Jack Leggett tried a suicide squeeze with the game on the line and lost.
After 22 seasons, 955 victories and six College World Series appearances – a career worthy of shelf space in the college baseball coaches’ hall of fame – winning wasn’t enough. With a year remaining on his contract, Clemson would not permit Leggett to continue nor leave on his terms.
“This decision was not an easy one,” Clemson athletics director Dan Radakovich said during an afternoon news conference. Leggett’s final game, five days earlier in Fullerton, Calif., eliminated Clemson from the NCAA Tournament. It was Clemson’s 21st tournament appearance in Leggett’s 22 seasons as coach.
“Jack Leggett has served this institution with distinction for 24 years, the last 22 as head coach,” Radakovich said. “It’s fair to say Clemson baseball has been competitive over the last few years, but our objective is success, defined by competing for ACC championships and winning in the NCAA Tournament. I have high expectations – and I know our fans and student-athletes have great expectations – for our baseball program.”
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Radakovich said he made the decision after meeting with Leggett earlier this week and informed him Thursday morning. He declined to hang the decision on any one or several criteria. “After my evaluation, it came down to this. I think we can be better.”
Since its 2010 appearance in the CWS, Clemson had not advanced beyond the regional phase. Rival South Carolina won the national championship that year and the next, which probably had more to do with the prickly nature of the administration and the more vocal segment of the fan base. Radakovich acknowledged the shifting landscape that made it difficult for Clemson to compete for players.
“We have high expectations for our baseball team,” said Radakovich, a former USC athletic administrator. “We need to create some momentum and create optimism around our program.”
Radakovich said he was reluctant to discuss in much detail his criteria for Clemson’s next coach though, in broad terms, he might have been describing Leggett. Finding a replacement should not be a chore given the tradition, facilities and supportive fan base.
“I would hope that today is about the great work Jack has done here the last 24 years,” he said. “We’ll get to the other.”
Clemson became a perennial national contender in one of the game’s premier leagues under Leggett and predecessor Bill Wilhelm with top facilities and a loyal, generous fan base.
“Clemson is a good job,” tweeted John Manuel, editor of Baseball America. “They will hire a good coach. “I don’t have the name. But I’m told by a source the Tigers already had a ‘yes’ in hand.”
Among the reportedly prominent names on Radakovich’s list are Monte Lee, College of Charleston; John Szefc, Maryland; Dan Hartieb, Illinois and Chris Lemonis, Indiana. Also potentially in play are any of several former Leggett assistants who are head coaches, including Randy Mazey at West Virginia. Unlikely to be involved, according to several sources, are two who run a pair of the nation’s top programs: Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin and Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan.
“He’s synonymous with Clemson baseball. It’s a sad day,” O’Sullivan told Baseball America. “He’s meant the world to me.”
The transition could be costly in the short term. Assistant coach Bradley LeCroy had assembled a rich recruiting class. Several players in the class could be selected in the MLB draft and choose to sign contracts rather than enroll at Clemson.
LeCroy has been instructed to ramrod the program with assistance from Brad Owens and Pepicelli.
LeCroy expressed interest in the job, Radakovich said. Pepicelli reportedly has been mentioned as a candidate for the coaching spot at James Madison.
“Clemson baseball is a premier brand and positioned to compete for championships in the near future,” Radakovich said. “Following the great work of coaches Wilhelm and Leggett, this is a program that will build upon a solid foundation. And I know we’re going to find the right coach to continue the tradition of excellence we all expect.”
Leggett’s 1,332 victories, including years at Vermont and Western Carolina, rank him 10th all-time among Division I baseball coaches and fifth among active coaches. Clemson finished this season 32-29.
Radakovich said the program had reached a “plateau.”
“It’s about where we go from here,” he said. “In my estimation, we needed to look forward and make a plan.”
Five potential candidates to replace Jack Leggett:
West Virginia coach; former Clemson player and assistant
College of Charleston coach; former USC assistant
Florida coach; former Clemson assistant
Former Clemson player, assistant under Leggett
Maryland coach for three seasons