In his first two years at Clemson, Monte Lee and his coaching staff have done some good things.
In each year, his teams won at least 40 games. In each year the Tigers have hosted an NCAA Regional. In 2016, they won the program its first ACC Championship in 10 years and were the No. 7 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
This year, Clemson spent 10 weeks in the top 10, most of those in the top 5. It went 16-4 in its first 20 ACC games and went an impressive 14-0 in midweek games. Overall, the Tigers were 25-6 against non-conference teams, including a 22-4 record in the regular season.
However, Lee says the feeling around his office is the 2017 season was a disappointment to a degree.
“We feel like we have done some good things, but at the end of the day, it is not enough,” Lee said. “That is just the way it is whether you like it or not. We all know what the expectations are.”
That is why Lee feels bad for former South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook, who resigned last week after five years as head coach in Columbia. Holbrook’s teams were a combined 199-105 (.655) and advanced to two Super Regionals in the NCAA Tournament.
However, the Gamecocks failed to make the tournament in two of the last three years, and after this year’s 34-24 mark, including a 13-17 record in the SEC, Holbrook was forced out and now the Gamecocks are looking for a new coach.
“You feel bad for coaches that lose their job, but I think all of us understand what we signed up for when we took these jobs,” Lee said.
What did they sign up for?
At Clemson and South Carolina, they signed up to be a head coach where Omaha is the expectation every year, even when things happen that cause them to fall short of their goal. Things like losing a starting catcher or closer for a good part of the year like Clemson suffered through, or things like South Carolina had deal with.
The Gamecocks lost their Friday night pitcher for the entire season, they lost their top reliever, plus they lost their catcher.
“If you have a 35-man roster and 27 guys are on scholarship, lose your starting catcher, lose your Friday night starter, lose your closer and lose your shortstop and see what happens,” Lee said. “One player is depth. It is really that simple. Lose your starting catcher and see how it affects your whole team. Lose one guy.”
Lee can understand what Holbrook went through to a degree. The Tigers stumbled down the stretch primarily due to injuries that piled up. The Tigers lost guys like Ryan Miller and Brooks Crawford in the bullpen, while catcher Chris Williams tore ligaments in his shoulder while diving back to a bag.
“(South Carolina) lost their Friday night starter. They lost their starting catcher. They lost their top reliever for a number of weeks,” Lee said. “It is tough. It is just tough to recover from that. Chad, I’m sure, will tell you they were a pitch or a play here or there from winning a number of games and probably would have been in the post season, but it is a tough business.
“We all know what the expectations are. If our programs are not competing to go to a Super Regional and Omaha every year, the fan bases are going to view that as a disappointment, but the coaches are too. The coaches understand what the expectations are. We understand what the accountability of what our jobs are.”
As for Holbrook landing on his feet somewhere else, Lee feels it will not be too long before he is back at work and wearing a baseball uniform.
“I’m sure he will be fine and I’m sure he will land on his feet,” the Tigers’ head coach said. “He is an excellent recruiter and he is an excellent coach with a great track record.”