Gamecock Fans Deserve Better Than Holbrook
By Matt Barber (@dixiefriedsport on twitter)
Prior to my morning run today my wife asked me if I'd like to go to IKEA in Charlotte with her and the kids to find shelving for my upstairs man cave. As fun as shelving shopping at a crowded Charlotte, NC store sounds I passed and told her I would be watching Gamecock Baseball. Looking back I should've checked out some awesome shelves.
Once again the South Carolina Gamecocks under Chad Holbrook blew a late inning lead. Up by 2 runs late in the 8th inning the Gamecocks gave up a grandslam and the Gators once again spoiled Carolina's chances at a SEC Series win.
The sad thing is I knew this was coming. This team seems to play too tight and just doesn't know how to hold on to leads late in baseball games. We've seen this in 4-5 series already this year. Under Ray Tanner it seemed as if no deficit was ever too large to comeback from, but under Chad Holbrook it always appears as if no lead is too safe despite the fact Carolina has one of the nation's top pitching staffs that can lay claim to 3 of the top 40 pitchers in the country according to Baseball America.
This series though wasn't what has soured me on Chad Holbrook. No, I'll admit I have been down on this hire ever since it happened at the end of the Ray Tanner era.
In the world of coaching hires I've always believed three things never should happen. The first is you never hire a legendary alumni to lead your program. I've always felt this never works because if that alumni fails as a coach then you have a division within your program. Fans & former players that played with that star athlete will support him, but those unhappy with his performance as a coach will turn their back on him. Fortunately, this is not the case with Holbrook as he is a UNC guy. I will apologize to Landon Powell as I will not promote him to replace Chad for this reason.
The second belief I've always had is that you never hire an assistant coach to replace a legend at an elite program. Certainly, examples of this working do exist such as Jimbo Fisher, but typically this kind of hire fails. In the case of Chad Holbrook he would've been better off taking over a midmajor or lower tier Power 5 job so he could learn on the go. A job like South Carolina isn't somewhere you want to learn and make mistakes at. A perfect example of this would be Will Muschamp at Florida. Muschamp isn't a bad coach, but he had to learn and make mistakes as a first time head man. Unfortunately for him he took over a program with 3 National Championships in 15 years and there wasn't room for error at Florida. The same goes for Chad. He's not a terrible coach, but this isn't a job that allows you to grow because you must be 100% ready by day 1.
The final belief I've always had is that an athletic director should never hire a coach that he is friends with. I'm not saying Chad & Ray are going fishing together each day, but obviously the two are friends. This causes the athletic director to have some bias when it comes to trying to be objective like all good ADs should when evaluating a coach.
If Ray can be objective and look past his relationship with Chad then he will see clearly that The University of South Carolina deserves better production in baseball than it is getting today. Not sold on this idea yet? Then you aren't paying much attention to what has happened.
One of the tiresome lines I keep hearing from local media that cover the Gamecocks is that fans wanted Ray Tanner fired prior to the 2009 season. This just isn't true. Sure, in every fan base there is always a small group never satisfied. I feel like in Alabama today there is someone out there calling for Saban's head because he lost a last second play in the National Championship Game. At South Carolina in 2009 only a small percentage of the fanbase shared this belief. Today it is a much larger group. I did a twitter poll last week in which near 300 folks voted on, 87% voted that they were not in favor of Chad.
Fans loved Ray Tanner. Unlike Holbrook, Ray had proven prior to 09 he could get to the National Championship Game and to Omaha. Ray replaced a legend in June Raines, but he had been a successful head coach at NC State prior to South Carolina. Fans were unhappy with Mark Calvi, but the vast majority loved Ray. Don't believe this still? Well, this week the athletic director felt the need for damage control and went out and spoke up in favor of Holbrook. When in 2008 or 2009 did Eric Hyman have to do something like this?
Another one of these great media myths being fed to Gamecock fans right now is that USC fans are unrealistic with their expectations. Several media members have stated that Gamecock fans expect to be in Omaha every year. This once again is a myth. Gamecock fans don't expect to be in Omaha every year, but they do believe it is reasonable to get there once every 5 years.
If you believe that making it to Omaha once every 5years is an unreasonable expectation then look at other elite programs that have been there since the Gamecocks last appeared in 2012. Texas, Oregon State, Fullerton, LSU, FSU, Florida, Vandy, UCLA, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Arkansas, Miami, Oklahoma State, Arizona, and TCU are among those elite level schools. South Carolina is on par & better than most of these schools. Even teams with far less baseball tradition like Indiana, UC Irvine, Coastal Carolina, Texas Tech, and UC Santa Barbara have appeared since the last time Carolina was in Omaha.
