By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush.
In sports commentary, there is a distinct difference between a topic being tired and tiresome. A tired topic has been beaten into the ground. It has taken on a life of its own, traveled to unforeseen places, and run its course. The conversation has considered all competing sides of the topic, and it’s time to move on.
A tiresome topic is different. It personally affects people emotionally, rather than rhetorically or in terms of argumentation. It can wear a person down because of its subject matter, for whatever reason.
I love my job. I love the duties I am asked to perform every day. But I absolutely hate tiresome topics. They are the ones worth discussing by the masses that give me indigestion at the same time. They are topics that simply won’t go away.
Clemson baseball and the disappointment of last season has been one of those topics. It’s just something I don’t enjoy discussing any longer because everyone has a side—a well-fortified one, at that—and no preponderance of facts and figures will cause anyone to shift.
It is a multi-year discussion that refreshes every single season after one solitary loss. The pro-Jack Leggett and anti-Jack Leggett camps collect themselves and stockpile weaponry for a months-long war that lends itself to an angry atmosphere at Doug Kingsmore Stadium and extremism run amok on both sides.
Such a reality is frustrating for someone who invests so much personal capital in each season. When a person spends a ton of time in a certain circumstance, it becomes natural to desire success for that circumstance.
When this season ended—and well before that point—rumors about Leggett’s impending demise were everywhere. Every little nitpicky flaw in a long and arduous baseball season became a sign that the program was a failure, a flop, a disappointment, a shell of itself.
It was obvious, said some, that changes needed to be made. When others argued that many of those changes were structural ones—alterations to the skeleton of the program, not the skin—they were largely demonized, pigeonholed as sunshine pumpers content with mediocrity.
The reaction was equal and opposite, as those who opposed the current regime were painted as malcontents attempting to sabotage the program for selfish reasons or ignoramuses without the slightest idea what a baseball is or how to play the game. For a few years now, this back-and-forth has become a rhetorical ring-around-the-rosey in which both sides circle each other by day and dig in further by night.
Frankly, it’s tiring.
When Clemson AD Dan Radakovich announced he would be meeting with Leggett and his staff to discuss the current state of the program, everyone had a theory about what would transpire. Everyone just knew “something” was about to be done.
The alleged culprits ran the gamut—coaches, players, fans, facilities, scholarships, neglect, complacency, academic snobbishness, outlandish expectations, and the list goes on and on and on. The truth is that no one knew what would happen, but everyone knew “something” would.
But here we are, with the College World Series right around the corner and Clemson’s season far into the rear view mirror, and things within the program look the same. Leggett is back. His assistants are back. Players are leaving or staying, but it’s really no different than any other year in that regard.
Radakovich reaffirmed his commitment to Leggett’s program by praising its culture, but he left some room for interpretation by not offering to extend his two-year contract in an era when coaches need to be able to promise incoming recruits they will be around for three or more. He appears ready to redouble Clemson’s efforts to support baseball with facilities and recruiting flexibility.
Fans dying for a change are probably angry. Fans satisfied with the status quo are probably uneasy. Fans looking for somewhere to land are probably even more confused now. I don’t blame anyone for responding in kind.
It may seem that there is more confusion and chaos than before. After all, if Leggett was doing a good enough job, then why not extend his contract? We all know years don’t really matter in coaching contracts anyway beyond the two B’s: bodies (read: recruiting) and buyouts.
If not Leggett, then aren’t his assistants held accountable for the program’s recent swoon? If new facilities and initiatives are needed to make the whole process easier, why have they been neglected? Where exactly does the blame lie?
We can all speculate about this, but Radakovich’s decisions and statements have told us everything we need to know. Of course, this is assuming we acknowledge that he possesses more information than we do in order to make decisions on these matters, which he undeniably does.
His decision to bring back the entire staff suggests the issues with the program are not related to coaching, nor are they related to talent evaluation or development. Sure, these might be contributing to some degree, but they are symptoms of a bigger problem.
No, by attempting to get Clemson baseball back on track without replacing anyone on staff, Radakovich has effectively shifted the blame. The onus is no longer on Leggett, per his boss. The onus is on Radakovich himself, along with the rest of the athletic administration, to support Leggett and the rest of the players and coaches at a championship level.
This doesn’t adequately explain the denial of a contract extension for Leggett. Indeed, it might seem an outrageous notion for his detractors, but the reality is that adding a couple more years doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can function as a formality.
Instead, Radakovich is seeming to do one of two things with this pillar of his plan: Either he is signaling the end of the Leggett era at Clemson by giving him two years to leave the program in better shape, or he is providing the whole staff with an ultimatum next season. Again, that’s pure speculation, but it seems logical from this corner of the world.
Wherever you stand with regards to Clemson baseball, chances are you’re not a happy camper today. You’re frustrated in some way about the direction of the program. I’ve gone on record as saying I believe this program needs a jolt of positive energy heading into next season, and I don’t care where it comes from—coaches, players, fans, concessions workers, or the PA guy.
In some ways, the way forward is now clear. In some ways, the distant future looks just as murky (or even more so) as it has for some time now.
But we do have one thing now that we haven’t had in what seems like an eternity: closure.
The stage is set for next season. Like it or not, the cards have been dealt, and everyone knows now what is in Clemson baseball’s hand. Frankly, some of the prescribed elixirs for the program won’t manifest themselves for a half-decade or more, so next season may look exactly the same.
But at least we don’t have to speculate endlessly for the time being. That’s why closure is so important here. Now Clemson baseball fans can move on from this tiresome topic and rest for a while.