David Cloninger

In name game, Tanner is 0-for-2 in hiring new coaches

Ray Tanner: How the coaching search led to Mark Kingston

South Carolina Athletics Director shares what stood out to him about Mark Kingston in the Gamecocks' baseball coaching search.
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South Carolina Athletics Director shares what stood out to him about Mark Kingston in the Gamecocks' baseball coaching search.

Ray Tanner’s second major hire resembles his first. There were some big, impressive names scouted, looked at or talked to that didn’t take the job.

This isn’t to say Mark Kingston is a bad choice. By all accounts, South Carolina has hired a dynamic recruiter, an up-and-comer who built Illinois State and South Florida into NCAA Tournament teams and will repair what was broken under Chad Holbrook. Looking at Kingston’s résumé, the only problem is his name.

Which is not Kevin O’Sullivan.

It’s been widely reported that O’Sullivan was Tanner’s top choice. Who knows if Tanner will ever clarify that – athletics directors don’t make a habit of discussing hires they didn’t make – but it stands to reason that if Kingston was the top choice, he could have been here three weeks ago.

Tanner did the right thing to wait until O’Sullivan’s season was over. Then Choice No. 1 guided Florida to Finish No. 1 and couldn’t leave.

Kingston was announced and it was underwhelming – not because of the coach, because of the names linked to the search. It brought to mind Tanner’s other major hire (not counting Holbrook, since that wasn’t a mystery).

Tanner’s first certainly gave a great early return on the investment. Will Muschamp took a talent-thin football team to a bowl game in his first season.

But when he was hired? After Tom Herman and Kirby Smart were among the candidates?

At least Kingston wasn’t fired after he lost to the Gamecocks.

Like Muschamp, we won’t know how good or bad the hire is until several years down the road. Holbrook was a no-doubt hire five years ago and look how that turned out. All we know is what people in the know are saying now.

Tanner: “He’s an outstanding coach. His recruiting prowess has been demonstrated throughout his career.”

Kendall Rogers, national writer, D1Baseball: “Look well beyond the record. … He’s really solid.”

Teddy Cahill, national writer, Baseball America: “Mark Kingston has won everywhere he’s gone. Hard to imagine that changing at South Carolina.”

Looking at the numbers, like the initial reaction, there’s good and bad. Kingston is a North Carolina graduate known as a great recruiter and rising star … just like the last guy. Kingston reached three NCAA Regionals in eight years, at schools where that’s hard to do … but now he’s in the SEC and he never finished better than tied for third in the American Athletic Conference. Kingston won 42 games last year, which is more than USC did in two of the past three seasons … but that’s his only 40-win season.

My first reaction when he interviewed was “Who?” because I’d never heard of him. It was the same reaction I had Thursday, because if the Gamecocks are a nationally top-five program – which I believe they are – they shouldn’t have to settle for less than their top choice.

Then again, as in football, unforeseen circumstances eliminated that top choice. And I’d never heard of N.C. State coach Ray Tanner either until he recruited a kid at my high school.

Tanner is a baseball mind, one of the best ever. One has to trust that, especially with the program he nursed and matured into one of the most powerful in the country, he knew what he was doing with Kingston.

As for the coach, it’s up to him to reward that trust. For Kingston, there’s an early high hurdle, and if he clears it, he’ll easily win the fans.

So, Mark, yes or no …

Would you pitch to Seth Beer?

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Ray Tanner's wife pointed out something the South Carolina AD had in common with new Gamecocks baseball coach Mark Kingston.

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