Twelve seasons at San Diego haven't been enough for coach Rich Hill.
Hill has had opportunities in the past to take other jobs. This past summer, Washington courted Hill in hopes of luring him to Seattle. But at the end of the day, Hill decided to stay put at USD because of his love for the program and family.
When he's on the field, Hill is known as a fiery competitor who utilizes rather unique ways of preparing his players for games. Off the field, you'll find Hill at a local beach showing off his exceptional surfing skills.
Hill has guided the Toreros to unchartered waters.
The program is a consistent regional contender. And three seasons ago, Hill led the program to its first national seed in school history.
With the return of several seasoned and talented players this spring, Hill hopes to accomplish yet another milestone for the program. He wants a College World Series appearance.
Hill took some time to discuss a variety of topics.
Rogers: Your Toreros entered last season with high expectations, but ended the campaign with a 29-25 record. What exactly happened?
Hill: We don't really like to use the word expectations. We're a more in the moment type of program. I think it was just one of those years where we had a bunch of sophomores on the team. I thought the sophomore class was very talented, but many of the guys weren't very experienced last season. We started out 6-0 in conference, but injuries eventually caught up with us. When you're a private school like we are and you lose a few guys to injuries, it really becomes difficult to combat. That's what kind of led to some of our losses. We were cold down the stretch and others were hot. It was a great year for Gonzaga, so give them some credit. We couldn't combat injuries.
R: Your program suffered some tough offseason news when assistant coach Eric Valenzuela made the cross-town move to San Diego State. How have things gone with new pitching coach Tyler Kincaid?
H: I think the moves have been very positive for all three programs involved in the situation. Stanford got a fantastic coach when Rusty Filter made the move up there from SDSU, Valenzuela is a fantastic coach and SDSU got a good one with him. And now with us, Kincaid has been a fantastic addition. He has brought a great approach to this staff and program. The pitching staff really has taken a liking to him. It's a different personality and approach. He's fantastic when it comes to X's and O's. It has been a very smooth transition and our pitchers have been fantastic in embracing his style.
R: We knew your program earned a national seed a couple of seasons ago. But the 2009 club could be your best yet. What are your thoughts on the upcoming campaign?
H: The '07 team earned a national seed and was the first WCC team to accomplish the goal. So, yeah, that team was special. Trying to surpass that club in the near future is a tough task. But I'll say this, the current club is the most experienced team I've had in terms of older guys, fifth-year seniors, regular seniors and juniors. It's just fun to be around these guys. They're working very hard and bring a great work ethic to the field, weight room and classroom. We'll see if that translates to wins in a few months, but this team definitely has some swagger and focus. It will be a fun ride.
R: What's something about this year's team that you view as a concern?
H: I don't really like to use the word concerned. Those kinds of terms can get you in a heap of trouble. I believe starting pitching and offense are the strengths of our team. However, I think there are some unanswered questions. For instance, the bullpen and defense are question marks. We'll see who can jump in those bullpen roles and be effective. I think the loss of Sean Nicol is profound. And how Matt Thomson does in the closer's role is an important story for the season.
R: You have some fantastic pitchers in Kyle Blair, Sammy Solis and AJ Griffin. How would you rate them against other USD greats of the past?
H: We've had so many good pitchers throughout the years. I think Brian Matusz is in a class by himself. He threw four pitches for strikes and had some knockout pitches. Solis and Blair have that type of stuff at times, too. They have dominating stuff. Griffin is just a complete gamer and strike thrower. He throws everything below the kneecaps and hits the black. He also has a prototypical body. He pulls his hat down and comes at you. We've had some top-50 picks like Josh Butler. We've had some really good pitchers. We've been pretty lucky the past few seasons.
R: Are there any players out there that you feel are primed to take a step forward this spring?
H: I like our pitchers a lot. I know everyone wants to talk about Sammy, Kyle and AJ, but I think guys like veterans Nick McCoy, Kevin Muno and James Meador are going to make this team. You get those seniors back and it's huge. We'll have much success if those guys take steps forward. I'll say this about our players. They went out this past summer wanting to take care of business. I really feel like they're as experienced as anyone out there. They feel they shouldn't lose a game. That's their biggest asset.
