COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Eyes red and voice cracking, South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner discussed a surprising search for a successor to baseball coach Chad Holbrook.
Holbrook spent nine seasons with the Gamecocks, the first four as then-coach Tanner’s right-hand assistant who helped the Gamecocks to three straight College World Series trips, winning national titles in 2010 and 2011. When Tanner was promoted to AD in 2012, he promoted Holbrook to the top job three days later in perhaps the easiest decision of his athletic administration career.
“It is difficult, I’m not going to pretend that it’s not,” Tanner said Wednesday, the day after Holbrook resigned. “I took this job knowing there were going to be some tough days and certainly the last few hours have been difficult.”
Tanner said he had reviewed Holbrook’s program the last few weeks and after several meetings, Holbrook chose to resign. Now Tanner is looking for a replacement that can bring the Gamecocks back to the championship level he left them at in 2012.
Holbrook was 200-106 in five seasons. He reached the NCAA Tournament’s super regional round — a step away from the College World Series — in 2013 and 2016. But he missed the NCAAs in two of the past three seasons, including this year after the team began the season ranked in the top five. The Gamecocks finished 35-25, losing their final eight series in the Southeastern Conference.
Tanner did not going into detail about his final talk with Holbrook, preferring to keep that among friends.
“This would be difficult under any circumstances when you have a colleague, a coach in any sport who’s no longer with you,” Tanner said. “Because it is a lifestyle, it is a family. It’s not an easy situation to go through.”
Tanner said he received messages from a few other athletic directors expressing empathy and counseling him to keep his head up. “I was very flattered,” Tanner said.
Holbrook, in a statement, thanked his players and the fans, yet acknowledged resigning was the best way forward. “This will always be a special place for me and my family,” he said.
Tanner, a Hall of Fame baseball coach, plans to conduct the search largely by himself. He’s got numerous contacts in the game and even more since being on the NCAA Tournament’s selection committee. Pitching coach Jerry Meyers and assistant Sammy Esposito will keep the program running and give nervous recruits friendly faces to speak with as Tanner looks for a head coach.
South Carolina’s recruiting class is considered among the country’s top 10 and Tanner acknowledged players who may have been locked into college could be swayed by next week’s Major League Baseball draft. That’s why Tanner hopes to have a coach in place “sooner rather than later” to speak with the incoming players.
Tanner and the assistants spoke with members of the team, and Tanner said many of them took responsibility for the Gamecocks coming up short. Tanner said that spoke to Holbrook’s good work with the team, even if the win-loss record wasn’t everything fans wanted.
“I know in all nine of his years, he did things the right way with character and integrity,” Tanner said.