COLUMBIA -- It’s not unusual for a head coach and athletic director to meet once that coach’s season is officially over, but most athletic directors aren’t a two-time national championship-winning baseball coach.
That’s what Ray Tanner is to Mark Kingston, the current Gamecock baseball coach. So when the two met to discuss the team’s rough 2019 season, Tanner understood some of the circumstances facing the second-year head coach.
But after the two met soon after the season ended, Tanner left with optimism about the program.
“His expectations are certainly the same as ours that you make it to the postseason. He had a really great run in non-conference play with 20 wins with victories over N.C. State and North Carolina, winning the Clemson series,” he said. “It’s just very difficult for him in the SEC with injuries to the pitching staff and the challenges he had there. I’m certainly optimistic as we move forward. He’s very disappointed he’s not in the postseason. That’s for sure.”
The Gamecocks finished with their worst record in SEC play (8-22) since joining the league in 1992 but went 20-6 in non-conference play with wins over NCAA Tournament teams N.C. State and North Carolina and ended a four-year series losing streak to Clemson.
After a rough season, Kingston was able to sell the future vision of the program but also get some input from one of the best college baseball coaches over the last decade.
“He’s a resource," Kingston said. "Throughout this process, he was a sounding board. We had a productive meeting yesterday about his ideas, my ideas moving forward. He’s a very good resource and very supportive.”
Once they hit SEC play they struggled, starting similar as last year at 1-5 but couldn’t get over the hump with injuries and offensive inconsistencies taking their toll.
They lost three pitchers — Logan Chapman, Graham Lawson and Julian Bosnic -- to Tommy John surgery before the season started and five other pitchers had season-ending injuries at some point this year, including Friday night starter Carmen Mlodzinski three starts into his year.
The offense struggled as well, with the Gamecocks finishing hitting .236/.333/.427 and averaging 5.5 runs per game. In SEC play, they slashed .208/.302/.357 and averaged 4.1 runs per game.
That’s led Kingston, who’s now entering his third season, to continue evaluating how he runs his program and what could be done better.
“You evaluate everything. You look at everything, the whys, and what causes it. You’re always looking to optimize the program,” he said. “Whether that’s using people properly with their best talents, you just always evaluate everything. That’s after a losing season, that’s after a winning season. You look to make sure everything’s being run at his highest level. The decisions we’re making are trying to get us there.”
Kingston’s already made a few small tweaks to his coaching staff, moving Trip Couch into the recruiting coordinator role with Mike Current moving from that role to director of baseball development. Stuart Lake will be the team’s full-time hitting coach too.
He’s also taken a look at how he does things from a head coach perspective during the evaluation process.
It’s a process that will go on throughout the summer while the coaches are out recruiting and fall scrimmages as the Gamecocks prepare for the 2020 season.
“The first thing you do as a leader is you look in the mirror and ask what can you do better as a leader?” Kingston said. “What mistakes did you make? Was it just tough luck? Was it all of the above. As a leader, you always look in the mirror first and ask yourself what can you do to help the program, to help the group. That’s the first thing. Then from there you look at the coaches, the make up of that staff, you look at the personnel, you look at practice habits. You look at every potentially category in our program to make sure it’s as good as it possibly can be.”
The Gamecocks have already lost signee Tyler Callihan out of the 2019 class with the infielder signing with the Reds, and Reid Morgan signed Saturday with the Mariners, officially starting his professional career.
With Callihan signing, the Gamecocks have a 17-man recruiting class with eight of those signees outside of Callihan getting drafted. Those who did will have until July 15 to decide if they want to sign a professional deal or come to school.