Former player Creel returns to alma mater as assistant

By CAMAL PETRO,

When Travis Creel finished up his playing days in Hattiesburg, Southern Miss coach Scott Berry knew he could have a career in coaching. Berry didn’t, however, necessarily think Creel would end up back in Hattiesburg.

That’s not because Berry didn’t believe in Creel’s drive to become a successful college baseball coach. Berry just simply didn’t look that far ahead into the future. The situation would have to work out perfectly, and it did this summer.

Southern Miss announced the hiring of Creel to Berry’s staff last week, and Berry couldn’t be more excited.

“I knew he wanted to coach because of his passion for the game of baseball,” Berry said. “He was a very high IQ player when he played. He really understood the game, knew the game and was a student of the game. Did I ever think there would be a time that he’d back here? Probably not, because I didn’t look that far ahead.

“Certainly, I knew he had the ability to make a really good coach if he continued on.”

Growing up in Ocean Springs, Southern Miss was a dream school to play at for Creel. Going into the coaching field, he always knew he wanted to return to his alma mater. It was a strange dynamic for him to coach at one of Southern Miss’ biggest rivals, but he enjoyed it every time he stepped on the diamond with his friends from Hattiesburg.

“It was weird,” Creel said. “I coached at (Louisiana) Tech for three years and we played Southern Miss like 10 times so it was always weird, but it was always fun to compete against the guys you know and friends.”

One of those friends, Southern Miss pitching coach Christian Ostrander, was on the Louisiana Tech staff with Creel for two seasons. With the hiring of Creel, Southern Miss has now hired two coaches away from the Bulldogs in the last two seasons.

Creel will replace former assistant coach Chad Caillet as the team’s top overseer of recruiting, as well as the team’s offense. Creel played under Caillet at Southern Miss, and just like every coach he worked under, Creel has applied some of the lessons to his coaching career Caillet taught him as a player.

“I thought so much of coach Caillet as a player and into my coaching career,” Creel said. “I’ve worked with some really good bosses in junior college and at Louisiana Tech. I think as a coach, everybody kind of steals ideas. You take stuff with you that you like and leave stuff behind that you don’t like, then it kind of morphs you into your own personalized coach.”

Berry was also the head coach for Southern Miss when Creel played, so he’ll have the experience of playing and coaching under the 10-year USM veteran.

“Coach Berry is such a genuine person and a high-character man,” Creel said. “I think playing for him gives me a better understanding of how he wants to operate things, how he wants to do things and what kind of kids he wants to bring into the program. I think it’ll benefit me.”

Creel operated the same assistant role at Tech for the last two seasons, and he had the Bulldogs offense ranked in the top half of the conference in multiple categories. Prior to his three years in Ruston, Creel coached at Jones County Junior College for two seasons where he served as the team’s hitting coach, infield coach and recruiting coordinator. The Bobcats won the NJCAA National Championship during his second season in Ellisville, and he also coached at Meridian Community College for a season before Jones.

When it comes to recruiting for Southern Miss, there are a couple of factors giving Creel an advantage. He’s from South Mississippi, he recruited the state for two years at Jones and he learned the ropes of recruiting at the Division I level at Louisiana Tech.

Southern Miss just completed its first Top 100 recruiting class since 2013, according to Perfect Game.

“Coaching in junior college for three years helped me out,” Creel said. “I have great relationships with all of the junior college coaches in the state and high school coaches in the state, as well, so there’s no doubt it’s beneficial.”

A two-time team captain for the Golden Eagles, Creel played for Southern Miss from 2009 to 2013. He went to the College World Series during his redshirt freshman season, and the team played in two NCAA Tournaments during the rest of Creel’s collegiate career.

Not only did Creel have a successful playing career at Southern Miss, but based off his short track record, Berry believes he’ll have an equally fruitful coaching career.

“It’s very rewarding because you’d like for these guys, when they come into your program to leave it better than they found it,” Berry said of Creel as a player. “Certainly, Travis was one of those guys. He was part of three championships here and he was on the World Series team that first year.

“When he started excelling at Louisiana Tech, and there was more responsibility and accountability, it showed in the players they were signing and how they played.”