|by David Hood|
Jack Leggett is now front and center in the king’s court, and whether his head winds up on the chopping block or he gets a stay of execution has yet to be determined, but there is no doubt in my mind that we will see some changes within the baseball program over the next week or two.
Unfortunately for Leggett, the court of public of opinion has already made a decision, but how much that weighs into the final decision or decisions made by AD Dan Radakovich is unknown.
Because of my job – and because I work with and get to know the people that people want fired – I tend to be more of a moderate than those who want the instant gratification of a firing. And I understand there are also groups of people who want everybody fired whenever one little thing goes wrong. Heck, I am Facebook friends with one Clemson fan who doesn’t hesitate to let anybody know that Dabo Swinney isn’t good enough for Clemson and neither is Brad Brownell, and he will let anybody and everybody know the slights he perceives and why he thinks they both should be fired right now.
And lest we forget, there are those within the Alabama fan base who want Nick Saban fired despite multiple national titles because he lost to Auburn and didn’t win a title last season. Yep, Nick has lost the players and the fans because he didn’t win it all again. Those kinds of people I call the “crazies.”
Then there are the ostriches – the people who will stick with a coach until the bitter end, the ones who think that any kind of change is bad.
Again – I tend to not be lumped in the crazies or the ostriches, but the moderates, and when a coach loses the moderates he’s in trouble. I think Jack Leggett has lost a good portion of the moderates within the Clemson fan base, and his teams’ play over the last four seasons plus his comments recently have pushed even the most conservative of the moderates over the edge. His comments have surprised me, and I only have to look at Dabo Swinney to see the way Leggett should be reacting to the media’s questions.
In 2010, with the Tigers in the midst of a 6-7 season, Swinney (who had not yet matured as a coach) asked for patience and listed the reasons why things would get better. He responded to the complaints, and he took responsibility for the team’s failures and promised to fix it. He made the necessary changes and said he would do whatever it took to win. The fans believed, and he changed the culture. Leggett hasn’t even come close to those kinds of responses.
So what, if you are Radakovich, do you do?
At this point, keeping in mind that you have to worry about the future of Clemson baseball, there are two ways to progress – cut all ties now and start over, or structure Leggett’s retirement in a way that both sides can move forward with a little dignity and class.
Heading into next season without any kind of change – or the promise of change – will mean more dwindling attendance and more frustration within the fan base. Short of a team that starts out as gangbusters and follows that trend all the way to a Super Regional, it would be hard to win back all of the fans.
So, what are the pros and cons of each of my two suggestions?
*Cutting ties now – It would re-energize the fan base, at least temporarily, and it would give the new guy a head start on recruiting. However, it has to the right hire, and if any of you out there think that a coach like Tim Corbin would return to Clemson after a messy divorce with Leggett, you’re delusional. It would also take some of the pressure off of the players for the next season or two. That kind of “relief” can’t be understated. It would also allow the “new guy” the time to throw in his opinion on the new facilities.
However, when you make a decision like this, there are ramifications that will stretch years down the road. In some instances, it could hurt recruiting. I’ve been to other schools and I’ve seen all of the new facilities that are out there – Doug Kingsmore is in a beautiful setting, but it doesn’t compare to places like South Carolina. I do believe that Clemson falling behind in the arms race has hurt this program. Take off your orange-colored glasses and look at Carolina Stadium (despite the jokes about its location) and then compare The Doug, and it isn’t really even close. The interview and press areas, the locker rooms, the player lounge areas and the other amenities are light years ahead of what Clemson has to offer. Add in the different endowments that other schools can use to lure players in, and it has been difficult for Leggett and his staff to recruit on the same playing field as schools like North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
If you bring in a new coach, and you might already have to catch up on recruiting, the lack of facilities in place now might hurt even further, and the new guy might need more than a year or two to catch up. For Clemson fans already four years into frustrations, will waiting another two or three be worth it?
*Structuring the changes – The cons for this are that Clemson fans are fed up, and another year with Leggett at the helm will put pressure on everybody while providing an uncomfortable feeling for a “coach in waiting” whether he is on staff or not. Waiting a year also doesn’t necessarily help with recruiting, and you don’t want to confuse high school recruits by having to explain what a lame duck coach is every time you make a visit.
However, the positives would be that you allow a Hall of Fame coach to bow out gracefully, take his bows one last time avoid that messy divorce and perhaps even let Leggett have a hand in picking his successor. Trust me on this one – Leggett is respected all across the country, and firing him outright will make this job unattractive for some coaches. You definitely don’t want that because you want the best man for the job. It also means that some of the guys who dot Leggett’s coaching tree – some pretty successful coaches – would be more willing to listen.
It would also mean the new guy takes over at the same time as the makeover to Doug Kingsmore, which would only help in recruiting. The new guy wouldn’t have any excuses, and he could hit the ground running, to use a cliché. Tommy Bowden told me last year that part of the reason Swinney was so successful early in his career was because his arrival coincided with the work on the WestZone.
I can see both sides, and I’m glad I am not the one making the decision. The only thing any of us can do right now is sit back and wait and see what happens. The one thing we do know is that it is time for Clemson to step into a new era of college baseball, and even the playing field with its rivals. The new upgrades should help. Will it be a new coach taking over as well, or can Leggett hang in and make one final run?
We should know soon enough.
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org