How former Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett found ‘closure’ after getting fired

The way it ended will always sting.

Jack Leggett is coming up on nine years since he was fired as Clemson’s baseball coach after 22 seasons, and he maintains his dismissal was handled poorly.

He had a strong recruiting class coming in. There were new facilities at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, which he’d spearheaded the building of (and partially funded). A number of positive meetings with the Tigers’ then-athletic director, Dan Radakovich, late in Clemson’s 2015 baseball season.

Even though there were no leaks and Radakovich broke the news to him personally, Leggett still found it “shocking” and “unexpected” to lose his job after 20-plus years of service to Clemson, which included a school-record 955 wins and six College World Series appearances.

Sure, his Tigers team had been struggling in the postseason at the time of his firing. But Leggett felt he’d earned the right to go out on his own terms, rather than an athletic director’s.

Leggett’s firing, he said, wasn’t done “the right way.”

“And I’ll always feel that way,” he told The State.

But as Leggett, 70, entered the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame this week, he had a far more recent and far more positive Tigers experience to touch on, too.

After seven years of minimal contact and major disconnect with his former employer, Leggett has rekindled his love for Clemson baseball and healed some old wounds by working as a special assistant to current head coach Erik Bakich each of the past two seasons.

Formally listed as a program development coach, Leggett is a key part of Bakich’s staff and works as a mentor and sounding board for players and coaches alike. His “7 With 7” segments, in which Leggett (who wore a No. 7 jersey as Clemson’s coach) will spend seven minutes of one-on-one time with a player in the dugout, have become a staple at home games.

“And to me, I feel like they’re learning something from my experience and through my eyes,” Leggett said Monday during a preevent media availability in Columbia. “I still have a wide, wide vision when I look at the baseball field. The minute I don’t think I’m helping or feel like I’m just the way will be the day that I’ll leave and do something else. … But right now, I’m having a really good time.”

Clemson head baseball coach Erik Bakich speaks former Clemson head baseball coach Jack Leggett during the introductory press conference at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, June 16th, 2022.
Clemson head baseball coach Erik Bakich speaks former Clemson head baseball coach Jack Leggett during the introductory press conference at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, June 16th, 2022.

Jack Leggett’s return to Clemson

The feeling is mutual. For the past two seasons, Clemson players and coaches have been raving about Leggett’s impact on the program. He’s a steady hand. A veteran presence. A connection between Tigers baseball past and present. And never, ever lacking in energy.

“It’s like a bolt of lightning every day,” Bakich, who got his start as a volunteer assistant on Leggett’s 2002 Clemson team that made the College World Series, said last year. “Every day that he’s here, it’s like he walks in the room and a thousand lights go on. That’s just him.”

Indeed, Leggett said he just can’t get enough of the game. Over 40 years into his coaching career, he still loves the strategy and emotions of the game, the freshly mowed green grass and freshly painted white lines, the pregame routines from national anthem to first pitch.

He commutes roughly an hour each way from his home in Greenville to Clemson’s baseball stadium for work and spends most of that time reminiscing about, well, Clemson baseball.

“They’re tremendous memories,” he said.

For a while, though, they weren’t. Leggett said he never lost sight of the highs of his Clemson tenure — six trips to Omaha, 34 All-American players coached, 121 who went on to sign a professional contract — but it was hard for him to feel truly at peace about his tenure.

Radakovich (who’s now the athletic director at Miami) fired Leggett from his job as Clemson baseball coach on June 4, 2015, after the Tigers went two years without an NCAA Tournament win and were 5-10 in the postseason following a 2010 College World Series appearance.

From 2016-22, as his immediate successor Monte Lee led the program, Leggett kept busy with USA Baseball, coaching videos, speaking engagements and a book. But his interactions with Clemson were minimal. He was named an honorary alumnus in 2017 and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2020, but he “lost the feel” for his former program.

In a 2022 interview with The State, Leggett openly expressed his desire for “closure” at Clemson, adding that, at the time, there was “just no recognition of our time within that stadium for 22 years on the fence or inside the stadium, which is just kind of disappointing.”

Jack Leggett as Clemson baseball head coach in February 2003.
Jack Leggett as Clemson baseball head coach in February 2003.

Coming full circle

Olive Branch No. 1 came two months later from Clemson athletic director Graham Neff, who succeeded Radakovich in late 2021. After Neff fired Lee in his first major move as the Tigers’ athletic director (Lee missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2021-22 and never reached a Super Regional in seven seasons), he reached out to Leggett to be an advisor for the coaching search.

Olive Branch No. 2 came from Bakich, who was coaching at Michigan at the time and ensured Leggett during various phone conversations in the hiring process that, if he got the job, he wanted the coach lovingly known as “Sev,” for his jersey number, back in Clemson’s dugout.

And the school formally retired his No. 7 jersey in a ceremony last April.

So, as the Tigers approach this week’s ACC Tournament in Charlotte ranked No. 3 nationally and in solid position for a second straight top eight national seed — which would ensure home-field advantage in NCAA Tournament regional and super regional rounds — does Leggett now feel that closure he’d been hoping for?

“I do,” he said. “I do. I feel like Erik and Graham have had a great big part in making me feel much better than I did before. And now, whenever I leave Clemson (and retire), I want to feel like I feel now. I don’t want to feel how I felt back then.”

“I’m in a much better place.”