Clemson’s announcement of Monte Lee as its baseball coach on Thursday was lauded by an unusual presence – its archrival.
“He’s a very special young man,” South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner said. “I think there’s a lot of outstanding baseball coaches, a lot of great recruiters, a lot of coaches who have strengths and weaknesses. He has a very special balance. I was fortunate in that he was in the same dugout with me.”
Lee is regarded as one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the game after guiding alma mater College of Charleston to 276 wins in seven years, including four NCAA tournament berths and one Super Regional.
The Gamecocks know how good he is. He’s one of theirs – and was instrumental in their greatest triumphs.
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An assistant under Tanner from 2002-08, Lee helped recruit several of the players that went on to win the 2010 and 2011 national championships. Two of the linchpins of those teams, Adam Matthews and 2011 CWS MVP Scott Wingo, recalled Lee on the recruiting trail.
“I just remember he’s a real personable guy,” said Matthews, now in pharmaceutical sales. “He knows the ins and outs of baseball, especially hitting. Being a young baseball player, trying to make a hard decision in your life and career, he was extremely relatable. He knew what to say to kind of make you feel at ease.”
“He was our hitting coach and I remember him always being a great player’s coach,” said Wingo, who was the Gamecocks’ graduate assistant coach last year. “He’d lift with us in the weight room.”
Wingo played a year under Lee while Matthews never got to, since Lee left after the 2008 season to take over at Charleston. Still, they remembered how engaging the young coach was, and how they thought they’d see him succeed elsewhere.
He did, and now he’ll try to do it wearing the colors of the team Matthews, Wingo and plenty others burned to beat.
The rivalry was elevated after USC eliminated Clemson in the 2010 CWS and Lee wants to rebuild that.
“I heard some rumors the last few days that the rivalry might have lost some stigma. Not so much,” Tanner said. “It might be ratcheted up. Clemson is a long-standing program, with coach (Bill) Wilhelm and coach (Jack) Leggett. (Lee will) continue to do that program well.”
“It’s a really good hire for Clemson, but it’s not a good hire if you’re a Carolina fan,” Matthews said. “I hope we can one-up them.”
Wingo, who always seemed to save his best for the rivalry, agreed. It’s going to be strange to see his old coach in Upstate colors.
“I saw a picture of him Photoshopped already in orange and purple,” Wingo said. “It was different, for sure. That’ll be tough to boo Monte Lee, because of how much he’s meant to this university.”