Changing of the guard

Published 8:49 pm Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bobby Pierce (right) announced he is retiring at the conclusion of the 2015 season at a press conference Wednesday. He will be succeeded by  long time assistant Mark Smartt (left). (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Bobby Pierce (right) announced he is retiring at the conclusion of the 2015 season at a press conference Wednesday. He will be succeeded by long time assistant Mark Smartt (left). (Photo/Troy Athletics)

Pierce feels decision to step down comes at right time

In the not too distant future, Bobby Pierce will trade in his baseball spikes for a pair of flip-flops. But not quite yet.

Pierce announced Wednesday morning that he would retire at the end of the 2015 season, and hand the Troy baseball program over to long time assistant coach Mark Smartt.

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The decision to step down as head coach is one that he has thought “long and hard” about for a couple of seasons and the timing felt right now.

“After much thought, and a lot of careful consideration, the purpose for today is to inform you of my decision to retire as the head baseball coach at the conclusion of the 2015 season,” Pierce said at the podium. “As bitter sweet as this decision is to make, due to my genuine love of coaching, and the wonderful place in which I currently work, I am convinced this is the right decision, at the right time for me and my family.”

After returning from Omaha and the College World Series in 2015, Pierce said he already has a game plan for his next phase of life.

“As soon as we can get the desk cleaned out, and make sure Mark has everything he needs to be successful, I think Kay and I are going get in the car and drive south ‘till we hit the beach.”

Pierce took over a mediocre Troy program in 2003 and quickly turned the Trojans into regular Atlantic Sun Conference and Sun Belt Conference contenders – winning four conference titles in 12 seasons. The team has averaged 35 wins per season since his arrival and has made four NCAA Regional appearances.

Pierce has coached 15 All-Americans and had 28 players sign professional contracts.

On top of all the accolades, trophies and titles, Pierce said being able to coach his son, Logan, was one of the highlights of his career.

That, and beating rival South Alabama to win the conference title.

“The ‘13 season, going down the stretch against a very good South Alabama team, was special,” Pierce said. “We were on the road and lost the first game of the series, but telling the kids on the bus after that tough loss that I knew we would win the next two games and win that conference championship. To see a team overcome that adversity, against a team you are battling for the title, was tremendous.”

Pierce stated that he had thought about retiring for the last year or so, and when he ultimately decided the timing was right this year, he had just one wish.

“My only comment to John (Hartwell, Troy AD) about who’s next was ‘Find someone that will treat the student athletes fairly and will coach them with character and integrity,” Pierce said. “Mark Smartt is that guy, and I couldn’t be prouder of him and for him.”


Smartt overwhelmed to become coach at alma mater

Mark Smartt broke Jimmy Dugan’s cardinal rule of baseball Wednesday morning. He cried.

Moments after current head coach Bobby Pierce announced the 2015 season will be his last at Troy, Athletic Director John Hartwell informed the audience Smartt would take over the reigns of the baseball team.

Smartt, who has been by Bobby Pierce’s side since day one at Troy, became emotional at the podium talking about what it means to take over the program that he has given so much to.

“I played on two national championship teams for Chase Riddle, the greatest coach I could have ever possibly have played for,” Smartt said. “Twelve years ago, Bobby Pierce extended me the opportunity to become his assistant coach and gave me the opportunity to work for the greatest baseball coach anyone could possible work for. I am truly proud that eventually I will become the head coach at my alma mater, and follow in the foot steps of two men that I admire so much.”

Smartt has been a part of the Troy University baseball program for most of his adult life.

He won a pair of NCAA Division II National Championships under legendary Troy skipper Chase Riddle and has the fourth highest career batting average of any Troy player. He served as head coach at West Alabama for a handful of seasons in the early 1990s, helping the Tigers to the Division II World Series in 1992.

Smartt came back to Troy in 2003, and has remained a constant figure in the third base coach’s box ever since.

While he has gathered over 800 wins as a player and coach during his career, Smartt said the relationship he has had with Pierce over the last 12 seasons is one of the biggest memories he has.

“I have known him for over 25 years, but the opportunity to coach with him the last 12 years has been extremely special to me,” Smartt said. “He has made me a better coach, a better person and better husband and father. His record as a coach speaks for itself, but it doesn’t begin to tell hi story.”

The job at Troy will give Smartt the opportunity to do something that few college coaches ever get to experience: coaching a child.

Chase Smartt, a senior at Charles Henderson High School, committed to Troy last year and will sign with the Trojans in November.

Pierce coached his son, Logan, as well. The Pierce family combined to win the Sun Belt Conference Championship in 2013.

The city of Troy holds a special place in Smartt’s heart and he hopes more memories are coming in the future.

“Troy is a very special place to me and my family,” Smartt said. “The love and support I have received from them throughout me coaching career is an unbelievable blessing.