Holbrook begins 2nd season at helm of South Carolina baseball
This time last year, South Carolina head baseball coach Chad Holbrook could go into town with relative certainty that he wouldn’t be stopped by a random passerby.
But after taking the Gamecocks one game shy of the College World Series in his first year at the helm of the program, it’s safe to label Holbrook a local celebrity in Columbia.
“It’s a shame that a title kind of makes you a little bit more visible in the community based on who you are,” Holbrook said. “But that’s one of the neat things about coaching at South Carolina. A lot of people care about this program.”
Across the community and the state, the second-year head coach has been embraced by Gamecock fans as evidenced by his roughly 18,400 followers on Twitter. And although he has only been the head man for a season, the two National Championship rings and one for an SEC title that are prominently displayed on his Twitter profile remind fans that he’s certainly not new to the program.
After playing baseball at the University of North Carolina, Holbrook transitioned right into coaching upon graduation in 1994. He was a member of the Tar Heel staff for 14 years before former South Carolina head coach and current Athletics Director Ray Tanner brought him to Columbia in 2009.
Serving as associate head coach from his hiring five years ago to his promotion last season, Holbrook said he picked up more than a few tricks of the coaching trade from Tanner — a living legend in South Carolina.
“I’m my own man. I have to do what I think is right. I can’t make a decision based on what Coach Tanner would do,” Holbrook said. “However, I tried to soak every single thing in. I was a sponge around him for five years. I know that many of my decisions — important decisions — I go a certain way because I’ve been molded and taught by coach Tanner.”
While Tanner has garnered unwavering respect from Gamecock fans after leading the program to back-to-back National Titles in 2010 and 2011, Holbrook is off to a comparatively better start to his head coaching career at South Carolina.
In 2013, he led the Gamecocks to a 43-20 record, a second-place finish in the SEC’s eastern division and a berth in the NCAA Super Regionals. After Tanner took over the program in 1997, it wasn’t until three years later, in 2000, that his team advanced to a Super Regional appearance.
When Holbrook was pegged as Tanner’s replacement before last year, it led some to question the decision to select an inside-hire to take over one of the nation’s most prominent college baseball programs. But the familiarity of a man that’s been around for the last five years has South Carolina players behind their second-year head coach 100 percent.
“[Last year] was his first year. We were all kind of wound up, I guess. But this year we’ve all kind of settled down, settled in,” junior third baseman Joey Pankake said. “He’s been a really good coach since day-one. He’s had our backs, and we play hard for him.”
Pankake is part of a talent pool that Holbrook said is comparable to some of the best teams he’s been a part of with South Carolina. But — as the question always goes in college baseball — will the talent be able to mesh in order for the Gamecocks to achieve their postseason aspirations?
The departures of stars such as first baseman L.B. Dantzler and closing pitcher Tyler Webb have left glaring holes in South Carolina’s roster, and it will be Holbrook’s job to put the pieces that he has in the right places.
“We’ve got a lot of questions that we have to answer, a lot of concerns,” Holbrook said. “From a talent and ability standpoint, it stacks right up there. But that’s not ultimately what determines what type of year you’re going to have.”
This past Saturday was presumably Holbrook’s first opening day in five years where the majority of Gamecock baseball fans can look down at dugout and recognize the five-foot-something frame standing on the top step.
And with a full year under his belt and a measure of postseason success already to his name, Holbrook is one obvious choice for the face of the baseball program. But he learned from the best when it comes to deflecting attention, taking a page out of Tanner’s book and shifting the focus to anyone but himself.
“I don’t really look at it as my program, and I don’t think I ever will,” Holbrook said. “This program has been and will always be about our players, and we’re going to try to coach them as best we can and put them in a position to be successful.”