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August 27, 2008

Texas Tech's Spencer has a grand plan

HAVE YOUR SAY: Will Dan Spencer make Texas Tech an elite program?

Much of Dan Spencer's life has been spent in the Pacific Northwest, where dreary and cloudy days can be the norm. But since leaving Oregon State last year for Texas Tech, life has been much different.

Spencer, 42, thoroughly enjoyed his days at Oregon State. But Texas Tech's new coach usually wakes up to sunshine in Lubbock.

Still, despite the clear skies and sunshine, things could be better at Texas Tech. Once considered one of the nation's elite programs, Tech has become an afterthought in recent seasons compared to in-state rivals Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Rice and even TCU. But Spencer's addition has given the Red Raiders hope for a bright future. He realizes an attitude change is needed.

"What originally attracted me to coming back to Texas Tech was the opportunity to work with coach Larry Hays," Spencer told Rivals.com. "I was getting to the point in my coaching career where I might not do it too much longer, so Texas Tech was an attractive job."

Spencer had other reasons to be interested in Texas Tech. Though he earned his college degree at Portland State, he spent three years in Lubbock playing for the Red Raiders under coaches Gary Ashby for two seasons and Hays for one season.

In his three years as a player at Tech, the Red Raiders finished with overall records of 18-33, 34-25 and 21-28. But as the Hays era continued, the Raiders became a major player on the national stage.

Hays guided the Red Raiders to five NCAA Tournament appearances in the 1990s. He also led Tech to tourney appearances in 2000, '01, '02 and '04. But the Red Raiders haven't been to the postseason since.

"What Tech was able to do in the 1990s was really create a niche in the way they recruited California junior colleges," said Spencer, who was a Red Raiders assistant under Hays this past season and was promoted to coach in June. "They also had great support from the town and were well-coached. Partially what made Tech decline were the new rules in place that made it harder to get and keep JUCO players."

The Red Raiders also were hurt by the departures of assistants Frank Anderson and Greg Evans. Anderson left to become an assistant at Texas and now is coach at Oklahoma State. Evans now is an Oklahoma State assistant.

"Hays really had it going here with Anderson and Evans as his assistants, but then they left and all of a sudden the dynamic of the program changed," Spencer said. "Things like that don't usually lead to stability for a program."

Spencer thinks he can help build newfound stability by recruiting elite high school players from Texas and beyond. Landing those prized recruits takes winning.

"We have to get back to winning to be able to recruit really well," he said. "We want a lot of Texas high school kids, but we also want to expand our horizons across the country. We need to sell that Lubbock sunshine."

Spencer also has the ability to sell something else to recruits two national title rings. During his tenure as an assistant at Oregon State, Spencer built pitching staffs with elite arms such as Dallas Buck, Jonah Nickerson and Kevin Gunderson. He also helped Jorge Reyes become an elite pitcher as a freshman in 2007, all the while earning high praise from his peers.

"Spencer is just a hard worker and is willing to do whatever he can to make a program better," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. "He did a tremendous job with everyone he worked with here at OSU. But most important, his work ethic was something I greatly appreciated."

Spencer admits the two title rings he earned with the Beavers may get him into some recruit's homes, but insists winning is the only cure for beating out schools such as Texas and Texas A&M for players.

In addition to winning games, Spencer has other plans. Given that Lubbock sits about 350 miles from Dallas and 575 miles from Houston, talented high school prospects seldom have the opportunity to visit Lubbock. Spencer is hoping to change that trend.

The Red Raiders plan to invite more recruits to weekend football games this fall. They also plan to host more high school tournaments in the future.

"If you can get recruits to visit Texas Tech, I think you're in good shape," he said. "The problem is that 85 percent of the recruits we speak with haven't been to Lubbock and act like the city is in a different state. We must change that perception and make our university more accessible."

Spencer may receive some additional help on the recruiting front this fall, as Texas Tech's football team is expected to have its best team in years. Football success and recruiting exposure, Spencer says, are directly related. Spencer already has wowed observers in Lubbock with his hard-nosed and commanding attitude. That attitude differs from Hays.

"You have to coach to your personality, and my personality calls for me to be hyperactive and hard-nosed," he said. "If you coach and recruit to your personality, chances are you'll be successful."

Casey agreed. "I think the key for Spencer or any coach is to find the player that fits in best with your program," he said. "Accomplishing that goal at Texas Tech will be his first step in the right direction."

Spencer's second order of business is finding a way to mold the Red Raiders into a Big 12 title contender this fall. They welcome some key players back to campus, but also are adding 22 new faces to the program.

"I think it's going to be beneficial to have so many new faces in the program this fall, but we have to get more athletic across the board," Spencer said. "We also have to learn how to pitch at a high level because if we can't do that, we have no shot at competing for titles."

Competing for a Big 12 title in Spencer's first season as coach may not be a realistic goal, but it appears the attitude of program has changed for the better.

The Red Raiders have plenty of doubters across the state of Texas, but Spencer remembers when people thought he was crazy for thinking he could help Oregon State win a national title.

"If you can win a national title in Corvallis, you can do it in Lubbock," he said. "I remember when we had trouble getting elite talent to go to Oregon State. Now the Beavers have recruits knocking down their door. My goal is to bring that type of environment to Texas Tech."

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.