Former Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett dons Florida cap, talks to Gators – SECcountry.com
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For any follower of college baseball, it was something of an odd sight Friday as Jack Leggett stood on the top step of the dugout sporting a Florida ballcap while addressing the Gators before practice.
Leggett was the face of Clemson baseball for more than two decades, leading the Tigers to 6 College World Series appearances and 955 wins from 1994-2015.
Now entering his second season out of coaching, though, Leggett felt right at home in Gainesville this weekend while visiting Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and his team.
“We just are good friends and it goes deep, runs deep. We’re very loyal to each other,” Leggett said of his relationship with O’Sullivan, who spent 9 years as an assistant coach at Clemson prior to taking over at Florida in 2008.
“Like he just said, he’s one of my best friends. We go back a long ways,” O’Sullivan said.
Leggett, who also visited the Gators last season, talked with the players Friday about the small differences between being good and great, how every extra ounce of effort can prove significant over the course of a long season.
After the players ran onto the field for practice, O’Sullivan then reflected on the difference Leggett made in his coaching career.
“He gave me an opportunity,” O’Sullivan said.
As he tells it, he was working with a minor league affiliate of the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla., when Leggett called him out of the blue. Clemson had just lost its pitching coach, and Leggett was familiar with O’Sullivan from his time as a catcher and later the pitching coach at Virginia.
“I was living in Fort Myers and he offered me a job, I flew up and we’ve been best of friends ever since,” O’Sullivan said.
Said Leggett: “He had been at University of Virginia, played there and then had coached there. So when we lost a coach, the first thing I asked, it was about Kevin O’Sullivan. I said, ‘How bout Sully?’ I had my eyes on him. My assistant at the time was (current Vanderbilt head coach) Tim Corbin. I said, ‘Corbin, can Sully throw BP?’ Corb says, ‘I think he throws BP better than me.’ Which is hard for Corb to say because he’s the best at everything, like we all think we are. So I said, OK, because it’s a really important part of the job at that point, but I also knew he did a great job with pitchers. He had a catching mentality, and the thing I liked about him as much as anything else is he’s tremendously competitive and he fit in with Tim and I. … It was a perfect relationship right from the beginning. All three of us got along great.”
And Leggett is not at all surprised now to see his former assistant doing well.
O’Sullivan has guided Florida to 5 College World Series appearances in the last 7 season and the Gators open this year ranked No. 2/3 in the major preseason national polls.
Even while he was still running his own nationally competitive program, Leggett felt pride seeing what O’Sullivan was doing with the Gators.
“Absolutely. He’s like a best friend, a brother, a son all wrapped up in one. So it’s always great to see him do well,” he said. “I know how important this is to him. This is in his DNA. It’s really important for him to put a good product on the field and have a great program and develop good players. For him to be successful like he is and see him in Omaha, it’s extremely prideful.”
Leggett shared with the Florida players that he had told his wife he needed to get out of town and be around baseball for a couple days and that he had hopped on the road early Friday morning to make it in time for the Gators’ afternoon practice.
Later, standing off to the side of the field, he’d say, “I love it. I miss it. I miss being around it, of course.”
O’Sullivan was happy to accommodate.
Certainly, he’s developed his own style over the years and forged his own reputation as one of the best coaches in college baseball, but he’s quick to credit his friend and former mentor with helping to shape his career.
“There’s so much. I mean, I think, the Xs and Os on the baseball part of it is one piece, but the emphasis of education and how to conduct yourself on and off the field, how to run a program in a first-class manner from A-Z is really what I pulled away from my experience at Clemson and with Jack,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s been a tremendous resource, he’s been a mentor for me, he’s been awesome in so many ways. He’s been awesome. I lean on him still to this day all the time and he’s just been a great resource, a great mentor and I pick his brain all the time.”