The days are adding up since the Clemson baseball team’s 0-2 flameout in the NCAA Tournament, where an up-and-down season ended in Fullerton, Calif.
Jack Leggett remains the Tigers’ coach.
Leave that decision to some people outside the athletics department and that might not be the case. Athletics director Dan Radakovich is wrestling with a decision that will impact a traditionally strong program.
It’s not a clear-cut judgment.
Pros vs. cons
On one hand, Leggett is a Hall of Famer. He has won over 950 games at Clemson. He’s taken the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament 21 times in 22 years. He’s won 50 games or more in a season six times and has made six trips to the College World Series. He’s finished first in the ACC four times in the regular season and won two conference tournament titles. He’s got the support of former players, who pledged a lot of money to construct a baseball operations building.
Leggett, who is in the top 20 all-time in college baseball victories, is Clemson through and through. He’s fought hard on and off the field to continue as the program’s leader.
On the other hand, many of those legacy accomplishments haven’t occurred over the past five seasons. The program has reached the 40-win plateau twice since 2011. It’s been bounced from the regional round every one of those years, and it hasn’t finished higher than second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
The reasons range from recruiting challenges other schools don’t face to inconsistencies in pitching and defense to lack of confidence at times from the players and coaches to lack of facilities and beyond.
The game has changed
The conference has gotten better with realignment and more commitment from fellow universities. College baseball has reshaped itself a couple of times, going too far into the pitching-dominant spectrum to trying to level the playing field. Leggett’s been instrumental recently in trying to boost offense.
It hasn’t helped Leggett that rival South Carolina has two national titles, but it’s also not a completly fair comparison. It’s hard to get to Omaha, much less win it all. The ACC continually ranks among the top leagues in the nation every year yet hasn’t won an NCAA championship since 1955.
One of the most troubling factors working against Leggett is the inability to consistently dominate midweek opponents, especially smaller schools like Presbyterian, Charleston Southern and Liberty that have come into Doug Kingsmore Stadium in the past two years and left with a win.
The Tigers have lost 12 midweek games the past two seasons after dropping 13 total the previous four years. Those losses have hurt the overall record, which has cost Clemson home regionals and put the Tigers in difficult locations with bad seeds.
Some of the program’s struggles can be put on Leggett. Some are out of his control.
What it comes down to
Leggett was retained last summer and challenged by Radakovich to improve the program. One could argue either way whether that was a fair edict or not. Some of the stipulations weren’t going to make a difference with runners in scoring position or help an infielder handle a hard-hit grounder. Still, lines were drawn, and Leggett’s contract, which runs out in 2016, wasn’t renewed.
For Radakovich to bring Leggett back, he must extend that deal. The program’s psyche was damaged by the weight of “playing for the coach’s job.” It’s not fair to put the players through that again. Also, letting that deal run out makes no sense for the future.
Extending Leggett’s contract means the administration is completely behind Leggett and he can basically retire at Clemson when he wants. Sure, the school could always buy him out if things went horribly wrong — like having a losing season, which has never happened on Leggett’s watch. However, that’s not something a man as business savvy as Radakovich goes into a decision thinking.
Should Radakovich decide Leggett is no longer taking the program in the direction the AD believes it should be heading, then he pays off a $200,000 buyout and begins a national coaching search. There are plenty of strong candidates out there.
Ultimately, is this a business decision? Is it one with a lot of fan influence? How much does the players’ welfare and progress factor into the equation? Can Clemson do better with a coach not named Leggett?
These questions are easy to ask, not answer.