Valencia Abraham / The Daily Gamecock

Kingston to fans: "We want Omaha as much as you do"

Any questions of dedication and love of the game were put to rest Friday as head baseball coach Mark Kingston was introduced to Carolina fans by athletic director Ray Tanner at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Kingston's hiring by Carolina came just a day after reports began to circulate that the South Florida head coach would take the open position for the Gamecocks in 2018. Kingston has a career record of 273-180-1 in his eight seasons as a head coach at Illinois State (2010-14) and USF (2015-17) and led the Bulls to an NCAA Regional appearance earlier this month. The Board of Trustees approved his six-year contract Friday morning.

Tanner took the time to introduce Kingston's wife, son and two daughters to a packed room before providing a glowing introduction of the two-time Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year and one-time New York Yankees draft pick to Gamecock Nation.

"When you talk about the world of intercollegiate athletics today," Tanner said, "and what it means to be a student-athlete, I'm not sure that I've ever visited with a coach that understands the culture as well as Coach Kingston does." 

After taking the podium, Kingston thanked Tanner and USC President Pastides for the opportunity to lead the Carolina baseball program. Kingston took time early in his speech to address the concerns of alumni, mentioning that he received a text message Friday morning from former Gamecock pitcher Whit Merrifield, now of the Kansas City Royals.

"The alumni built this program," Kingston said, "and we will work very hard to protect what this program is all about. And you will always be welcome." 

Kingston also went into a detail on a recent conference call with returning Gamecock baseball players.

"The first thing I told them was 'prepare to work,'" Kingston said. "We will get there, we will reach our potential, because we work." 

Kingston stated he has three goals in mind for Gamecock recruits to accomplish in their time at Carolina: to "graduate, play in Omaha, and become a professional prospect" after leaving the program. 

The latter goal will be placed firmly in the minds of Carolina fans come next February. After capturing back-to-back national championships to begin the decade, the Gamecocks have not seen action in Omaha since their runner-up finish to the Arizona Wildcats in 2012 and did not reach the NCAA Tournament two of the past three seasons. Kingston assured fans Friday that their goals are his own.

"We want Omaha as much as you do," Kingston said. "Eight teams get there every year, but we can work every day and make sure that's our focus." 

Kingston has been to Omaha three times in his baseball career, as a player for North Carolina in 1989 and as an assistant coach with Miami in 2001 and Tulane in 2005. Kingston's Hurricanes captured the national championship in 2001, finishing the year with a 53-12 record. 

When asked how he expects to deal with the high expectations of Carolina baseball fans going into next season, Kingston was brief in his response.

"Win," Kingston said. "Put everything in place so that you're successful and win." 

Following the press conference, Tanner was asked if he was reminded of his younger self when observing Kingston. Like Kingston, Tanner's response was calculated and confident. 

"Had I been a candidate at the same time he was, I probably wouldn't have been the guy that got selected," Tanner said.

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