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July 16, 2012

Holbrook named baseball coach

Chad Holbrook has his plan in place.

"I'm going to wear a bracelet next year, reading 'WWRD,'" he said. "'What would Ray do?'"

A 19-year dream came true on Monday as Holbrook officially took the reins of South Carolina's baseball program, an expected move after predecessor Ray Tanner resigned in order to become the school's athletic director. Brought in to someday take the job and after turning down some other opportunities, Holbrook finally stood at the podium and accepted his first head coaching job.

Regarded as one of the top assistants (if not the best recruiter) in the game, Holbrook said that he plans to keep his same approach to keep the Gamecocks at the top of the college baseball world. He also knows the immense pressure facing him as he replaces Tanner, a 16-year veteran who won 738 games, went to six College World Series and won two of them.

That led to the initial joke, and then a serious follow.

"I'm not up here to try to replace Ray Tanner," Holbrook said. "I can't. No one can. I'm just trying to be the best Chad Holbrook that I can be."

Holbrook takes his first head coaching position after 19 years of being an assistant at North Carolina and USC, the last four with the Gamecocks. Instrumental in recruiting the players that have helped make up a program that has played for three straight national championships, Holbrook has often been a candidate for other head coaching jobs but elected to stay with the Gamecocks.

The promotion had been whispered about since Eric Hyman resigned on June 29, and once the wheels to get Tanner in as AD began to spin, Holbrook prepared for the next step in his coaching career.

Long labeled "a head coach who hasn't been a head coach," Holbrook takes over a team at the pinnacle of the sport. While only a handful of players who were on the last three USC teams still remain, Holbrook's recruiting prowess has stocked the Gamecocks with consistent Top 25 classes, with several players in his most recent class (ranked No. 1 by one publication) making significant contributions during the 2012 season.

Holbrook's contract hasn't been finalized, but will be the next time the Board of Trustees meets (Aug. 3). It is expected to be in the realm of five years and $500,000 per year.

A 1994 graduate of UNC, Holbrook is the son of Eddie Holbrook, a former men's basketball coach at Gardner-Webb and Furman who attended Monday's ceremony. A self-described country boy from Shelby, N.C., Holbrook immediately became a graduate assistant coach with the Tar Heels after graduation and was promoted to full-time assistant coach before the 1995 season.

In charge of the Heels' hitting and recruiting, Holbrook helped put together teams that went to four straight College World Series from 2006-09 and had national runner-up finishes in 2006 and 2007. He left for USC before the 2009 season, but the Tar Heels still advanced to Omaha; UNC met Holbrook again at the 2011 College World Series.

Holbrook has coached in six of the past seven College World Series, with two national championships and three runner-up finishes. He becomes the 32nd coach in USC history, but just the fourth since 1970.

Holbrook told another story, about how as a young assistant at UNC in 1996, he came to Columbia and snuck into Tanner's introductory press conference. At the end of it, the young coach approached Tanner and handed him a note, reading, "It's my hope and my dream to be able to work for you."

Tanner still has the note. Four years ago, he made it a reality by hiring Holbrook.

"The time is now for me to take off the uniform and let the next person continue what coach (Bobby) Richardson and coach (June) Raines started," Tanner said. "He will successfully lead our Gamecocks for years to come."

Holbrook said that he will let Tanner's uniform No. 1 remain vacant while he continues to wear No. 2, and may or may not resume his third-base coaching duties. His staff will remain unchanged, with a couple of title switches - Jerry Meyers will be associate head coach instead of assistant head coach, while volunteer assistant Sammy Esposito will be a full-time (salaried) assistant coach.

Esposito's former role will be filled before fall practice, with former USC great and student assistant coach Brian Buscher expected to be named. Student assistant coach Drew Meyer will return in 2013 as he finishes his undergraduate degree.

Holbrook again stated that he could never hope to be Tanner, and that he would only try to be himself. But he did vow that nothing with the program would change.

"It's an honor that a legend asked me to replace him," Holbrook said. "I can't fill his shoes. I can't measure up to coach Tanner. But I wanted to coach at a place where expectations were high.

"We will not sit back on our laurels. We will not sit back on our past. I'm going to do the best I can."

Sign up for the Gamecock Central Charity Golf Tournament and Weekend Bash in September supporting the Reece Holbrook Win Anyway Foundation!

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