Clemson baseball's 'inside-out' plan to regain competitive edge

Clemson baseball's 'inside-out' plan to regain competitive edge

Baseball

Clemson baseball's 'inside-out' plan to regain competitive edge

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Clemson athletic director Graham Neff followed through on his promise to “invest big” in the Tigers’ next baseball coach when he recently hired Erik Bakich, doubling the former Michigan coach’s salary in the process.

Bakich, who spent a decade at Michigan and led the Wolverines to a national runner-up finish in 2019, is the highest-paid baseball coach Clemson has ever had. He will make $850,000 in the first year of a six-year contract that will see his total compensation increase to $1.1 million by the end of it.

Clemson is also in line to spend a good chuck of change on the rest of the staff. In addition to bringing with him his top assistant, Nick Schnabel, Bakich has hired one of the ACC’s top pitching coaches, former Florida State assistant Jimmy Belanger, in the same capacity with the Tigers.

But Neff acknowledged investing in coaches is just one part of the equation when it comes to making Clemson competitive in the league again.

“We’ve talked a lot about being a top-15 program and that commitment starts here, but it’s much more than that,” Neff said during Bakich’s introductory press conference last week.

Clemson’s program fell off during the latter part of Monte Lee’s tenure, finishing 10th and 11th in the ACC standings the last two seasons and missing out on consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time since the 1980s. But it’s not just on the field where the Tigers are competing against their opponents.

Like many programs, Clemson is trying to find ways to level the playing field in a sport where each team has just 11.7 scholarships to divvy up among 27 players each year. Some schools are able to mitigate that in recruiting by dipping into their university endowments.

Asked if there are any plans at Clemson from a facility and infrastructure standpoint to help the Tigers keep up, Neff said it’s a topic he discussed with Bakich during the interview process.

“Through the get-to-know and the search process, particularly with Coach, you can tell (he is) very cerebral, very program-management oriented and very curious,” Neff said. “So we talked a lot about 11.7 stretchers and the intentionality that we have administratively with (financial) aid and how we can help with the new Alston dollars that are available and some of the other summer-schools investment things like that just to help those things because all of those little things matter.

“That’s our job administratively. Infrastructure, aid helps and then what that looks like for staff. It starts with people, so all those things matter. Those have all been baked within our review and discussions with Coach Bakich and him back to us as he’s evaluating our commitment. It’s easy to say when we talk about (being a) top 15 (program), but that means so much more. And we’re committed to that inside-out.”

As for facilities, Neff revealed one new project that’s in the works.

“We’ve recently upgraded our indoor hitting cages, and we have designs for a baseball/softball indoor practice facility essentially,” he said. “That’s just very preliminary, but that’s the next big project in how it would support both of those programs and other programs.”

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