have to deal with the daily grind. I want my players to feel like they’re learning something new every day. That’s not just important in baseball, that’s important in everything.”
Q: A lot of the best young baseball players in the country head straight to pro ball from high school. How do you convince a potential recruit that USD is the place they need to be?
“That one’s easy: the USD campus and the USD experience. I feel like it ranks right up there with any school in the world. The quality of education, the campus life, the student experience, the location. That’s what makes it such a strong choice.”
Q: 15 years and 500 wins, and you’re not showing any signs of slowing down. Have you given any thought to where you see yourself 15 years from now?
“Wherever I’ll be, I’ll be there because God has a plan for me, and I know it’ll be absolutely amazing. But I’m focused on the here and now, and what’s happening right now is trying to bring these guys together into the team I know they can be.”