It's reasonable to say Chad Holbrook has been the most valuable assistant coach in college baseball for much of the last decade.
First, as recruiting coordinator and associate head coach at North Carolina, he lured the elite prospects that led the Tar Heels to the College World Series from 2006-09, matching the school’s total number of appearances in the previous 46 years. UNC played in the championship series in both 2006 and 2007.
Then, Holbrook, filling the same duties he had in Chapel Hill, made a similar impact in Columbia, signing a number of touted prospects who formed the nucleus of USC’s national-championship winning teams in 2010 and 2011.
The Shelby, N.C., native is routinely mentioned among the best recruiters in the country. In reality, he may among the best regardless of sport, boasting an impressive track record that made him a candidate to become Tennessee’s head coach earlier this year.
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Holbrook is now working on the USC baseball recruiting class of 2013. The back-to-back national champion Gamecocks open fall practice on Friday.
Question: What has allowed the coaching staff to recruit at such a high level in recent years?
Answer: The baseball program here has recruited successfully for a long time. There have been great teams here with great tradition. It’s not just been the last three or four years. I just think you’re seeing the public eye is much more on the program with the success we’ve had. The media is doing a terrific job of following our recruiting on a more consistent basis. I don’t think the recruiting is any better. It’s just more on the forefront.
Q: What has had a bigger impact on recruiting in recent years, the winning or the facility upgrades?
A: I don’t know if I could put a percentage on each one. I know it all helps. We have a great product here. We had a great product here before our beautiful stadium was built. Now that the stadium has been built and you add on a couple of national championships, it obviously enhances our program in a wonderful way from a national perspective. It’s a lot easier to get in with a kid that’s outside of the state. What our [players] have done has made us more appealing to kids across the country. We’ve always done a good job recruiting our state, and that’s what we have to do first and foremost.
Q: Recruits frequently discuss the bond they have with you during the recruiting process. What has allowed you to connect with them?
A: It’s a team effort here. We’re easy to talk to, and I think the kids enjoy communicating with us. We have an open line of communication. I think they feel comfortable that they can call me anytime, talk to me and ask me any question. We try to take that approach to recruiting as I’m sure all the schools do. It’s something we’ve worked extremely hard at, and it’s something that you can’t necessarily take a day off from. You’ve got to push forward each and every day. We try to do it the right way. We try to be as honest and up front with recruits as we possibly can. We’ll give them things they’ll like and things that may be of concern to them.
Q: Are you a guy that enjoys the day-to-day grind of recruiting?
A: It’s a lot of fun. We’re all competitive. I like trying to learn something new each and every day with each recruit. You can learn a lot from different people, different kids and different families. The process of getting to know a family and instilling a trust so that they feel comfortable sending their kid to us [is rewarding]. That’s neat for us to try and get to that point. I don’t think the excitement of that will every go away for us. The grind is tough. It gets tough at times. But to hear a kid say he wants to come to South Carolina makes it all worthwhile.
Q: What is USC’s recruiting philosophy and has it changed in the past couple of years?
A: I don’t think it’s changed. We try to recruit the state of South Carolina as hard as we can. I’m a big believer in getting kids from the state will enable you to compete for championships. We think high school baseball in the state is extremely good. We have great high school coaches and great AAU coaches. We’ve had great players over the years that have played in our state, so that’s going to remain our focus. If you can’t recruit your state in a successful manner, you’ve got problems.
Q: Many of the prospects you recruit and often land also had offers from North Carolina. What’s it like competing against your alma mater in recruiting?
A: There are a lot of great schools out there. When there are great players, there are going to be other great opportunities for that young man. When we recruit players from North Carolina or South Carolina, most of our players have opportunities to go other places. I have a lot of contacts in the state of North Carolina from my time up there. I’m familiar with a lot of the coaches. Because of our geographic location, we’re often going to recruit the same player. It’s my alma mater. I’ll always love the University of North Carolina, but it’s my job to recruit the best players I possibly can to come to South Carolina. I almost never ask a kid what schools he has offers from.
Q: How do you strike a balance between signing great players while also ensuring your entire class isn’t decimated by the MLB Draft?
A: It’s something we deal with every day. You can’t sign an entire group of the top-50 players in the country. As much as it would look good on paper, you can’t do it. You’ll run the risk of losing your entire recruiting class. What we try to do is try to recruit a few of those guys and maybe get one or two of them that are really committed to going to school and want the college experience. Then you try your best to fill the remainder of your class with really, really good players who might not be first or second rounders but have the talent to be professional baseball players and the talent to be drafted relatively high – but not too high.
Q: Is that the hardest part of your job?
A: That’s one of the hardest parts. The other part is making the scholarship dollars and roster numbers fit. It’s a challenge. The rules we’re playing under that went into effect several years ago create an interesting dynamic. You’re trying to fill out a roster of 27 scholarship players and eight non-scholarship players who are recruited. Those eight are not walk-ons. They are guys that we spend a lot of time recruiting. It makes for interesting days in this job.
Q: When you decided to stay at USC earlier this year, how much of that had to do with your affinity for your position on the coaching staff?
A: The reason I stayed at South Carolina was because I love it here. My family loves it here. I love working for coach [Ray] Tanner. I love what we have going here. It’s a great place to be. It’s a great place to coach. I’m extremely comfortable here. I don’t think the recruiting aspect of it factored into my decision. What factored in was that it’s a great place to work, I work for a great man, I work for a great university and we have a great product to sell.