Last night’s 6-3 loss to Georgia was a string of frustrating losses for South Carolina baseball. A preseason top five team and a club that was projected to make it back to Omaha could potentially (depending on who you ask) miss out on regionals altogether for the second time in three seasons.
A couple of years back, Sam wrote a piece here on GABA warning people against drawing too many parallels between Chad Holbrook and his boss/predecessor, Ray Tanner. He highlighted the fact that Tanner missed regionals in his third year; it would be the last time he would do so in his tenure as the team would go on to ten Super Regionals, six CWS appearances, and two titles (with two runner-up finishes). By that logic, Holbrook was destined for glory himself after missing the postseason in year three - and Sam’s point was that such an argument was flawed:
[I]t's time to stop acting like the spot USC baseball is in is okay. I think Holbrook had unfair expectations when he started, but I don't think any rational fan expects us to win a national title every year. I'll grant that the 2010-2012 baseball seasons are the golden years of Carolina athletics, and those types of years only happen occasionally. However, reaching the Super Regionals at the very least, and occasionally only making the regionals, regularly is not an absurd standard to have. Achieving this will put our team in position to compete for championships. But completely missing the postseason, 3 years removed from a runner up finish, is completely unacceptable.
Turns out Sam completely nailed it. Now, despite a Super Regional finish last year, they could be in danger of missing out again. Is that enough to seal Holbrook’s fate? Here’s what our team thinks.
Sydney: Let’s get one thing out of the way first: South Carolina missing regionals is unacceptable for this program, like Same wrote a couple of years ago. Missing it twice in three years? That’s when serious concerns need to be raised. One thing that I’m keeping in mind as we get to the close of this season is that Chad Holbrook will enter the second-to-last year of his contract in 2018. I seriously doubt that he’ll get an extension after this year because he hasn’t done enough to earn it; bear in mind, too, that eating one year of a contract is a lot less expensive than eating two years.
That being said, does Ray Tanner want to roll the dice in hopes of improving fortunes in 2018 (therefore justifying a Holbrook extension) or pull the trigger right now at what would still be a minimum cost of about $800,000 for the final two years of Holbrook’s contract? (He had an interesting non-answer when Sapakoff asked him about it in the P&C.) I feel if (IF) they sneak in, then you bring him back in 2018. If they miss (which, at this rate, might come down to their performance in Hoover...gulp), then it’s time to cut him loose. Whatever Tanner decides, the fanbase has grown restless, and bringing Holbrook back barring a deep NCAA run could mean the loss of even more goodwill - is Tanner prepared to take that chance, though, at the cost of another average season? Time will tell.
Kaci: This season has been rough and there’s a decent chance that it’s going to end without an NCAA Tournament appearance for the Gamecocks.** There’s a lot that went wrong to bring Carolina to the edge of missing the postseason, but at the end of the day this team is Holbrook’s responsibility. It’s his job to have the players that South Carolina needs and to put them in a position to succeed by preparing them, choosing who plays and making good decisions in games. I think he’s done well with the first part because, despite massively underachieving, the Gamecocks have a talented roster. I don’t think he’s been able to do the second part. I’m still hesitant to actually say I want him fired because I really don’t like calling for someone to lose their job and I want him to be able to turn things around. That said, if USC misses the postseason this year it’s sure going to look like 2016 was more of an outlier than 2015. Missing the postseason twice in three years would be a horrifying drop off for a program that’s only a few years removed from back to back championships. If it happens, something has to change. If that something is a coaching change then fine. If there’s a solution that’s not a coaching change, that’s great. But something has to be done because South Carolina’s problems are not going to just correct themselves and the current state of things is unacceptable.
(**Please note that as an optimist, I believe that the Gamecocks can slip into the tournament and win a few games. If that happens there are still big questions for Holbrook to answer next season, but I think he’ll be back to answer them)
Stephen: In the case that South Carolina misses regionals (not likely, given their RPI of 32,) Holbrook should be gone. I believe that he will be back next season if and when they make regionals, even if they don’t win a game. However, I think that if another subpar year follows, he will be dismissed from the program. The injuries are being cited as a major issue for the lack of success, but every team suffers injuries and in that case it is the coach’s job to scheme around them and win games. At times, most times actually, I think that Holbrook is just managing the team and the talent they have instead of coaching them. I feel like if South Carolina could lure a coach that would do more than manage, that would scheme to win games, they would be in the title conversation every year. South Carolina began the season as the fifth-ranked team in the country. Now they sport a 12-16 record in the SEC and are barely clinging to a four seed in a regional. I don’t recognize this team as the one that won two championships just six years ago. Holbrook should be gone, but it will be another season before we see this actually happen.
Chris: First and foremost, making the CWS Final three years in a row can easily over-inflate the expectations of any fanbase. Hell, just ask Frank Martin how irrational the Gamecock fan base can become over the course of a month. However, a program as well funded as South Carolina’s -- plus the prestige that carries the name -- should expect to make a super regional every season. Tanner went to 10 in 16 seasons, Holbrook has been to two in four seasons and probably looking down the barrel of two in five. Considering sample size, those ratios really aren’t far off. However, I’m with Sydney. Let Holbrook finish out his contract then make a decision. This season has been weird with the pitching injuries and the bullpen imploding on itself -- so I don’t think it’s fair to pin all of 2017’s troubles on Holbrook. That being said, if South Carolina can’t get back to super regional status the next two seasons -- Holbrook needs to take the fall.
Alex: In general, I’m not a fan of reactionary firings. They hurt recruiting and force teams to make a quick hire, not necessarily the right one. I understand that the accountability for a program’s success or failure lies on the head coach’s shoulders, but I don’t think it’s as simple as, “if USC misses regionals, Holbrook should be fired.” Let’s not forget that this team is a few walk-off home runs away from being one of the top contenders in the SEC.
Having said that, if Ray Tanner believes there is a candidate that can take the program to the next level, then there is absolutely a conversation to be had regardless of if the team makes regionals. There’s no arguing that Holbrook’s teams have not played to the level of their roster talent, which is consistently loaded with future MLB draft picks. At the very least, the clock has started ticking. Tanner and Holbrook are known to be close, but you have got to think the pressure is on for Holbrook to succeed in 2018.