Ron Morris

June 3, 2014

Morris: Fans should lay off Chad Holbrook and Jack Leggett

CAN WE PLEASE gain a little perspective when it comes to all the Internet and radio chatter about the job security of coaches Chad Holbrook and Jack Leggett.

CAN WE PLEASE gain a little perspective when it comes to all the Internet and radio chatter about the job security of coaches Chad Holbrook and Jack Leggett.

That perspective comes by recognizing the two coaches as being among the finest in college baseball, Holbrook by continuing South Carolina's winning ways during his first two seasons, and Leggett by establishing elite status for Clemson baseball over 21 seasons.

Both Holbrook and Leggett have the great misfortune of coaching in the wake of USC's national championships in 2010 and 2011. Holbrook forever will be held to that likely never-again-to-be-attained status. No matter Leggett's success, which includes a remarkable six trips to the College World Series, he will be known by many wayward-thinking fans as a coach who never has captured a national title.

Dismiss those two national titles and you learn to better appreciate Holbrook for guiding one team to within a victory of a College World Series appearance, and another season in which he should have gained SEC coach-of-the-year consideration with a club that won 44 games despite a spate of injuries that would have crippled most teams.

Remove those two USC national titles from the picture, and you see Leggett's program in a different light as well. You see that Leggett's 21 teams have missed one (2008) NCAA tournament. That this is the first four-year stretch under Leggett to not reach the College World Series is no knock on him, as some have suggested, but rather a testament to his program's sustained success over the years.

Holbrook, of course, is secure in his position at USC. Only the nutty fringe USC fans believe Holbrook has let the program slip over the past two seasons. Those were the same fans calling for Ray Tanner's head during the 2010 season after USC scored one run in 21 innings of two losses in the SEC tournament. That was a few weeks before USC charged to the national title, and Tanner became a great coach.

My guess is the same holds true at Clemson, where the long-time followers of the program recognize what Leggett has accomplished and fully understand that playing in Omaha in June is becoming increasingly more difficult.

Unlike football, where the rich are working to make themselves richer at the expense of the middle class, college baseball is much more a democratic process. The limitations on rosters to prevent the upper-tier programs from stockpiling players, and the use of a deadened bat have allowed programs with fewer resources and less talent to compete with the big boys.

If you do not believe it is becoming more difficult for the elite programs to sustain success, consider that the past two national champions (Arizona and UCLA) did not reach the NCAA tournament the following season.

Augie Garrido has more wins than any coach in college baseball history. His latest Texas team advanced to Super Regional play after failing to make the NCAA tournament each of the previous two seasons. Danny Hall is considered among the top coaches in the college game and has led Georgia Tech the same 21 years that Leggett has coached at Clemson. Hall's teams have not made it out of an NCAA regional since reaching the College World Series in 2006.

Those programs that challenge for conference championships and regularly gain entry into the NCAA tournament are the same ones that play solid, fundamental baseball year-in and year-out. And, if there is a hallmark to Leggett's program, it is that Clemson plays baseball the proper way.

Professional scouts will tell you they know what they are getting in players drafted out of Leggett's program. Clemson players know how to hit the cutoff man, are well-schooled in the fundamentals of base running and hitting behind runners. Leggett never has abused pitchers arms. He is a teacher of the game.

All that is said not necessarily to support Leggett, but rather to point out why his teams have won 40 or more games in a season all but five of his years at Clemson. Leggett's players also go to class and graduate, and seldom have off-field issues.

Granted, Leggett can be cranky at times. That speaks mostly to his competitive nature, and he admittedly has never played the public relations game well. Oh, and opposing fans, really dislike that he jumps into the pile with his players as a way to fire up his team before games.

None of which is reason to believe Leggett should be facing a firestorm of discontent from Clemson fans. Instead, Clemson should be talking about extending his contract beyond the two years that remain.

With Leggett and Holbrook secure in knowing they will be around for awhile, supporters of both programs should go about better appreciating having two of the nation's best coaches and college baseball programs in South Carolina.

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