After devoting much of his life to baseball, Bobby Pierce is approaching his final season as head coach of Troy University’s baseball team.
After announcing that the 2015 season will be his last on Aug. 13, Pierce shared what his friendship with his successor, assistant coach Mark Smartt, has meant to him.
“His impact has been equal to mine. He came in 12 years ago with me with an obvious true passion about Troy University,” Pierce said.
Smartt played for Troy as the second baseman on two National Championship teams. He and his wife graduated from Troy. His daughter also graduated from Troy with honors and is now a coach for Troy’s softball team.
As assistant coach, Smartt has been responsible for recruiting players, working with batting and infielding, and coaching third base on game days.
“To do the things and accomplish the things that he has over that 12 year period as an assistant coach you have to really be committed to working at it,” Pierce said. “That’s what you do, you just outwork people. I think that that motivation and passion for this university really helped him.”
Close to 30 years ago, Pierce was at the 1986 and 1987 National Championship games, when Smartt was a player.
As time went by, Smartt became a student assistant and then a grad assistant at Troy, and the two worked together at camps during the summer.
Their relationship continued to build as Pierce coached at UAH and Smartt became the head coach at the University of West Alabama. The two schools were in the same league so they had the opportunity to compete against each other.
“Having been around him and seen his teams compete and watch his coaching style, there was no doubt he was the best choice for me to bring back to Troy University and be assistant coach and lead recruiter and the multitude of things he does for the program,” Pierce said.
When Pierce arrived at Troy, he had a plan and wanted to build on the rich tradition that Troy baseball already had.
“We wanted to build it the right way with kids doing the right thing off the field as well as on the field in the classroom academically getting their degrees and being prepared for what’s next for them,” Pierce said.
While Pierce is not concerned about whether the university decides to retire his number, he did have an interesting story about how it came to be.
At the age of 23, Pierce was the head coach of Chipola College, a junior college in Florida. Five days before their first game it hit him that he had no idea where the uniforms were.
After discovering the previous year’s remnants, he and his wife scrubbed and sewed up the uniforms. When Pierce had finally distributed the numbers based off of the player’s GPAs he realized he had failed to save a uniform for himself.
In the pile of unwanted scraps, he found one uniform top that had to suffice and that was number 25. As a coach at University of Alabama and UAH he simply stayed 25.
However, when he came to Troy his son asked him what number he would take and Pierce said 25. His son then reminded him that 25 is the only number that is retired because it is Coach Chase Riddle’s number.
When the pitching coach asked Pierce what number he wanted all Pierce said was “It really doesn’t matter. Don’t give me a number that the players like to wear.”
The pitching coach suggested that they double 25 and go with 50 and then he said to reverse 25 and that is how Pierce became number 52.
Choosing a specific favorite moment from coaching at Troy is hard for Pierce so instead he chose 2006, which was Troy baseball’s first year in the Sun Belt Conference and when it won the championship.
Another rare opportunity that Pierce has had is the ability to coach his son, Logan. He took on the challenge and tried to treat Logan just like any other player.
“I had real good friends who asked ‘How’s it going coaching your own son?’” Pierce said. “‘Ah shoot I think it’s going great. But let’s ask the voice of reason, Mark Smartt. Hey Coach Smartt, how am I doing coaching my own son?’ And he said ‘Failing miserably!’”
He knew Smartt was going to tell him the truth so Pierce realized that he had gone overboard trying to treat Logan like another one of the guys and was actually harder on him.
“Over a period of time, I think I did a better job of coaching him,” Pierce said. “I think he got more relaxed playing for his dad. As it ended up he had a fabulous career and did an excellent job of being one of the guys that led that 2013 team down the stretch.”
While Pierce hopes to keep his final season business as usual he does feel more excitement and is more concerned about enjoying it with the players than winning a championship.
“It’s a different year; it’s a different feeling,” Pierce said. “I don’t know if I can totally explain all of that but I feel great about it. I feel great about the fact that Coach Smartt will be taking over the program at the conclusion of the season.”
Pierce currently plans to spend his retirement building a house at Laguna Beach, Florida, and enjoying some well-deserved rest.