Tuesday, November 13, 2012

SxSE: Coach Ray Tanner's Chad Holbrook's South Carolina Gamecocks

Ray Tanner has been the head baseball coach at USC since 1997, making him the longest tenured coach in the SEC.  Or he was, until Tim Jamieson arrived, who has been at Missouri since 1995.  And before he left the job to take the job of Athletic Director at South Carolina.

He turned the head coaching job over to his chief assistant, Chad Holbrook.

The Guy After the Guy (Gamecock Central)
There won't be a change from how the Gamecocks have approached the game. It was Holbrook's style since he arrived that changed USC into its present incarnation - aggressive at the plate, relying more on speed and bunting than in years past, plus powerful pitching. He recruited the bulk of the team, if not all of it, and it will be fully his team that takes the field in 2013.

But now comes the hard part. As good as Holbrook has been and as positive a situation as it is to walk into, Holbrook now becomes "The Guy."

As in, "The Guy who has to follow THE GUY."
. . .
Holbrook will lose some games. Eventually, there will come a year when USC doesn't make it to Omaha. The fans will have to decide the line for what's acceptable (to them) and what becomes, "Well, RAY never would have … "

Holbrook knows all of it. He also knows that he faces double the pressure, because not only did the guy ahead of him do something that had never been done at USC before in any sport - i.e., be a consistent national power - but the same guy is still around. And is Holbrook's boss, which isn't unfamiliar, but now he's also the boss of the entire athletic department.

The X's and O's of the job seem to have already been answered. Holbrook's stamp is on the program. What he has to try and replicate is Tanner's uncanny knack of making the right moves, as unexpected as they may seem to be. The intuition Tanner showed often bordered on the supernatural and if he didn't become AD, I would have suggested that he go start picking winners down at the track.

Chad Holbrook takes over South Carolina baseball program after Ray Tanner becomes athletic director (Post and Courier)
Ray Tanner, interested in becoming an athletic director, frequently engaged former South Carolina AD Eric Hyman in chats about multi-task administration. Chad Holbrook, one of the top recruiters in college baseball and a big part of the Gamecocks’ back-to-back national titles, was groomed to take over for Tanner as head coach.
. . .
Holbrook was Tanner’s top assistant coach the last four seasons. In the same capacity at North Carolina, Holbrook helped the Tar Heels reach the College World Series three years in a row, 2006-2008.

His latest recruiting success was a cast of newcomers who contributed heavily to South Carolina’s 2012 return to Omaha, Neb. The group includes Joey Pankake, Grayson Greiner, Jordan Montgomery, Evan Beal, LB Dantzler, Tanner English, Chase Vergason, Conner Bright, Kyle Martin and TJ Costen.

Chad Holbrook's USC Bio (gamecocksonline.com)
Holbrook came to the Gamecock program in July of 2008 after serving 15 seasons as a member of the University of North Carolina coaching staff. Holbrook was recently honored as the 2011 ABCA/Baseball America Assistant Coach of the Year.

A tremendous evaluator of talent, Holbrook recently was named the No. 10 best recruiter in all of college sports by ESPNU & ESPN The Magazine in the publication's 2011 January edition. The list was put together in conjunction with three-dozen experts who were asked the question: Who are the top 20 recruiters in college sports? Holbrook is the only baseball coach on the list.

Q&A on Gamecock Baseball with Chad Holbrook (gamecocksonline.com)
With the new bats we try to keep the ball out of the air as much as we can. We've hit way too many fly balls. In the past you could get away with it with the older bats but now you can't. Those fly balls just aren't getting out of the park. So we have to focus a little more on staying on top of the ball, hitting line drives and ground balls and putting pressure on the defense. If we do those things our batting average will go up and we'll be a bit tougher to defend. At times we've been pretty easy to defend with hitting balls in the air.
South Carolina Baseball: Max Schrock, Ryan Ripken and Kwinton Smith don't sign; will enroll at USC (lifeofagamecock.com)
Chad Holbrook is a happy man these days.

He's about to be named the head baseball coach of a two-time national championship team and got good news Friday when several signees skipped signing MLB contracts and will enroll in school.

Max Schrock, Ryan Ripken and Kwinton Smith all decided not to sign contracts with the MLB teams that drafted them and will enroll at South Carolina in the fall.
. . .
This is another step in the right direction for the Gamecocks as they are about to embark under new leadership at the helm of Chad Holbrook. These three players, along with many others, will be challenged to continue the winning ways of Carolina baseball.
Holbrook has history as top recruiter (The Times and Democrat)
Holbrook’s offensive prowess has made an immediate impact on the South Carolina baseball program in his first four seasons. His guidance was instrumental in helping the Gamecocks to back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011 at the College World Series as well as a national runner-up finish in 2012.
. . .
Holbrook played a key role in 2011 MLB supplemental draft selection Jackie Bradley Jr.’s Gamecock career. In 2010 Bradley was a 2010 All-SEC selection and College World Series Most Outstanding Player. That season, Holbrook helped to oversee an offense that peaked in the postseason with a .309 batting average in 12 postseason contests. Evan Marzilli was the team’s top postseason hitter with a .419 average (18-for-43) with Walker right behind him at .389 (21-for-54) and Bradley hitting .348 with four HR and 17 RBI. Carolina finished the season with a .300 team batting average as well as a .392 on-base percentage. The squad’s 734 hits were second highest in the conference with the team also tallying 298 walks, 14th highest in the country.
. . .
As recruiting coordinator for the North Carolina program, Holbrook put together consecutive top 10 recruiting classes seasons that helped the Tar Heels in making three consecutive College World Series appearances. From 2006-2008, North Carolina led the nation in wins with 54 in 2006, 57 in 2007 and 54 in 2008. PG Cross Checker ranked his last UNC recruiting class No. 3 in the nation. Holbrook’s 2007 class ranked fourth in the nation by Baseball America with his 2006 class selected eighth in the country. Baseball America also ranked his 2004 class 11th in the nation with the publication naming the Tar Heels recruiting class of 2003 as the No. 1 group in the country. That 2003 class also tied for first in Collegiate Baseball’s recruiting rankings with South Carolina.

