Neil White

February 12, 2013

Chad Holbrook ready for the big show

Chad Holbrook, who served as the associate head coach under Ray Tanner the past four seasons, knows that spotlight may get a little warm, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

Neil White

In the know about Gamecocks baseball

Chad Holbrook’s turn in the spotlight begins Friday.

When the South Carolina baseball team opens its 2013 season against Liberty, its wins and losses now will be credited to the program’s fourth head coach since 1970.

Holbrook looks to follow the successes of Bobby Richardson, June Raines and Ray Tanner, who, over the course of the past 43 seasons, set the standard for the school’s most accomplished program.

Holbrook, who served as the associate head coach under Tanner the past four seasons, knows that spotlight may get a little warm, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He embraces the challenge of following a trio that won a combined 69 percent of their games — 1,721 out of 2,512 — and took their teams to 28 NCAA tournaments, 11 College World Series, six national championship appearances and two national titles.

That pair of championships occurred with Holbrook on staff in 2010 and 2011, so he understands the heightened expectations the program now generates.

But he’s eager to get started against a Liberty team coached by another former USC assistant in Jim Toman, who was a part of the Gamecocks’ three CWS trips from 2002-04. Although 40-win seasons that include NCAA tournament appearances are the minimum expected each season, Holbrook isn’t shy about discussing goals that include the kind of 50-win seasons that lead to TD Ameritrade Park.

Of course, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be confident about continuing the winning tradition. He’s surrounded by an experienced staff. His team plays at Carolina Stadium, one of the nation’s best collegiate facilities. It plays in the SEC, the strongest conference in the country.

And his recruiting base extends out from the talent-rich Carolinas up to Virginia and down to Florida, with the program’s reputation giving him the ability to land top players nationwide.

Still, he realizes there are no guarantees. Baseball doesn’t work like that. He must continue to bring in good players, and they must perform. As the primary decision-maker now, he’s going to get the acclaim when things are going well and the blame when they’re not.

He knows better than anyone how hard it is to reach the College World Series, even though he has helped make it look easy. He has been a part of teams that have made six visits to Omaha in the past seven seasons, the first three with North Carolina and the second three with the Gamecocks.

But this will be a fresh start for the current group of Gamecocks.

Not only is Tanner no longer calling the shots, but also all of the heroes from the two championship teams — Blake Cooper, Whit Merrifield, Jackie Bradley, Scott Wingo, Adrian Morales, Michael Roth, Matt Price, Christian Walker — have departed to the professional ranks the past three seasons.

Just as Holbrook must find his identity as a head coach after 19 seasons as an assistant, he must help his players discover their own identity.

Like any baseball season, it’s bound to have ups and downs with plenty of moments of high drama, whether they end in thrilling wins or excruciating losses. Navigating those moments and keeping a team focused on its ultimate goal of reaching the postseason falls to Holbrook.

He already could have experienced running a program had he taken another opportunity sooner, but he held out for the job that he really wanted, one where the stakes are high and the passion is great.

The stage is set, and the audience is waiting. It’s time to turn on the spotlight.

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