Reasonable arguments can be mounted by both sides, which probably explains how days after Clemson’s baseball season ended speculation about coach Jack Leggett’s future remains as it’s been all season – murky as a farm pond after a rain shower.
Despite the call for change from a vocal segment of the Clemson fan base, there has not been a rush to judgment by athletics director Dan Radakovich.
“Dan and Jack will get together soon,” wrote media relations director Joe Galbraith in reply to a pair of text messages from The State. “No timetable other than soon.”
Galbraith did not reply to a third question: “If he chooses, will coach Leggett have the opportunity to return?”
One year remains on Leggett’s contract, so a separation shouldn’t be difficult.
But if that’s the route Radakovich chooses, it’s not likely to end well.
Leggett believes he’s as effective as ever. And, based on his reputation as a relentless competitor, he isn’t likely to go down without a fight.
Millions raised for upgrading Doug Kingsmore Stadium came from alums and former Clemson players who generally appreciate Leggett’s work over the past two decades, but a segment of fans girded in anonymity with access to media message boards and radio talk shows want an accounting for the slide over the past five years following Clemson’s last appearance in the College World Series.
Only a handful coaches in college baseball have more sterling credentials, lending credence to the suggestion Leggett may be a victim of his success. Among Clemson coaches, only Leggett’s good friend, golf coach Larry Penley, has a longer track record of postseason success. Leggett’s teams have reached the NCAA Tournament 21 times in 22 seasons. Six squads appeared in the College World Series. Three reached the national semifinals.
Many of the most vocal fans seeking Leggett’s ouster point to Clemson’s record since its last CWS appearance in 2010 as sufficient evidence. Win totals have slipped from 43 in 2011 to 32 this year, and all five teams were eliminated in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite a proficient offense this season, the team struggled afield – Clemson was last in the ACC and 238th nationally in fielding percentage marked by a league-high 95 errors – and was victimized by undependable relief pitching.
Losses midweek to teams Clemson traditionally dominated were particularly galling, but Leggett had been warning for several years that the game’s landscape was changing as the NCAA leveled the playing field with changes in scholarship rules and equipment.
Nevertheless, Clemson secured an opportunity for redemption with the ACC’s fourth-best record and was the eighth league team selected to the NCAA Tournament.
Redemption died in Fullerton, Calif.
If fans are truthful, the real issue with baseball has to do with the back-to-back national championships by South Carolina in 2010 and 2011. Clemson fans chafe at any Carolina success, and those triumphs chafed.
Even before, there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with Leggett, again linked to his record against former USC coach Ray Tanner, but the Gamecocks’ run brought it to a crescendo.
Radakovich has a difficult decision. Leggett probably needs a contract extension if he’s going to continue the reconstruction. The new facilities at Kingsmore could have the kind of impact the West End Zone project had on football with this year’s freshman class one of the top in the country if the Major League Draft doesn’t take a bite.
Also, the school has embraced the Academic Common Market, which could help lower the cost of attendance for out-of-state prospects, an issue that has hampered recruiting for years.
Radakovich has been about giving his coaches the tools to be successful. Leggett believes that’s been a critical issue for him at Clemson.
A year ago, Radakovich handed Leggett a list of guidelines and told him he wanted to see improvement. Based solely on the team’s record this season Leggett failed, but baseball can’t be put through the same analytical grinder as football and basketball, and it’s to easy argue both sides for Leggett’s fate.