♦ Recruiting footprint:  Based on recent recruiting classes, Tanner and his coaches have tended to recruit heavily from South Carolina, and also Florida, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, and random recruits from NJ, NV, RI and PA.

This will likely not change much, since Chad Holbrook has been the chief recruiter for the Gamecocks for some time.

Two-minute drill with new South Carolina Gamecocks head baseball coach Chad Holbrook (Post and Courier)
How do you differ with Ray Tanner strategically?

“We are going to work really hard at some things with our hitters where maybe we didn’t do quite as good a job as we could have this last year. We want them to use the whole field and have a great two-strike approach, but Coach Tanner believes in those things as well. As far as managing the game, I like to hit-and-run and like to put pressure on the defense, but Coach Tanner does too.

And bunting?

“People say I brought the short game to Columbia. Well, the year before I got here I think Coach Tanner’s team led the SEC in sacrifice bunts.”

What will be your main focus, recruiting-wise?

“I just know we better have a strong pitching staff. If the other team doesn’t score, you don’t need as many runs to win.”

@cholbrook2, Chad Holbrook on Twitter

The way Ray Tanner did it:

Gamecocks flavor of the new times? (omaha.com)
The thread that binds them is motivation. Tanner preaches confidence, tenacity and resilience. Sound like any of those LSU teams that won two CWS crowns in the bottom of the ninth? 
“He (Bertman) was a tremendous influence on me,'' Tanner said. “Number one, Coach Bertman was a great motivator. He spent as much time (in 1996) motivating me as a coach as he did telling a guy how to throw a slider or how to hit. 
“There is adversity. It's a game of failure. A lot of things go wrong in baseball. The numbers are against you, really. You have to respect that. If you can get 27 outs, you still got a crack. That's the mentality we have when we get down. It doesn't always work out, but if you have that mind-set, you chances are better.'' 
Indeed, when the Gamecocks are down late, it's like a light comes on. They lost their pitching rotation from last year. They lost Jackie Bradley Jr. for a while. And here they are. 
“These guys have been able to survive,'' Tanner said. “One of the things we have in our program is ‘Win anyway.' There may be a negative comment or some adversity. That's when we say ‘Win anyway.'' It's 42 degrees and the wind's blowing out. Win anyway. 
“Never let a game go away. I've been criticized for pitching Matt Price in a certain situation, maybe the seventh. The mentality is, we're going to try and win it here. The ninth might not be when you win it.''
Tanner plays head games against Vandy (Gamecock Central)
The lineup came out, causing head-scratching and frantic checks to see if it was indeed accurate. It was.

Colby Holmes, junior right-hander who has never had a collegiate at-bat, was batting seventh at designated hitter for No. 7 South Carolina's first SEC tournament game on Wednesday.

As it turned out, the only bat Holmes picked up and swung was for his cuts in the on-deck circle. Once his actual turn at the plate came up, he went back to the dugout in favor of Kyle Martin.

It was a bit of a psychological effect for the Commodores. By placing a DH who obviously wasn't going to actually hit, coach Ray Tanner controlled a bit of the strategy that Vanderbilt could throw at him. He made it a situational spot - if the Gamecocks needed a bunt, they could put in their best bunter off the bench. If they had a chance to score with a long fly ball, they could go with a slugger. They could go right or left.

Vanderbilt did the same, putting pitcher Drew VerHagen in the starting DH spot before lifting him for Chris Harvey. The Commodores also did it in their opening game on Tuesday.

"I saw coach (Tim) Corbin (Tuesday) night, and I hadn't seen that before," Tanner said. "I had seen that some on the West Coast and said, 'You know what, that's a good play.' I took that out of coach Corbin's book."

The move paid off.

Martin beat out an infield nubber for a single in the second inning and moved to second when Chase Vergason was hit by a pitch. He scored when Tanner English laced a two-run single to left.
Casey, Ray and hunches (StateUniversity.com)
The great Connie Mack once said of legendary New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel that he had never seen a man “who juggled his lineup so much and who played so many hunches so successfully.”

If the winningest manager in big league history was still stalking dugouts today in his trademark straw hat, he could say the same words about South Carolina coach Ray Tanner.
. . .
“I don’t think anybody could have managed our club like Casey did,” Don Larsen once said about his old manager, who also happened to be the same guy who gave Larsen, on a hunch, the ball in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series after he had blown a 6-0 lead in Game 2, being rewarded with the only perfect game in postseason history that day.

“He made what some people call stupid moves, but about eight or nine out of ten of them worked.”

For Tanner, it’s been more like ten out of ten have worked over these past few weeks. His hot streak has been a refreshing one, if for nothing more because it proves that it’s still possible in this day and age to win the old-school way rather than the nouveau riche “Moneyball” way.

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