CLEMSON — For starters, Monte Lee plans to bring Clemson back to the Lowcountry.
Lee, the College of Charleston product and Cougars’ coach of the past seven years, begins his tenure in the opposite side of the state by promising more Tigers presence in his old stomping grounds.
Although Lee hasn’t gotten around to configuring Clemson’s 2016 non-conference schedule and beyond just a few days into his new job, he’s pledged to see to it Clemson makes its first appearance in the Lowcountry since March 2, 2012, when the Tigers took on South Carolina. Clemson last played a true road game in the Lowcountry at the College of Charleston in the 2008 season opener.
Scheduling aside, Lee will attend to much rebuilding for the next eight months leading into the 2016 season opener. It begins with his staff, which now appears not to include Matt Heath, Lee’s pitching coach at the College of Charleston who reportedly will be Lee’s successor as head coach.
Former players have voiced support for hitting coach Bradley LeCroy to remain with the program, and according to sources close to the program, it is likely those players will get their way. LeCroy just completed his fifth straight season as Jack Leggett’s recruiting coordinator, and he himself was a Clemson letterman from 1997-2000.
“Bradley LeCroy’s an outstanding person, a coach and a family man,” said Colorado Rockies first baseman Ben Paulsen, who starred at Clemson from 2007-09. “It’s devastating to have Jack go, but hopefully Bradley can stay on. He’s born and raised at Clemson, so he’s one of the names I always thought of.”
Then, there’s the matter of the players on the field. Only one senior leaves from the lineup (center fielder Tyler Slaton), while pitchers Jake Long, Clay Bates, Kyle Schnell and Kevin Pohle are graduated as well.
The impactful defections come more from MLB draftees. Left-handed pitchers Matthew Crownover and Zack Erwin, who anchored the weekend rotation, have already signed with the Nationals and White Sox, respectively. Shortstop Tyler Krieger (Indians) and outfielder Steven Duggar (Giants) are also gone.
Junior pitcher Clate Schmidt, who recently began chemotherapy to battle nodular sclerosis, has tweeted his support for Lee’s hiring and intends to return for his senior season, despite being drafted late by the Boston Red Sox.
It’s not yet known what Yankees selection Brody Koerner or Pirates pick Eli White will decide. Koerner and Schmidt would be prime contenders to start in ACC games.
There are plenty of big bats back in the lineup. All-American catcher Chris Okey and breakout freshman outfielder Reed Rohlman will return, and so will infielders Weston Wilson, Chase Pinder and Andrew Cox, plus catcher Robert Jolly who came on late in the 2015 season.
Leggett’s team made the NCAA Tournament 21 of his 22 seasons — missing only in 2008 — but the Tigers failed to win a regional each of the past five years. He compiled a 5-10 record since bowing out of the 2010 College World Series; meanwhile, Lee went 8-8 in the Cougars’ four NCAA appearances, with one regional title, under his watch.
Historically, Clemson has not gone longer than five years without winning a region since an 11-year drought from 1980-91.
Lee starts out at Clemson with a 276-145 career coaching record; his 65.6 winning percentage is two points higher than Leggett’s clip of 63.4 percent.