Erik Bakich always knew he’d likely do more than listen if Clemson ever wanted to talk to him about the possibility of directing its baseball program.
Two decades after getting his start in coaching as a graduate assistant for former Tiger coach Jack Leggett, that’s exactly what happened. Less than three weeks after Monte Lee was relieved of his duties, Bakich interviewed for, was offered and accepted the Tigers’ head coaching job.
“My love and affinity for Clemson University and Clemson baseball, it’s where I started. it was my first job,” Bakich said during his introductory press conference last week. “I feel very grateful and fortunate to have gotten so lucky 20 years ago that I would’ve always been interested in this. I jumped on the opportunity when it presented itself.”
As easy as it was for Bakich to say yes to Clemson as well as the significant pay raise accompanying his new gig, it also meant leaving the most familiar situation of his career. It meant saying goodbye to a successful decade-long run as the head coach at Michigan, where he won more than 60% of his games and led the Wolverines to a national runner-up finish in 2019.
It meant uprooting his family, which consists of his wife, Jiffy, and three children, Colt, Beau and Tempie. And, most difficult for Bakich, it meant bidding adieu to players whom he’d formed the deepest relationships with over the years.
Before taking the Michigan job in 2013, Bakich hadn’t coached anywhere longer than seven years. His first head coaching job at Maryland lasted just three seasons before Michigan came calling.
“That’s the hardest part of leaving is the players that you are leaving and the relationships that you have,” Bakich said.
It’s important for the relationships he has with his former players to continue, something Bakich said he made clear when he broke the news to his team of his decision to take the Clemson job.
“I told them I loved them, and the one thing I told them is relationships transcend geography and location,” Bakich said. “Just because I’m in a different state and maybe wearing a different logo, it doesn’t mean I love them any less and I won’t continue to be in their lives. I’ll always be a coach and a mentor to them, and just because I’m not there doesn’t mean that I’m not with them or not speaking to them or not involved with them. I told them all that I hope to be at all their weddings some day and continue to maintain a very strong relationship.”
Some of those relationships will continue at Clemson. Bakich is bringing his top assistant, Nick Schnabel, with him from Michigan. Infielder Riley Bertram, who started all 62 games for the Wolverines this season, also announced this week his intention to transfer to Clemson.