Baseball: New coach Spencer Allen speaks about program’s direction

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Baseball: New coach Spencer Allen speaks about program’s direction

New Northwestern baseball coach Spencer Allen was an assistant at Illinois in 2014. Allen takes over for Paul Stevens, who spent 27 years as the Wildcats' head coach.

New Northwestern baseball coach Spencer Allen was an assistant at Illinois in 2014. Allen takes over for Paul Stevens, who spent 27 years as the Wildcats' head coach.

Source: Illinois Athletics

New Northwestern baseball coach Spencer Allen was an assistant at Illinois in 2014. Allen takes over for Paul Stevens, who spent 27 years as the Wildcats' head coach.

Source: Illinois Athletics

Source: Illinois Athletics

New Northwestern baseball coach Spencer Allen was an assistant at Illinois in 2014. Allen takes over for Paul Stevens, who spent 27 years as the Wildcats' head coach.

Alex Putterman, Web Editor

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Upon being hired as Northwestern’s new baseball coach June 14, Spencer Allen’s first instinct was to get to work.

“Initially my mind just went to recruits and coaches and all those things,” the coach said Tuesday. “But then there have probably been four or five times throughout the first two weeks when I’ve sat back and said, ‘Man, this is cool. This is exciting.’”

Allen — who has served as an assistant coach at Purdue, Washington State, Creighton and most recently Illinois — becomes NU’s 26th baseball coach and, according to ESPN, the first black coach in Big Ten history.

The Daily spoke with Allen about settling into the new position and his vision for the program’s future. Here are portions of what he said.

On replacing Paul Stevens, who was NU’s head coach for 31 years before retiring this spring:

Number one, I think showing the respect. When I didn’t even know if I had any shot at this job, when we played them down at Illinois I pulled coach Stevens to the side after the game and said, “Hey, I’ve been in the league and been around the league, and I really respect what you’ve done and what you do on a daily basis.” I know he’s got a great relationship with boosters, with alums. If I can do half as good a job as he’s done with those I can feel really good about myself.

I want to make no doubt about this that me, my staff, I’m not going to be in here talking about how we’ve got to change the culture. I respect what those guys did — coach (Tim) Stoddard, coach (Jon) Mikrut. We’re moving forward, and we’re building on the foundation that they have set here, and it’s a good foundation.

On who his assistants will be, including the status of incumbent coaches Stoddard and Mikrut:

I’m in the process right now of interviewing. Hopefully within a week or so we can get some things out … I met with coach Stoddard and coach Mikrut and am working to make a decision on that.

On the baseball program’s ability to take a leap into Big Ten contention:

If you look at the teams in the Big Ten that have made a jump, every one of them has done something fairly drastic with their facilities. They’ve been very aggressive with coaches and coaches’ salaries and getting up to speed. When you look at that and you look at what Northwestern’s doing and has already done, they’re making the statement that, one: We want to be in the game. And then two: Hopefully the results are there to follow.

You know in baseball the state of Indiana is really, really good. We’re at a different place just because we’re the only Big Ten team that will really be a national recruiter. You look at even Illinois’ success last year, and 75 percent of the guys were from Illinois. Each program is going to be a little bit different, but I definitely see Northwestern making a splash.

On the program’s short-term goals:

Now, what that splash and what that jump is, we’re not going to talk about Omaha (home of the College World Series). We’re going to set one simple goal every year, is we want to make the regional tournament. You make the NCAA Tournament — that would be my goal if I was at Virginia (the defending CWS champions).

I don’t want to set limitations, but I don’t want to talk about Omaha either. So here’s our goal: We want to make the NCAA Tournament. And we know there are steps to do that. To do that you’ve probably got to make the Big Ten Tournament.

Is it realistic? I don’t know.

On his perception of Northwestern as an outsider: 

As an outsider you look at certain things, like facilities. I think I probably had a lot of misconceptions of what it takes to get in here and the application process. But the perception was that they were behind … My perception in one word was probably, a challenge.

After going through the process now, my one word description of Northwestern now would be, opportunity. Probably with an adjective in there, great opportunity.

On NU’s academic standards:

I just didn’t know the exact, was there an exact cutoff like, do you have to have a 28 (ACT) with a 4.0? I didn’t know. And now, without going into too much detail, I’m understanding that it’s a little bit more of a total package. Getting in here and interviewing and seeing that they can work with you a little bit, that’s exciting.

On drawing Illinois recruits to NU:

There’s probably misconceptions, so we need to educate, starting with the summer coaches and the high school coaches of what we’ve got going here. And then I’ve got to be myself when kids are on campus and hope they say, “I want to play with that guy, I want to play alongside that guy, and oh by the way, great education, great new facility, great coaching staff.

On being one of the first black head baseball coach in Big Ten baseball history:

I don’t think it’s not necessarily really important to me. I try not to really look at that. If someone else looks at that as a positive and wants to use it as a positive, that’s awesome. But I really don’t want to be known as the first black coach, I want to be known as a coach that kept building the Northwestern tradition. I want to be known as a coach that makes players better and has a great relationship with them.

(New York Mets outfielder) Curtis Granderson hit me on a tweet the other day, and that’s cool, I’m a big fan, and that reaches a lot of people, but ultimately I want to be known as a guy who teaches, develops and wins.

On increasing the African-American presence at all levels of baseball:

It starts more at the grass-roots level. It’s getting better. You see the Jackie Robinson West (Little League) deal, even though it has a little taint on the story, that’s great. Winning the Little League World Series (national championship), that’s not by chance. When you increase the number of kids that are playing, it’s not going to happen overnight, but hopefully in 10, 15 years down the road you’ll see it a little more.

On the ongoing renovations to Rocky Miller Park:

We’ve got some exciting things with the new stadium: turf field. It’s just going to change the game drastically … I just met with the lead project manager yesterday, and they’re going to start Thursday or Friday. It’s awesome. It’s going to be pretty sweet.

On whether the new facilities were a factor in him wanting the NU job:

Oh, absolutely. When we talk about the facilities, you just have to have it. You get a different caliber of kid. That’s why you can’t compare apples to apples with the previous staff with Paul because we’ve got what we need, now we’ve just got to go get ‘em.

On what’s next:

We’ve got to get some coaches hired and announced, and then the biggest thing is just recruiting. We’re trying to get some 2016 kids committed. I’m going to be in Atlanta for what’s the biggest tournament in baseball. I think there’s over 600 teams. … So we’ll be there, and we’ll be out and about.

Email: asputt@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @AlexPutterman

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