R: Enough about your pitchers and hitters for the time being. Who are the best pitchers and hitters you've coached against?
H: I'd have to say former Washington pitcher Tim Lincecum is the best pitcher I've ever coached against. This is my 22nd year of coaching and I haven't seen anyone better than he was. He threw a one-hitter against us down in Texas. In terms of hitters, I'd have to say Jason Bay when he was at Gonzaga. He was kind of an unknown kid at the time and went to junior college. He then ended up at Gonzaga. We couldn't get him out. Mike Frank is another guy to remember. He played at Santa Clara and was a fantastic player in this conference. He ended up in the big leagues with the Reds.
R: San Diego is an expensive and outstanding academic institution. What are some huge challenges you face each day?
H: I think overall depth is the biggest challenge for this program. You're dealing with a 35-man roster and school is approaching $50,000 a year. That's tough to deal with. I've started following the USC model created by Mike Gillespie several years ago. He gave big money to a few guys and it worked out. We're going to give big money to seven guys that we believe will be all-conference. If you get seven guys to be all-conference, there's a great chance you're going to have a good season. Problem is, when guys get injured like last season, the depth issues really come into play. The situation also arises if you miss on a few recruits. We just don't have the depth of programs like Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, so it's not easy to make up for a recruiting mistake or injury. Those are the things we deal with at USD.
R: What are you doing when you're not coaching?
H: I love to spend time with my family. My kids are in high school, so it's fun times for them. When I'm not with my family, I'm usually surfing. It has been great here in San Diego this December. The waves have been fantastic. I'm having trouble keeping myself dry and out of the water.
R: It's common knowledge that you have your team engage in yoga before some practices. Can you discuss that unique routine?
H: Our blueprint for success here at San Diego is recruiting and development. I really believe in spending all our time in those two areas. We're trying to get our players in peak performance mode. People spend so much time training bodies for this game, but the mental aspect of things often gets left out. It gets neglected. But we have a great sport psychologist around here and we spend 10-15 minutes at the beginning of each practice doing breathing and visualization drills. It's one of those flexibility things, too. It really helps out our team. We try to do some things that are cutting edge to develop our younger players. We're also doing some very interesting things from a nutritional standpoint. It's all about trying to stay one step ahead of the competition. The yoga has been received well by our players.
R: Who have had the most impact on your coaching career both on and off the field?
H: I've had a few people make their marks on me. There are certainly the high school and little league coaches from the past. But I'd have to say the two people that have had the most impact on me are Oregon associate head basketball coach Mike Dunlap and Washington coach Lindsay Meggs. Dunlap has had a huge impact on me from everything to do with coaching, recruiting, organization and developing players. Meggs and I have been best buddies since we were kids. We grew up together. In my mind, he's the best baseball coach out there. His mind is ridiculously good and he's fantastic when it comes to X's and O's. He's just a rivet.
R: You recently had an opportunity to head to Washington. You also have had other opportunities in the past. Why stay at San Diego?
H: My family is No. 1 on my list of priorities. Having my children grow up in the same spot and go to the same schools is important to me. Also, the fact that we're able to recruit some front-line players in the state of California is intriguing. We were a national seed just a few seasons ago, so the program is good. Also, the lifestyle I have here is fantastic. And the fact I can provide for my family in the process is fantastic. You could follow me around for a day and you'd know what I'm talking about. This is an unbelievable place to work and live. I have no motivation to leave USD.
R: What would you change if there was something you could change about college baseball?
H: I really haven't been very political or on any committees throughout my career. I usually focus my energy on my team and family. But the one issue that really gets to me is the calendar for the playing season. We're basically forced to start practice on January 29. The start of January was my favorite time of year for many seasons. It was our best weather of the year and we could go two-a-days, have lunch brought in and go to the movies at night. Even throw in a camping trip to the beach in there. Now, with the new playing season rules, all the schools in the warmer regions are getting penalized. I just don't think it's right. I agree with the uniform start date, but just believe in developing players that want to be great. If you're a great hockey player, you want to go to Minnesota or somewhere up north. If you want to be a great baseball player, there's a good chance you're going to Florida, California or Texas.
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