Upon completion of his first season as the head baseball coach at South Carolina, Chad Holbrook, who served as an assistant coach at USC and his alma mater of North Carolina for a combined 19 seasons, sat down with GoGamecocks' Neil White for an interview at his Carolina Stadium office.
The Gamecocks finished 43-20 and reached the decisive game of the NCAA Super Regional against UNC before bowing out one game shy of making their fourth consecutive trip to the College World Series. Holbrook looked back at his first season as the man-in-charge and also took a look ahead.
Q: What were the greatest lessons you learned as a first-year head coach?
Not taking any players’ feelings for granted was a big lesson. One thing coach (Ray) Tanner did such a good job of was always communicating with the players on a daily basis. I learned how important that was this year because the kids are always wanting to know where they stand, whether it’s what they want to hear or not. I don’t want a kid out on the field guessing what his role is. You want to make sure they know what’s expected of them and how they fit on the team. At the University of South Carolina, it’s all about winning, and it’s all about the team. You can’t let an individual’s feelings get in the way of what you’re trying to accomplish as a team. That became paramount for me over the course of the year with the decisions I had to make.
You can’t take anything for granted. You can’t assume just because you worked on it in practice that players are going to actually do it in a game. You have to reinforce what you work on in practice throughout the course of the game, especially in a critical part. (He mentions Connor Bright bunting to the wrong side of the field in a sacrifice situation that allowed the Tar Heels to cut down the lead runner in the final Super Regional game.)
Q: Did this season play out like you expected?
Then later in the year when we started playing better, my expectations changed a little bit (again). I was very hopeful that we would not only get into a (NCAA) regional but host one. It’s always one of our goals to host a regional, and I’m very proud we got to do that. But this program’s about playing in the College World Series, and we fell one game short. I thought we would be good enough to get there if we played our best baseball.
Q: Is it strange not to be coaching in Omaha after six trips in eight seasons?
Q: In retrospect, was it difficult to go to Chapel Hill for the Super Regional?
Q: Following a guy like Ray Tanner isn’t easy. Did you feel accepted by USC fans this season?
But I feel great that the fan base and the people of Columbia have not only embraced me but embraced my family. I’m entrenched here now, and I feel a part of the Gamecock family. I’ve been embraced by the people that matter. For those still wondering how we’ll finish, I’ve got a great platform and great players to try to get us back to the College World Series. Ultimately, that’s what I want to be judged on, and that’s what I should be judged on in a program like this one.
Q: What was the most fun part of the job, and what was the most difficult part of the job?
The toughest part was trying to be fair to every single player in that dugout from an opportunity standpoint. I’m a coach with a big heart. ... You can’t give every person in that dugout an equal opportunity, and that’s tough because I wanted them all to play. I wanted the ones that worked so hard and played well in the fall to play, and when they get off to a slow start, I can’t get them in there. I hurt for those kids. That was the hardest thing. As a coach, I can’t worry about being fair. I have to worry about winning. This isn’t Little League. It’s big-boy baseball, and you’ve got to put the lineup out there every day that gives you the best opportunity to win. I think I did that.
Q: How excited are you about your second season?