Clemson University

Clemson hands baseball keys to Lee

Monte Lee provided Clemson the change athletics director Dan Radakovich wanted in the baseball program.

Lee was handed the keys to one of the nation’s most successful college baseball programs, which would seem to be tailor-made for an ambitious 38-year-old South Carolina native. And while he’ll be driving the same car Jack Leggett steered for 22 seasons, one with a sleek new paint job, Lee will have to to look under the hood to recognize the work he faces.

Talent fuels a program, and for several seasons Leggett struggled to accumulate the depth that helped Clemson reach the College World Series six times in his first 17 seasons. Changes in NCAA scholarship and recruiting rules to assist in the game’s competitive balance and Clemson’s inability to keep pace with schools that supplement financial assistance and tap a broader pool of talent created a hardship.

A native of Spartanburg and a former player at Charleston, Lee’s teams won 276 games in seven seasons at Charleston, including a 45-14 record in 2015. Four of Lee’s teams, including the past two, appeared in the NCAA Tournament.

Lee joined the Cougars after six seasons as an assistant at South Carolina under coach Ray Tanner, the last as recruiting coordinator. While at USC, the Gamecocks had a 266-130 record, made six NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the College World Series.

“Monte is a gifted coach whose track record of success is a testament to his energy, coaching acumen and commitment to student-athletes,” Radakovich said Thursday in a release. A planned press conference was postponed in the aftermath of the fatal shootings in Charleston.

“I am confident that his leadership will create renewed momentum and optimism for Clemson baseball,” Radakovich said. “The relationships he’s created through a lifetime of baseball in our state, along with his proven successes, make him the right fit for our program, and we’re excited to welcome him to the Clemson family.”

Lee was chosen after a search that included interviews with several college head coaches and at least three former Clemson players with extensive pro experience.

Details of the agreement were unavailable. Lee’s contract at Charleston paid him $193,000 annually. Leggett’s contract, signed in 2011, was worth more than $400,000 annually. With a year remaining on the agreement, Leggett will receive $200,000.

Despite the acrimony enshrouding his departure, Leggett was popular with a substantial segment of Clemson baseball faithful who contributed millions to make Doug Kingsmore Stadium one of the finest parks in the college game. A renovation of the baseball operational facilities, including the clubhouse, training area and offices, should be completed for Lee’s first season, a project that Leggett shepherded. He even handpicked the furniture.

Lee’s staff might include retaining a link to the Leggett era. Clemson’s release did not mention Lee’s staff; however reported that Leggett’s top assistant, Bradley LeCroy, will be retained.

LeCroy was the recruiting coordinator and hitting coach. LeCroy had signed one of the nation’s top recruiting classes for this year. However, at least two players were likely to sign pro contracts and there was some discontent among others over the coaching change.

One of Lee’s perceived strengths was his connection with the state’s high school coaches. LeCroy also connected with state coaches, as evidenced by the 16 state players on this year’s Clemson roster. Charleston had 18.

Lee’s challenges for next season include replacing the weekend pitching rotation and two of the team’s best hitters.

On May 7, 2012, Charleston defeated Clemson 4-2 at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, the program’s first win over the Tigers.

“My family and I couldn’t be more excited to join the Clemson family,” Lee said in the release. “I’m ready to get to work and begin our journey toward bringing a national championship to Clemson.

“We’re building on a strong foundation, and our goals are attainable. We will work together, alongside our student-athletes, fans and alumni to reach our new heights.”

Lee graduated in 1995 from Lugoff-Elgin High, where he played football and baseball.