“For a program that measures itself by College World Series appearances and results, not making the 64-team field is unacceptable.” – Josh Kendall, The State, May 29
By every account, Chad Holbrook is a fine man. His son Reece fought and beat cancer, and Holbrook has spent much of his free time raising significant amounts of money to go towards pediatric cancer research. No matter what happens with his baseball career, he will have no accomplishment on the baseball diamond that will top that.
By every account, Chad Holbrook was an outstanding assistant baseball coach. In his 15 seasons at North Carolina the Tar Heels made 11 NCAA tournament appearances and three College World Series trips. As Associate Head Coach at South Carolina, he was instrumental in helping build a team that went to three College World Series’ and won two. When Ray Tanner took the job as South Carolina Athletic Director after the 2012 season, it was a foregone conclusion that Holbrook would take over, and I don’t think Gamecock fans had much of a problem with that. Holbrook had been groomed for many years, it was his time.
In 2013 Holbrook guided the Gamecocks to within a game of another CWS. Oddly, it was in the deciding game of that Super Regional series against his former team, UNC, that we began to see the first chink in his managerial armor. The crime? Sacrificing one of his best hitters, Joey Pankake, in the first inning of that game with no score. (Many will argue they saw issues long before this, but this is the first time I remember recognizing it as a significant flaw in his strategic thinking.) Regardless, it was a very good season and nobody really complained about missing the CWS for the first time in four years.
In 2014 the Gamecocks shockingly lost to Maryland at home in the NCAA Regionals, with the final game being a 10-1 whitewashing. Again, you run into a hot team at the wrong time in the tournament and bad things happen. There was no need to panic at this point.
In 2015, USC went 13-17 in the SEC and missed the NCAA Tournament altogether. In the day and age of social media, and specifically Twitter, it was now time to panic. This Gamecock program, what we believed to be an elite national program, did not miss the NCAA Tournament. The fringe began to call for Holbrook’s firing, but the moderates among us knew that was not an option after only three years.
The 2016 season was a strange one. The cry for Holbrook’s head grew during the course of the season as, after starting the SEC slate 6-0 against Arkansas and Ole Miss, the team lost weekend series to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas A&M. But sandwiched around those losses were sweeps of mediocre to bad teams Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama. In the end, sweeping five series and not being swept in any resulted in a 20-9 conference finish and first place in the SEC East. That’s great, isn’t it? Call me foolish, but something just didn’t feel right.
As a host in the NCAA Tournament, with Clemson looming as a Super Regional opponent, the Gamecocks lost the opening game to Rhode Island (RHODE ISLAND) to fall into the loser’s bracket. Fortunately, the overall regional draw was extremely weak, and USC breezed past Duke, Rhode Island again, and then UNC Wilmington twice to make it to the Super Regional. Clemson lost their regional, and the Super fell into Columbia’s lap the following weekend. A red-hot Oklahoma State pitching staff rode into town and ended the season for South Carolina.
In my humble opinion, 2016 was fool’s gold for Gamecock fans. A weak bottom of the SEC combined with a fortuitous draw in the NCAA tournament led to the easiest path to a Super Regional we will ever see. Proponents of Chad Holbrook will always say “yeah, but they made a Super you idiot!” I can’t deny that, but look under the covers. There were still problems.
(Side note, SEC Tournament wins for Chad Holbrook to this point: 0.)
I won’t even rehash 2017, because you’ve heard it all. A preseason top five ranking turned into a complete disaster only rivaled by the 2014 football team in Gamecock lore. Players who were expected to take a step forward didn’t. The deep pitching staff was shallow as puddle. And Chad Holbrook continued to make mind-boggling in-game decisions, and even took a shot at our fans in frustration. It literally couldn’t have gone worse. Was all of this Chad Holbrook’s fault? Of course not, but this is life in sports. When things don’t go well, more often than not the head man takes the fall.
So now, after two weeks of back-and-forth about the future of Holbrook, he is gone. Some people will argue that he should still be our head man, but the evidence doesn’t support that. Consider:
2 Super Regionals
1 First-place SEC East Finish
40 win average
0 College World Series
2 Missed NCAA Tournaments
4-17-1 in series against top 50 RPI teams (2015-2017)
2 losing records in SEC play
8 straight series losses in SEC play (2017)
3 straight series losses to Clemson
3 SEC Tournament wins in five years (all this year)
2 humiliating blowout losses to UNC
Now look back at the opening quote from Josh Kendall. This was not a difficult decision. And please don’t throw out ridiculous hypotheticals – “so if Chad had made 5 straight Super Regionals should he have been fired?”. Of course not, context matters. And the context of the last five years is simply not good enough.
Finally, about our fans. Aaron Fitt wrote this ridiculous piece about Holbrook and Gamecock fans. First, to say Holbrook was dismissed…er, “resigned”…because the relationship with fans became toxic is an insult to Ray Tanner. All I’ve read about Ray Tanner is how hard he studies the facts of the situation and makes an educated decision based on those facts. The fact is Ray Tanner has higher expectations for this program, just like the fans. That’s why Chad Holbrook is no longer our coach.
And we have high expectations? And we’re spoiled? You’re damn right on both accounts. I can’t defend anyone spewing personal venom towards Holbrook or the players during games or on social media. We frankly don’t need those fans. But the vast majority of Gamecock fans are passionate, loyal, and devote an inordinate amount of time and resources to all our athletic programs, of which baseball is a crown jewel. We’re not going to take a back seat to anyone on the baseball diamond, and we’re not going to keep quiet when we feel a change is needed. No apologies here.
I feel bad for Chad Holbrook, I really do. If you’ve ever lost a job it is horrible feeling, and can scar you for a long time. I wish him nothing but success in the future, and hope he bounces back quickly.