Mark Kingston is not a name many South Carolina fans knew until the past couple of weeks. But nationally, people in the college baseball world have long considered him to be one of the top up-and-coming coaches.
After spending time as an assistant at Purdue, Illinois State, Miami and Tulane, Kingston served as the head coach at Illinois State from 2010-14 and the University of South Florida from 2015-17.
Kingston built both programs from virtually nothing, while helping end long NCAA Tournament droughts. He was officially announced Friday morning at the Gamecocks’ next coach.
Illinois State had gone eight consecutive years without a 30-win season prior to Kingston taking over. The Redbirds won more than 30 games in each of his five seasons.
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“He’s got a Tulane background, a Miami background. He’s coached with a lot of really good coaches. He’s got the respect of a lot of really good coaches,” D1Baseball national writer and editor Kendall Rogers told The State.
Following five impressive seasons at Illinois State, Kingston went to USF, a program that hadn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2002. Like he did at Illinois State, Kingston led the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament his first year as head coach and also led South Florida to the NCAA Tournament this past season. USF won 42 games in 2017, topping the 40-win mark for the first time since 1996.
In between those two strong seasons, USF finished 24-33, dropping his overall record as Bulls coach to 100-78-1. Rogers said that record doesn’t tell the whole story.
“You have to look at what he inherited and what the status of that program is in that state,” Rogers said. “He’s really gotten them in on a lot of kids in the state of Florida, and if you look at the landscape of Florida – with Miami, Florida, Florida State – that’s not very easy. He’s done a really nice job there. He’s got a vibrant personality and is a really good baseball guy.”
A couple of talented players Kingston got on campus and developed at USF include Kevin Merrell and Shane McClanahan.
Merrell, a shortstop, was selected No. 33 overall in this year’s MLB draft after hitting .384 with seven homers and 38 RBIs. McClanahan, a left-handed pitcher who finished the season 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA, is expected to be an early-round draft pick in 2018.
As a team, the Bulls hit .287 this season with an ERA of 3.24, which ranked 10th in the country.
“They’ve got elite players. He did a really nice job of getting talent to a place where it’s not very easy to get talent,” Rogers said. “I think it prepares you for a bigger job like South Carolina.”
Some USC fans were disappointed with the hire and voiced their displeasure on social media and message boards.
Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan was mentioned for the Gamecocks job, and USC had a strong chance to land him at one point, according to several sources.
But it appears O’Sullivan decided to remain at Florida after leading the Gators to the national title, and Tanner went with Kingston to replace Chad Holbrook.
Rogers expects the hire to work out well for the Gamecocks and Kingston.
“He’s not the type of guy that’s going to get rattled by fans chirping at him and things like that. If anything it’s going to be a motivating deal,” Rogers said. “Mark is a pretty confident guy. He’s going to know that a lot of people out there wanted Kevin O’Sullivan at South Carolina, and I think that’s really going to motivate him.”
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*Expected to be officially named Friday.