CLEMSON — It is indeed possible for the aging legend, the stubborn competitor, the Hall of Fame coach to simultaneously be celebrated and deprecated.
Accomplishments of the past may be masked but not erased by struggles of the present, and vice versa. Jack Leggett was responsible for both, and that’s why a sad day for his managing career isn’t complete without many fond memories.
As expected for some time now, Leggett was relieved of his duties at the conclusion of his 22nd season as Clemson’s head baseball coach and 24th overall at the school.
Athletic director Dan Radakovich made the call Thursday, a year after evaluating Leggett’s job security and choosing to retain him for 2015 under the premise of steady improvement. The Tigers responded with a 32-29 season and quick ouster from an NCAA regional for the fifth consecutive year.
“After careful evaluation and review of the season, and the projection of our program over the last few years, it was my decision to introduce a fresh approach to our program,” Radakovich said at an afternoon press conference. “It came down to this: I think we can be better.”
Leggett did not attend the press conference and was not available for comment.
“He’s one of the icons of our profession,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook told a Columbia radio station. “It’s a sad day for college baseball.”
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, a former Leggett assistant, told D1Baseball.com, “He’s synonymous with Clemson baseball. It’s a sad day. He’s meant the world to me.”
Leggett, 61, was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Jan. 3, 2014. He oversaw six trips to the College World Series, and for a time was the Tom Izzo of baseball: never letting a graduating senior miss out on Omaha.
“Many players have been the beneficiary of Jack’s leadership and service,” Radakovich said, “and for that, Clemson will always be grateful. I cannot do justice to the impact he’s made on our program.”
But the team has endured a backslide each and every one of the past five years, going from College World Series to losing a home regional to losing a regional at home to losing a regional at South Carolina (to the Gamecocks) to losing another regional at South Carolina (to Liberty) and finally to getting sent home from Nashville and Fullerton, Calif. by Xavier and Pepperdine, respectively.
Radakovich, along with many of the fans who fund his department, lost patience waiting out the storm.
“We have a great university with great history and tradition. We have good facilities about to get better. We play in one of the best leagues in the country,” Radakovich said. “Where’s Clemson’s place in that? I think it needs to be at or near the top competing for championships.”
And so, Radakovich will set out trying to find the program’s next golden coach.
Whoever Clemson chooses to redirect the Tigers will have four giant shoes to fill — two belonging to Leggett and two to Bill Wilhelm, Leggett’s predecessor of 36 years.
“Clemson baseball is a premier brand, positioned well for the near future. Following the great work of Coaches Wilhelm and Leggett, this is a program that’s built on solid foundation,” Radakovich said. “We need to inject some new momentum and create optimism around our baseball program.”
Leggett has a career record of 1,332 wins, 770 losses and one tie. He remains the ninth-winningest coach in college baseball history — Wilhelm is tied for 20th — and leaves Clemson ranked fifth among active coaches.
As a comparison, Clemson football and Clemson basketball have each featured nine different head coaches since Wilhelm and Leggett began their combined tenures.
Associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Bradley LeCroy will take over on an interim basis.
“I’ve had an opportunity to sit and talk with Bradley,” Radakovich said. “He has asked about the permanent position. I encouraged him to apply for that position. So we’ll see where that goes.”
Radakovich said the search has not yet begun. Potential candidates beyond LeCroy might include Louisville’s Dan McConnell, College of Charleston’s Monte Lee or Maryland’s John Szefc.
“I would hope today is about the great work Jack has done for the last 24 years being here and part of the Clemson community,” Radakovich said. “We’ll get to the other. There will be time for looking at moving forward with a replacement.”
Leggett will be due $200,000 in exchange for his contract being terminated before June 30, 2016. Pitching coach Dan Pepicelli’s contract expires at the end of this month.