Together at Last – Tanner and Holbrook

The last time you probably saw such genuine affection between two people, you were probably attending a wedding. Ray Tanner and Chad Holbrook weren't getting married, but they admitted that they had flirted with the idea of working together for over a decade. Monday it finally all came together, as Holbrook became Tanner's new associate head baseball coach and recruiting coordinator.

It sounded like an ad for eharmony.com – these two had found their perfect match in each other, except they were talking about coaching together. As they proclaimed their affection for each other in the press conference introducing Holbrook as the new associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for South Carolina, no one questioned how genuine the two coaches' friendship was.

The fun started early, as Tanner outlined what Holbrook's responsibilities would be for the Gamecocks. "He'll be overseeing our offense. I'll still coach the three run homer; he's going to handle everything else. He's going to handle our hitters, our base runners, our short game, and coach our outfielders."

Tanner talked about how far back his desire to hire Holbrook went. "It was exactly 12 years and one month ago today that I was introduced as the head coach of the University of South Carolina," he said. "As I took the podium, I was expecting three or four people in the audience, and was overwhelmed with the number of people there. I looked out into the audience, and Chad Holbrook was sitting there. I wasn't able to hire him at the time, but I vowed that one day I would be able to. It took me a long time."

Tanner gave credit to USC athletic director Eric Hyman, executive associate AD Kevin O'Connell, and baseball administrative assistant Kristi Davis. "They worked rather quickly to make this happen," he said. "We're just delighted we all came together." The coach gave some credit to his new assistant's wife for understanding what the garnet and black Carolina was all about. "Jennifer, she grew up here. One particular night we exchanged a couple of text messages. The words "black magic" were included a couple of times."

The admiration shared was not limited to Tanner. Holbrook gave his chief reason for leaving his alma mater after 19 years and making such a major change. "I've yearned to learn under Coach Tanner. I think he's the best in the business. I've always thought that. The respect I have for him is like no other coach in the country. The opportunity to learn under him is something I couldn't pass up. It would take the opportunity of a lifetime to leave North Carolina. I have the opportunity of a life time here at South Carolina. That's why I'm here."

"South Carolina is a great place," he continued. "I've always admired the program that Coach Tanner has put together. To be honest, I've always wanted to work under him and be a part of it. The passion of the fan base, the excitement that's around this baseball program is something that is second to none. It's heady for me to be a part of that. We're looking forward to calling Columbia and the University of South Carolina home. Coach Tanner has given me the opportunity to grow and develop as a coach. I want to be the best I can in my profession, and this is a great opportunity for me to do that. I think the world of the man. I just yearn to work for him and work under him and be the best that I can be as a coach."

When asked about whether a succession plan had been made for Holbrook to eventually succeed Tanner as the head coach at South Carolina, Holbrook paused and looked to Tanner to speak before responding. Tanner joked, "I'm only 28!" Holbrook then went on to say, "I'm here because I love being an assistant coach. Obviously, assistant coaches love to become head coaches. I didn't take this job with any kind of condition that I would become the head coach here some day. I came here to work for Coach Tanner, learn from Coach Tanner, and help my players learn to be the best players they can be."

Jennfier Holbrook also put to rest rumors she would take a similar position to her current position as adminsistrative assistant to UNC basketball coach Roy Williams with new USC basketball coach Darrin Horn. "I'm finally going to get to be a stay-at-home Mom." she said.

Holbrook also looked back quite a ways to put his relationship with Tanner in perspective. Holbrook played for the Tar Heels between 1990 and 1993. "When I played at North Carolina and he was the coach at NC State, he always treated me with respect. He always shook my hand, win, lose, or draw. He always told me I did a good job, if I did. I never forgot the way he treated me as an opposing player. I've always been impressed how their kids handled themselves, both in success and failure, in wins and in losses. He's a great leader; I'm excited to learn from him. It's why I've always respected it (Tanner's program) and loved it. They've always played the game the right way, their kids acted in a first class way, they treated their opponents with respect."

The new coach is not just changing schools, he's also changing leagues. In discussing the differences between ACC baseball and SEC baseball, he said, "The SEC has always been the most competitive league in the country. Top to bottom, there's not a better league. The fan bases at all 12 schools here is unmatched. The excitement we'll have here in our home park is unmatched, it's a great situation for a coach to work in, it's a great situation for players to play in, I'm anxious to get out and sell that to recruits across the country."

His new boss was frank in assessing the current state of his program and how his new assistant could help improve his team. "I don't think we have been as good as we needed to be," Tanner said. "We need to do a better job of putting balls into play. Our walks to strikeout ratio as a team has to get better. And when you do that, your on base percentage gets better too. They've (UNC) had teams that have been able to adjust and adapt. They have hit some home runs too, but when they don't, they've still been able to score their runs. He's been a large part of that offensive approach when the power numbers aren't there. He's going to get an opportunity to roll up his sleeves and go to work. He'll be very much involved in what we do offensively."

Holbrook said, "We'll put a competitive bunch on the field right away, but we're not going to talk to our players about Omaha. We're going to try extremely hard to be the best we can be every single day. We're going to stay with the process of being the best every single day, and hopefully at that time, when it's Super Regional time, if we're lucky enough to get there, we'll be good enough to do it. We just want to play the best we can play every time we step on the field."

Holbrook also talked to Tanner about taking the position last year after Jim Toman left to become the head coach at Liberty University. Holbrook, as expected, cited his son Reece's medical treatment for leukemia that was still ongoing at the time. He explained the difference between this year vs. last year: "In taking a job, timing is everything. It just wasn't the right time."

Monday, it was the right time.

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