Chad Holbrook stood before a group of assembled youngsters at a USC baseball camp Thursday morning at Carolina Stadium and delivered a message.
“Dreams come true,” Holbrook said. “You have to work awfully hard at it, and you have to believe, but dreams do come true.”
He was speaking about the dreams of the young players sitting behind home plate as they envisioned becoming a Gamecock one day, but he could easily have been discussing his own fortunes.
Holbrook learned this week that he will take over as the program’s coach with the elevation of Ray Tanner to athletics director Friday. USC will make Holbrook’s promotion official Monday.
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Holbrook declined comment Thursday about the move. But it’s clear he was being groomed for the job for the past four seasons in case Tanner took another position.
After a playing career at North Carolina from 1990 to 1993, Holbrook, 41, spent 15 seasons as assistant on the UNC staff before being recruited by Tanner to come to USC after the 2008 season.
The Tar Heels made three consecutive College World Series appearances from 2006-08 with Holbrook playing a key role, and the Gamecocks have made three consecutive appearances in the CWS title series, which includes national championships in 2010 and 2011. Holbrook has served as the recruiting coordinator, hitting instructor, and third-base coach over that stretch.
Although current USC coaches and players were not allowed to talk about the coming changes, some former members of the program weighed in. College of Charleston coach Monte Lee, who worked as a USC assistant from 2003-08, likes the decision to bump up Holbrook.
“The transition will be seamless. That’s the important thing,” Lee said. “You’re talking about a program of that magnitude — a team that has played for three consecutive national championships and won two of them — with somebody right there in-house who has Chad’s experience as a coach and Chad’s experience as a recruiter. The players in the program are going to welcome that transition.”
Lee stated the Gamecocks shouldn’t lose any recruits because of the change given that Holbrook was the man bringing them in. Holbrook was ranked a year ago as the No. 10 recruiter in the nation by ESPN The Magazine across all collegiate sports. He was the only baseball coach on the list.
“That’s a huge part of it right there,” Lee said. “To be able to hold on to their recruits is going to be a good thing. Obviously, it’s the right hire.”
Trey Dyson, the former standout player from 1999-2002, also believes promoting Holbrook is the thing to do. He credits Tanner for having the foresight to keep the program running smoothly.
“Coach Tanner cares so much about the program, and he cared enough to really mold Coach Holbrook whenever this day came,” Dyson said. “Coach Tanner is always preaching about putting yourself in a position to be successful, and he has taken all the necessary steps to put the coaching staff, and particularly Coach Holbrook, into a position to succeed.”
Although Holbrook has not served as a head coach at the collegiate level, his vast experience at two top programs made him an attractive candidate when there were other vacancies. But he sat tight as he waited for this opportunity to come along. He was making a base salary of $176,000 as one of the best-paid assistants in the game.
Dyson, a local banker who also works as a color analyst on some of USC’s televised games, is convinced Holbrook is ready to take over a program that has made 13 consecutive NCAA appearances — with six trips to Omaha in that span.
“Of course, he’s going to have butterflies,” Dyson said. “Nobody can be Coach Tanner, who has a certain leadership that is unquestioned and unmatched. But once Coach Holbrook develops his own leadership style as being the man in charge, without a doubt, the program will not skip a beat. I truly believe that.”
Sources told The State that Holbrook is likely to fill the open position on his staff by elevating first-base coach Sammy Esposito from his spot for the past five seasons as the volunteer assistant coach. Former USC standout Brian Buscher, who worked as the student assistant coach in 2011 while finishing his degree work, is expected to be named the volunteer assistant.
Drew Meyer, another former USC star, will return as the student assistant coach for the second consecutive season.