Smith promises turnaround for Ole Miss softball, but not overnight

Mike Smith brings a 748-224 record to an Ole Miss softball team that won just three SEC games in 2014. (Ole Miss)

Mike Smith brings a 748-224 record to an Ole Miss softball team that won just three SEC games in 2014. (Ole Miss)

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Mike Smith wants to do what he’s always done to produce results that Ole Miss softball has never seen.

In its 18-year history the program has finished above .500 just twice, higher than fifth in the SEC West just once.

Hired in May, Smith takes over a team that was 22-31 overall, 3-21 in the conference last season.

Those numbers are foreign to a man with 16 years head-coaching experience and an overall record of 748-224. He believes a mix of discipline and accountability learned through his baseball background – which includes playing professionally – and his understanding of the female athlete will help turn around the Rebels.

“Male athletes play to feel good. Female athletes need to feel good to play,” Smith said. “If you make them feel good about themselves and the team around them, then put them in a positive environment they’re going to be successful.”

A native of San Diego, Smith spent his entire coaching career in talent-rich California before moving to Lake Charles, La., to take the McNeese State job.

After college baseball he reached the Double-A level in the St. Louis Cardinals organization before playing in several independent leagues.

Allison Brown is one of seven Ole Miss players from Mike Smith's native California. (Ole Miss)

Allison Brown is one of seven Ole Miss players from Mike Smith’s native California. (Ole Miss)

He led McNeese to three-straight 30-win seasons and back-to-back regular season Southland Conference championships. Last year, the Cowgirls won the league by 41⁄2 games and went 3-1 against SEC teams but did not receive an NCAA at-large bid after losing in the SLC tournament.

Prior to McNeese, Smith went 467-56 in eight years at California Baptist, where his teams reached the NAIA World Series each season and won the 2009 championship.

“I feel like I’ve done a good job in different places of implementing my style, my culture and my philosophy,” Smith said.

He estimates that Ole Miss is two recruiting classes behind where it needs to be to compete in the SEC where 11 of the 13 teams made the NCAA tournament and conference rivals Florida and Alabama played for the national championship with the Gators winning in two games.

Smith’s primary focus areas for recruiting will be California and Texas, but his staff is set with contacts across the country, he said.

Ole Miss had seven players from California – including junior infielder Allison Brown – and two from Arizona on its 2014 roster. Brown hit .338 and drove in 28 runs. She led the team with 12 doubles.

“It will take our 2017 or 2018 class to really get on board with what’s going on in the SEC,” Smith said. “This is not going to happen overnight. This is not going to be a Disney movie where you just roll the ball out and start winning.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com