If Friday's hiring of Ray Tanner as Athletic Director at South Carolina was the "worst-kept secret" according to President Harris Pastides, this had to be the second worst-kept secret. Tanner stepped up to the podium Monday to make his first opening statement as AD, just three days after being hired. As is the case with most things Tanner does, it was a homerun.
"More than 40 years ago the Yankee great Bobby Richardson took over Carolina baseball and immediately gave it tremendous credibility and College World Series appearances," Tanner said. "A few years later, June Raines took over the program for a lengthy time and continued to move the program forward. The College World Series was part of his resume. The time is right now for me to take off the uniform and let the next person build on what Coach Richardson and Coach Raines have started. I realize that as Athletics Director there will be days that are challenging and tough decisions will have to be made. Today is not one of those days. Our new head baseball coach is a man of tremendous character and experience. He will successfully lead our Gamecocks for years to come. Having been in the game for more than 30 years, I feel like I know who the good coaches are and the ones that will make a difference. We have one that is a difference-maker."
Tanner's opinions of new baseball coach Chad Holbrook as a difference-maker is shared by many. Holbrook's coaching career has spanned 19 years, four years at Carolina and 15 at North Carolina, his alma mater. He was named the 2011 ABCA assistant coach of the year after helping the Gamecocks to their second consecutive national championship. Of his 19 years coaching, Holbrook has coached in 15 NCAA Tournaments and six College World Series appearances.
"I'm honored and privileged to be the head baseball coach at the University of South Carolina," Holbrook said. "This is a 19-year dream come true. It's hard to believe that a country boy from Shelby, North Carolina is standing here as a head baseball coach at the nation's premier college baseball program. What this program has accomplished over the years is amazing."
It's never easy to follow a legend. Many times it leads to failure. Just ask Ron Zook, who followed Steve Spurrier at Florida.
This is different. While Holbrook is following a legend in Tanner, he has spent the last four years learning from the legend.
"Coach Tanner, you've been incredible," Holbrook said. "You've given me an incredible opportunity. The trust you've shown in me is tough for me to explain. I know that you always told me that I'm not short on confidence, but you are the one that gave me the confidence to tackle this challenge ahead… He's given me the blueprint on how to run a college baseball program. Our staff will continue to use that blueprint that Coach Tanner has given me step by step."
Tanner's blueprint was simple; win. The pressure will be on for Holbrook to continue to build on what Tanner has spent nearly two decades building. Losses will come, and there will even be a day when the Gamecocks fail to make it to Omaha. Whether or not Gamecock fans will be satisfied with that remains to be seen, but Holbrook is not there to build on Tanner's legacy; he's there to build his on.
"I'm not up here to try and replace Ray," Holbrook said. "I can't; no one can. I can only be the best Chad Holbrook that I can be. When we have to make difficult decisions in a game, I'll have a bracelet and on it will have initials that say WWRD - What Would Ray Do. If I follow the decisions that he's made and shown me, I think this baseball program will be just fine. Our staff will continue to embrace the traditions established by Ray Tanner and others. We won't sit back on our laurels or our past."
With Holbrook becoming the new head coach, promotions are in for the other coaches. Though they wanted to be there for the press conference, Holbrook had already given them orders. Both Jerry Meyers and Sammy Esposito are on the road recruiting.
"Jerry Meyers will assume the role as associate head baseball coach," Holbrook said. "He is one of the best if not the best pitching coach in the country. He's been a head coach at the NCAA Division 1 level. I'm also excited about Sammy Esposito, one of the best young coaches in the game. He teaches me more than I teach him."
One of the worries of Holbrook accepting the job was the recruiting. Holbrook was recently ranked as the tenth best recruiter in all of college sports by ESPN in 2011. North Carolina head basketball coach Roy Williams called Holbrook Sunday night and told him to keep doing what he does best. That's exactly what Holbrook is going to do.
"I want our fans to know I'm going to continue to recruit my rear-end off for this University," Holbrook said.
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