Chris Curry notes a side benefit of returning to central Arkansas as the new baseball coach at Arkansas-Little Rock.
His parents live in Conway and he has one brother who lives in Little Rock and another who is moving there. He and his wife (Chassity) are expecting their second child in October.
“My son (Caleb Christopher) is about to start soccer and T-ball,” said Curry. “Now, he can have a family cheering section. Holidays will also be easier. On career decisions, you have to put emotions aside. But family is important to me and this works out well.”
Curry, 36, who has coached on every level of college baseball, comes to Little Rock after serving two years as an assistant at Northwestern State in Natchiotoches, La.
He plunges into his new work with excitement and determination.
“I’m going 95 miles an hour and loving every minute,” said Curry in a phone interview Wednesday. “When I first heard about the job, it was something I was really interested in. I’m ready. I’ve always wanted to be a head coach at the highest level and this is an opportunity to go somewhere that I think has unbelievable potential.
“Anytime, you can get a job in the southeast region, you’ve got a chance to build a good program because you can find good players. I’m familiar with the state and the region because I’ve recruited or coached in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
“Then, when I visited UALR and saw their enhanced facilities, I knew it was a place you can win.”
Curry, a former all-stater at Conway who later starred at Mississippi State, is also familiar with the coaching fraternity in the state.
“I already know a lot of the high school coaches here and they’ve been doing it a long time; now, it’s a matter of getting their players interested in us,” he said. “But high school baseball has grown here. When I played, there were maybe five players a year who could probably play Division I. Now, there may be 10 or so and they can’t all go to the same place (because of scholarship limitations).
“As far as college coaches, Allen Gum (UCA) is a coach I admire and is a good friend. I played under Tommy Raffo (Arkansas State) at Mississippi State. I’ve coached with Dave Van Horn (Arkansas) and saw how he manages a game. All of those coaches are class-act guys who are doing it the right way.”
From the time he cut his teeth in baseball, Curry has played and coached alongside coaches who emphasized the right way to do things.
“It started in Conway under Noel Boucher and Barry Lueders, who are good fundamental coaches who have been doing it a long time and are still winning,” he said. “They stress hard-nosed fundamental baseball and that’s what I like. At Meredian, I played under and was mentored by Scott Berry, who has rebuilt the program at Southern Miss. I played under Ron Polk, who was a legend at Mississippi State. I’ve been in the dugout with Dave Van Horn, who is one of the best small-ball coaches I know. I coached with Lane Burroughs at Northwestern State, who recruited a lot of the players who led Mississippi State to the College World Series finals last year and has turned the program around there.
“All of those coaches are men of integrity and character who really know how to coach baseball, have won and are continuing to win.”
Curry also has the perspective of beginning his college coaching career as an assistant with Hendrix’s fledgling Division III program and also coaching in the College World Series at Arkansas. He also spent seven years in the minor leagues chasing a Major League dream.
“I’ve always loved the game and it never grows old to me,” he said. “I think this is my calling. Late in my minor league career I began realizing I could relate to other players and I was able to help them with some things they were trying to accomplish. I’ve always liked teaching the game.
“I’ve coached and have seen the absolute top of the game as far as facilities and resources. I’ve also been at the grassroots where you have to fix the mower.”
And his experiences throughout baseball could be an aid in mentoring young players.
“I’ve been in the minor leagues and I know what it’s like to ride buses,” he said. “I can help in telling players and preparing them for what is next. Just about every college player wants to play in the Major Leagues and that’s what you expect. But the odds and numbers are against them. Only about 2 percent will ever be in a TV game in the Major Leagues. But I expect close to 100 percent of them will be husbands and fathers. It’s my job also to prepare them for life.”
He is not bothered by recent controversies and problems at UALR, which led to the resignation of former coach Scott Norwood.
“Anytime you take over a program, unless you are elevated as from an assistant’s position, there is a reason there is a new coach and there is a need to change direction,” he said. “When I look a recruit and family in the eye, I will tell them I’m committed to doing things the right way. I was not part of anything that happened in the past. My staff will not be connected to the past. I’m concentrating on what I can do for their son and will rely on my character and my reputation.
“I think young people want leadership, discipline and accountability but having the freedom to play their best without fear of what can happen if they mess up. My job is to provide that leadership, assemble a good staff and evaluate players and get good people.
“If you can do that, it may not take as long to get where you want to be as you might think.”