There have been some tradition rich programs that haven't been there during that span, but those programs have had issues. Arizona for instance was put on probation by the NCAA in the last 5 years. Oklahoma had a coaching change in 2014. Southern Cal has had 4 coaches since 2006.
One other tradition rich program hasn't been to Omaha since 2010 and that is Clemson. Clemson went five years without making it to Omaha under College Baseball Hall of Famer Jack Leggett. Clemson wasn't happy with this so they got rid of Jack Leggett and replaced him with a proven winner and up and comer from instate with Monte Lee. Why is it that Clemson can have Omaha expectations, but Carolina can't? No one in their right mind would look at Chad Holbrook's resume and say it is even close to Leggett's. Gamecock fans being vocal about Holbrook's lack of Omaha appearances are ripped by the media, but for Clemson to make a change it is ok? Doesn't seem right to me and it shouldn't to you either Gamecock Fans.
South Carolina baseball fans do deserve better. Out of the programs listed above there is one, maybe two than can equal the Gamecocks success over the last 17 years. From 2000-2012 you can make a pretty easy argument that Carolina was the best team in the NCAA. 2 National Championships, 2 runner-ups, and 6 Omaha appearances says that.
Holbrook not only inherited the best program in America during that 13 year span, but he also inherited one of the most loyal fan bases in the country. Only Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU, and Mississippi State can really match Gamecock baseball's fan support. Programs like UNC, Florida, Vandy, UCLA, Fullerton, and many others have great success on the diamond but don't come close to what Carolina has in fan support. South Carolina is always in the top 5 nationally when it comes to attendance and those fans expect and deserve an elite program.
Founders Park is also one of the nicest facilities in the nation. Baum Stadium is my personal favorite in Fayetteville, but Founders isn't far behind. Most publications would say it is top 5. LSU, Arkansas, and a couple others can argue their facilities are better, but even if they are it isn't by much. Mississippi State holds pretty much every on campus attendance record, but Dudy Noble needs upgrades to be in the same league as Founders Park.
This is also a College Baseball State. The support in this state is unlike anywhere you will find in the country. Sure, states like Florida, California, and Texas have success but those states are far more concentrated on NBA, NFL draft, and MLB to even notice college baseball. The Palmetto State is arguably the most passionate in the nation when it comes to the sport of college baseball. South Carolina, Clemson, The Citadel, and Coastal have fantastic fan support and all 4 have made it to Omaha. The only states you could argue that love college baseball as much are Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Nebraska. Just go listen to any talk show in any other state or open up a newspaper there. The coverage of college baseball you get here is unlike anywhere else.
I can tell you I've heard from many Gamecock baseball alumni who weren't happy with how the Brian Buscher situation was handled. He's lost the respect and support from many of those former players.
More importantly Holbrook has truly lost the support from Gamecock fans. Just look at the empty stands at Founders Park. Sure, tickets are sold because Gamecock fans love their team, but folks aren't showing up like they used to. No one would argue there have been more empty seats this season than in any other. I wouldn't expect series against Kentucky and Georgia to close the year to be any different than what we've seen all season.
Holbrook knows he's lost the fans and instead of trying to win them back he seems to be pushing them away more with ridiculous comments like he made earlier in the week. "Sometimes we've got less people on the road yelling at our players than we do at home" Holbrook said a few days ago. Comments like this are made by desperate coaches who are in over there head. At this point anything short of an appearance in Omaha isn't winning them back.
The media maybe satisfied with just being a borderline top 25 team and making regionals, but Gamecock fans should not. This program by no means is horrible and in the dumps, but it is no longer great. The longer Tanner waits to fix this mistake then the more recruits will forget a time when Gamecock baseball was elite.
If you still love Holbrook and support him then you are one of the few right now. I certainly believe it is fair to allow Holbrook to finish the season as coach and there doesn't need to be a change made today. Chad has been ethical, but he was not ready for this big of a leap. Today it is apparent to me that this mental block among fans & players is too much to overcome and I think most of you agree.
For more on Holbrook check out our latest podcasts http://www.spreaker.com/user/9145869 and remember follow on twitter @dixiefriedsport