Bulldogs, Cougars renew rivalry

College of Charleston head baseball coach Matt Heath has filed a lawsuit against the school for wrongful termination. (File/Moultrie News)

College of Charleston fired head baseball coach Matt Heath late Friday afternoon.

Heath, 38, was 59-57-1 with the Cougars since taking over the program from former head coach Monte Lee, who left the College of Charleston two years ago to become the head coach at Clemson.

The Cougars were 28-31 last season, suffering through their first losing season since 2001.

“I am extremely disappointed that I will not get to see this opportunity all the way through,” Heath said in a prepared statement. “I got to watch LSU and Florida play for the national championship series the other night and dreamed of taking the College of Charleston to the place where both of the teams I used to play for were just the other night.

“I am very confident that I know what it takes to get there and throughout my coaching career I've cared about my players tremendously and will miss these guys more than they will ever know. I really wish I could have continued to guide these guys who have bought into what me and my staff have tried to teach them both in baseball and in life.”

College of Charleston athletic director Matt Roberts sent an email to the players just after 6 p.m. Friday informing them that Heath had been relieved of his duties. Roberts did not return calls to his cell phone.

“I am writing to inform you that as of Friday, June 30, 2017, at the close of business, Coach Heath is no longer the Head Baseball Coach at the College of Charleston,” Roberts’ email said. “I regret that we were unable to gather the team together for an in-person meeting at this time. We appreciate the contributions and efforts of Coach Heath and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Last week, The Post and Courier learned that the school had launched an investigation into allegations of abusive behavior by Heath toward his players. Heath denied any wrongdoing and said he has tried on several occasions to meet with school president Glenn McConnell to discuss the allegations.

“As for the allegations, I am not a lawyer and I don't really completely understand all of that but the lawyers I've been dealing with are very confident that I have been wronged and will be taking the necessary steps from this point on,” Heath said. “I am crushed that it has gotten to this point, but President McConnell refused multiple requests from me to meet and discuss these false claims.”

Former South Carolina baseball coach Chad Holbrook is considered to be the leading candidate to replace Heath. Roberts was a pitcher at the University of North Carolina when Holbrook served as an assistant coach with the Tar Heels. In the past, Roberts has described their relationship as “close" with the former Gamecocks head coach serving as a "mentor” to him during his athletic administration career.

“We will immediately begin a national search for a new leader and believe that great days are ahead for the program," Roberts' email said. "We are fully invested in your success on and off the field. We are confident that once again we will compete for championships here at The College.”

Holbrook, who has interviewed for an assistant's job at Vanderbilt, said he's not been contacted about the Cougars' position.

"I've been thinking long and hard about an opportunity out of state the last few days," Holbrook said Friday night. "The College of Charleston is a great baseball job, a great city and a great university. There will be a lot of great candidates for that job and I'm not going to comment on my interest in that position. My focus and 100 percent of my attention has been on that other job out of state and not any position at the College of Charleston."

Holbrook also said he's contemplated taking a year off from coaching.

"The last couple of weeks the attraction of taking a year away from the game has been very powerful," Holbrook said. "I'm not going to speculate about pursuing the job at College of Charleston right now."

Other candidates for the job include Scott Foxhall, a former Cougar pitcher and current assistant coach at N.C. State, and Clemson assistant coach Bradley LeCroy.

After the investigation of Heath became public, more than a dozen former and current players came forward to support their head coach.

“I am extremely humbled by the overwhelming support I've received from so many of my former and current players as well as parents and I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Heath said. “I've received so many text messages, emails and phone calls that it truly makes me feel like I've done the right things throughout my nine years here.

“I want to thank all of my coaching staff and apologize to them and their families for the circumstances they find themselves in. Nothing crushes me more than the situation they are in and I'd tell any head coach out there that is in need of a good assistant coach, I have some great ones that I recommend."

The Cougars experienced an unusually high rate of player turnover since Heath took over the program in June 2015. Over the past two seasons, Charleston has had 46 different players on its roster.

Under Lee In 2014 and 2015, the Cougars were 88-34 with back-to-back NCAA regional appearances and a super regional berth.

Heath played a key role in Charleston’s success in 2014 and 2015, serving as the Cougars' pitching coach.

Heath has three years left on a five-year contract. His base salary was $154,875 this past season.

Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC.