Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett has spoken of undergoing an annual mourning period following the conclusion of each baseball season, with an added feeling of disappointment when the year doesn’t end with a victory in the final game.
During his Hall-of-Fame career, the 60-year-old has never been able to have a season-ending win, which would signify a national championship. But this past year was more bitter than most, with Leggett’s future with the program called into question for arguably the first time.
Athletic director Dan Radakovich acknowledged in a recent interview with the Charleston Post & Courier and two websites that terminating Leggett was a consideration prior to meeting with the coach, who just completed his 21st season with the Tigers. Leggett held his first media gathering Thursday since it was revealed he would return, but with no extension on the remaining two years off his contract.
When asked if he entered discussions with Radakovich with any trepidation about remaining the head coach, Leggett responded he did not.
“I personally didn’t go in thinking like that, because I didn’t feel like it was the right way to go, but at the same time it wasn’t my decision,” Leggett said. “I’m always ready to work hard for Clemson and I’ve got a lot of great friends in this coaching staff and in and out of the program here and within the framework of the university.
“This is obviously where I want to be, this is what I love to do.”
Long-time relationships aside, Leggett’s resume of 1,300 career wins (tying him for ninth all-time in NCAA Division-I) and reaching the NCAA tournament in all but one of his 21 seasons at Clemson would figure to be enough to allow him to continue dictating any terms of his employment.
But after setting the bar so high with at least reaching a Super Regional 11 times in his first 17 years with the program, including six trips to Omaha, the Tigers’ recent four-year inability to advance beyond the Regional (not even hosting the past three seasons) suddenly had Leggett’s seemingly iron-clad role in jeopardy.
Radakovich made the decision to retain Leggett, but also laid out some of his plan for changes that needed to be agreed upon before moving forward. Among those are meeting at least once a week with a four-player council (one from each class), bringing aboard sports psychologists to work with the program, traveling to meet with another successful baseball program, and trying to help with Leggett’s public persona, including a 10-minute cooling off period after some games.
“We have to help Jack in some of his P.R. communication,” Radakovich told Aaron Brenner of the Charleston Post & Courier. “He’s incredibly competitive. Let’s make sure we’re using it the right way, to get across the message better.”
“There’s always room for improvement, so if you stop learning in this business then you’re stagnant and you’re dead,” Leggett said. “So there is always something to be learned and to improve upon. One thing we do at the end of every year is look at our program, which we’ve done for 21 years, and try to figure out what we could do better and what we do exceptionally well. This program has done a lot of good things for a long period of time so there’s not wholesale changes we think we need to make.”
“We’ve had a good talk about things and have a good understanding about what we want to try and do better and what he thinks we need to do better, but I’ve coached in 2,000 baseball games so I’ve got a good feeling that I know what I’m doing and that our program does.”
When asked if it ever entered his mind over his Clemson tenure that he needed to be more politically correct or fan-friendly, Leggett replied, “It never has, to be honest. I’ve always felt I’ve had a good relationship with (the media). I’ve been in the toughest losing situations you can possibly be in at Omaha, Super Regionals, Regionals, or ACC tournaments.
“I’ve been in the greatest wins we could be in at Omaha, here (at Doug Kingsmore), Super Regionals, and always felt like I handled it well. If I made any mistakes along the way, we’ve just got to get better at it, but at the same time I felt good going into the meeting (with Radakovich) and felt good about what we do in our program and have a lot of confidence in what we do.”
When talking of adding more modern nuances such as psychologists and attempting to soften Leggett’s image a touch, it sounds as if Radakovich is simply trying to combine some new-age thinking into his old-school coach.
“I wouldn’t say I’m old school, I’d say that I like to work hard and I like to compete and that’s what Clemson has always wanted in their coaches and I’ve always felt good about how we’ve approached it and that’s what our players like,” Leggett said. “They like the fact that I compete, they like the fact that I’m tough and that I’m fair. I feel like we’re all of those things and at the same time we have fun, we laugh and joke around.
“We have as good a time as you could possibly have down on the baseball field and the players will tell you that. So I feel like we’ve adapted with the times, I feel like we’re on that cutting edge all the time of trying to learn, so I feel good about where our program is going.”