Coming off a tumultuous 2014 campaign — and one that resulted in a different kind of offseason — Jack Leggett said before Friday’s first practice of 2015 that he’s felt plenty of support recently from the Clemson administration and fans.
The Tiger baseball coach didn’t have to go outside his own locker room to find what he means to the program in Leggett’s 22rd season at the helm.
“We love the guy,” Clemson junior shortstop Tyler Krieger said. “I’d stand up for him right now if you need me to say anything and I’d tell you because I love that man. He’s taught me a lot.
“I love all our other coaches. They’ve all done a great job with us. No matter what people from the outside say, I’m really excited to play for the people that are behind me and my teammates.”
Last season was one of the most difficult of Leggett’s long career as the Tigers went 36-25 overall and 15-14 in ACC play before losing their last three games of the year, including an 0-2 collapse at the Nashville Regional in the NCAA tournament.
The biggest lingering issue? Clemson hasn’t been to the College World Series since 2010.
Those struggles, and a challenging of the direction of the program by athletic director Dan Radakovich, spurred rumors of possible changes at the highest coaching ranks.
Leggett didn’t receive a contract extension. He did get an offseason plan from Radakovich that included improving Leggett’s image, working with sports psychologists, having coaches meet with a player council and sending the staff to visit college and professional teams to learn how to improve what they do.
Another immediate change was more time in the weight room for the players.
“I think everything has been really positive,” said Leggett, who has two years left on a contract that pays him a base salary of $400,000 per year. “It’s always a good learning experience when you’ve been doing this as long as I’ve been doing it. If you think you can’t learn anymore then you’re in trouble.”
“Positive” is also the vibe Leggett gave off about his program Friday, despite pressure to improve and the bad weather that forced Clemson to practice inside.
“I’m relaxed,” Leggett said. “I’m excited about [the season]. I’m looking forward to it. You guys know how competitive I am and how passionate we are about what we do all the time. I don’t look at it as a fault but something that’s probably one of our better traits around here.”
The players say they were not deterred by any speculation during the offseason. They signed up to play for Leggett, and they couldn’t be happier that he’s back to lead them for another campaign.
“The man is in the [American Baseball Coaches] Hall of Fame,” junior pitcher Matthew Crownover said. “He knows what he’s doing. We trust in him.”
Leggett said the bar has been set very high at Clemson because of the amount of success the program’s had under him. He’s won 923 games, been to 20 NCAA tournaments in 21 seasons and has taken the Tigers to Omaha six times.
“I’ve always have a lot of confidence in how we handle our program and the type of kids we put out and the success we’ve had,” Leggett said.
“We want to go to another level than where we were last year. We are all working hard at it, and we are all on the same page.”
This season, Leggett believes he can turn last year’s negatives into positives.
He has five starters in the field returning, including Krieger, who led the team with a .338 batting average and 49 runs scored. Crownover will anchor what could be a deep pitching staff while Zack Erwin returns as well to take the Saturday starting role.
The Tigers were picked by the league’s coaches to finish third in the Atlantic Division. A deep, talented ACC should adequately prepare Clemson for what it believes will be a successful season, which the Tigers hope includes a much better run in the postseason.
“I don’t really care what they say preseason,” Krieger said. “It’s tough to just look at a piece of paper and determine how many wins and losses you’re going to have.
“There’s a lot more than goes into it behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t know about and I’m pretty confident in this team and this group that we have that we’re going to have a successful season.”
This article was written by Brad Senkiw from Anderson Independent Mail, S.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.