I come in peace. I am a concerned Gamecock citizen, and I want to talk some things through with you about our baseball team. So take your hands off the keyboard and back away. Slowly. Now put your hands where I can see them. Good.
First of all, there are two overarching questions that we should address regarding South Carolina baseball:
- Has this been a successful season?
- Has Chad Holbrook done a good job?
On the surface these sound like simple yes or no questions, but we all know that’s far from the truth. The answer to these questions depends largely on the context in which you are considering them.
If you’re looking at things through a 12-month window, you’ll see propaganda like this:
Sounds reasonable. Holbrook has taken this team from their worst season in over a decade to 40+ wins, an SEC East championship, and a regional hosting assignment.
But hold up a minute, this is Holbrook’s fourth season at the helm, why did we even need a bounce back season? Who got us in this position in the first place?
Oh right, Chad Holbrook.
Holbrook took over the South Carolina baseball team after the greatest run in the history of Gamecock sports, and the greatest run in the history of the NCAA baseball tournament. We’re familiar with what happened, but let’s recap:
- 2010 – National Champions
- 2011 – National Champions
- 2012 – National runner-up
- Mid-2012 – Chad Holbrook takes over for Ray Tanner
- 2013 – Eliminated – NCAA Super Regional
- 2014 – Eliminated – NCAA Regional
- 2015 – Missed the NCAA Tournament
As we all know, there was a significant downward trend over Holbrook’s first three years. To go from two games from a third consecutive national title to missing the NCAA tournament altogether is more than a little disturbing. This year has been nice, with series sweeps over Ole Miss, Arkansas and Alabama among others. But it has also been frustrating, with series losses to the likes of Georgia and Kentucky, whose seasons are now over.
Hooray, we came within a half game of an overall SEC Championship! 🙂
Dammit, we came within a half game of an overall SEC Championship! 😦
Here’s the thing – I am not a #FireHolbrook-er. The calls for his head are from the lunatic fringe and are at times over the top. But at the same time, there have been no convincing arguments that lead me to believe he is the guy to lead us back to national prominence.
Look at the job he’s done this year!
He has done a nice job, but I’m not really ready to praise the guy who drove my Ferrari into a telephone pole for taking it to the shop and getting it fixed.
It took Tanner several years to get the Gamecocks to the CWS!
Ray Tanner was handed an average baseball team playing in an outdated stadium in 1997 and in his fourth season was the #1 national seed. In his sixth season he was playing for the national championship. His teams made it to the CWS six times.
Chad Holbrook was handed the best program with the best facility in the nation and in his third season was watching the NCAA tournament on TV.
(Unfair comparison? Probably, but it’s one that’s being made.)
There was nowhere to go but down!
I really hate this one. Down to me is not making the CWS, or maybe not making it out of a regional play. But we went down, and down, and then down again.
Who made this rule? In the midst of their run of 10 consecutive national titles, do you think John Wooden was telling his guys at UCLA, “well boys, we’ve won so many in a row, there’s nowhere to go but down!” That’s a seed you never want to plant, my friends.
Then there are just stupid tweets that insult our fan base:
How is that even relevant?
I get the Holbrook defenders, I really do. Coaches get chewed up and spit out on such a regular basis and you don’t want to see a guy like Holbrook become part of that statistic when he’s winning like he’s done this year.
But for the folks on the other side, I get you too. Holbrook has not earned the benefit of the doubt yet. He has made head-scratching in-game decisions on the reg (h/t @ChickenHoops). He has not proven that he can win the big one. And yes, Ray Tanner carried that albatross his first five years.
At times I may sound like a #FireHolbrook-er, but I promise I’m not. One reason is I know how traumatic coaching changes are to a program. I WANT Chad Holbrook to succeed, for all of our sakes. The other reason is I know he has a minimum two years of rope left. Think about it, he’s Ray Tanner’s hand-picked successor, and no matter what happens this weekend in Columbia, he’ll be back based on this year’s “turnaround”. Next year’s team will be better than this one, so we will be looking at at least another regional hosting gig, and maybe better. Something really disastrous would have to happen for him to not be here until at least 2019.
The South Carolina baseball program has given Gamecock fans their greatest sports moments. They are an elite program in a department devoid of elite programs. And the problem right now is a lot of people don’t TRUST that crown jewel in the hands of Chad Holbrook. And until he gives us a reason to trust him, the debate will rage on.