What matters most to Mark Kingston in the recruiting process
“You hang up.”
“No, you hang up.”
“No, you hang up.”
That’s not exactly a transcript of new South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston’s interviews with Gamecocks athletics director Ray Tanner, but that’s the gist of it.
“We had some long phone calls, not because I was scrutinizing him,” Tanner said Friday when he announced Kingston as the man who now will shoulder the weighty expectations of South Carolina’s baseball program. “We were learning from each other, and a lot of the traits he possesses are important to our program and where we are today.”
More than one of their phone calls lasted longer than an hour, and those were on top of the 13-hour interview process Kingston went through in Columbia.
“I would ask myself, ‘Did I keep him on the telephone or did he keep me on the telephone?’ ” Tanner said.
Tanner talked to a lot of coaches interested in South Carolina’s vacant position after Chad Holbrook’s resignation, and the timing of Kingston’s hiring would suggest that Tanner at least made Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan officially turn him down following the Gators’ College World Series victory.
In the end, he hired Kingston for the same reason he hired football coach Will Muschamp – it felt right.
“Whether I did it the right way or not, part of my mission and passion is intensity, and I want to be around coaches with that intensity level to accept challenges and accept expectations, so there were some similarities when you think about those two gentlemen specifically,” Tanner said.
When Muschamp came by to say hello to Kingston prior to the Friday’s news conference, Tanner realized just how much they were alike.
“While they were talking, I was thinking about the process,” Tanner said.
The most important thing Kingston said when he was introduced was, “Great players make great coaches,” and it’s probably the most important thing he said in his phone conversations with Tanner, too.
It’s another similarity with Muschamp. The dominant strand of their DNA is written in recruiting language. For a former coach like Tanner, talking about recruiting speaks to him in a place baseball managers refer to as “the gut.” That’s the tuning fork inside every good skipper that says to leave the left-hander hitter in against the left-handed reliever because he’s got a good feeling about it. It’s the way Tanner managed when he guided the Gamecocks baseball team to back-to-back national titles.
“I was a little bit of a sabermetrics guy, although your data is sometimes not good enough to lean on it 100 percent,” Tanner said, “but I think more than anything else I was a gut guy and I would say in my short tenure as an athletic director, there’s some gut going on there.”
The pattern for Tanner’s coaching hires has been established. He may swing for the fences early in the process, but in the end he’s going to go with his gut.