Before Monday’s official introduction, Monte Lee had already been hard at work since being named the Clemson head coach last Thursday.
He said his days start at 7 a.m. and typically end around 1 a.m. Lee has constantly stayed on the phone to reach out to returning Tigers, incoming players and recruits.
“It’s a humbling experience to be a part of this program and be the head coach, leading this program into the future,” Lee said Monday. “Just extremely exciting and ready to hit the ground running, most importantly in recruiting.”
Lee has also worked “tirelessly” to fill out his coaching staff. Bradley LeCroy, who worked as an assistant under former coach Jack Leggett, is being retained. Lee wanted to bring Charleston pitching coach Matt Heath with him, but Heath is tabbed to replace Lee with the Cougars. Lee said he’s narrowed down a list of candidates, including UNC Wilmington pitching coach and former Spartanburg Methodist College assistant Matt Williams, and hopes to hire one in a few days because of the “sense of urgency” with recruiting.
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That’s where it all starts for Lee, 38, a Spartanburg native who puts an emphasis on keeping South Carolina talent in-state.
“We will recruit this state inside and out,” he said. “But we will also recruit nationally. We will go to all parts of this country to recruit the best and brightest student athletes that we find because the Clemson brand is nationwide.”
The same day as the start of the national championship series, the replacement for Leggett, who was fired June 4 after leading the program for 22 seasons, isn’t wasting any time working to get the Tigers back to where Lee believes they should be: Omaha, Neb.
“I understand the expectations of Clemson and I embrace those expectations,” said Lee, who led the Cougars to a 276-145 record and four NCAA tourney appearances in seven seasons. “This is a program that can compete at the national level.
“We’re going to try our best to do everything in our power to get to the College World Series and win a national championship. And you can do it from Clemson.”
That’s a major reason why Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich lured Lee away from College of Charleston, Lee’s alma mater and a strong mid-major program. The “relationship-oriented coach” said the hardest part of leaving a “special place” was telling his former players goodbye.
“Relationships are more important to me than anything, especially with my players,” Lee said. “One thing that I can promise you is I’m going to have tremendous relationships with my staff, with the people that work here at Clemson, with the fan base here at Clemson and my players, because without them I have nothing.”
That’s just one of the many areas of emphasis that led Radakovich to Lee.
“We wanted someone who would infuse energy and optimism into the program, create new momentum and build upon the great foundation of Clemson baseball, someone who could fit into our community, understands what our program is all about and welcomes the expectations that we have for our program,” Radakovich said Monday. “I know Monte fills every one of the criteria we were looking for in a head coach.”
Plenty of people showed up to hear what the new guy had to say, including Clemson administrators and several current and incoming players.
Lee said his teams would play hard, fast and loose. He wants his players to “enjoy gameday” and embrace the hard work and preparation it takes to play at Clemson.
“I’m super excited,” junior first baseman and B-HP product Andrew Cox said. “One of the reasons I came today is I’ve never dealt with a coaching change in my time, but I just wanted him to know from the go that he’s got my 100 percent support. I can’t wait to start.”
It’s an energy Lee wants everyone associated with the program to feel with him at the helm.
“Clemson is the tradition of this program and the consistency of this program,” Lee said. “Our fan base that comes to support our programs here at Clemson is second to none. And when you look at Doug Kingsmore Stadium – and I’ve been here many times – it’s as rabid a fan base as there is in all of college baseball. We really appreciate their support moving forward. The tradition of Clemson is second to none.”
Follow Brad Senkiw on Twitter @bsenkiwaim