By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
When word spread that South Florida's Mark Kingston would be South Carolina's new head baseball coach, Ray Tanner knew that some Gamecock fans might not be thrilled.
Many, he knew, were expecting a bigger name. Like Florida's Kevin O'Sullivan, who just won the national championship. Or another coach whose team competed in the College World Series.
"I think some of the angst is that people do not know who he is," Tanner said of Kingston.
But Tanner's wife had a telling response. "She said, when you came here, did they know who you were?"
"I said, maybe not," Tanner said. "I think he is a little more well-known than that. I think listening to him today, I am extremely confident with what he brings and the impact he is going to have on this program."
Tanner, who led South Carolina to six College World Series appearances and two national championships in 16 years as South Carolina's head coach, introduced Kingston Friday after a search that included several candidates, including some big names.
"I had a chance to visit with a lot of coaches who are certainly very familiar with what we stand for," Tanner said. "It was great. This job is a special job and it created a lot of interest, but I am excited that Mark Kingston is our coach."
Tanner said he interviewed other candidates on campus and while at the College World Series in Omaha. Some of those, he said, were coaches of teams playing in Omaha.
"I was able to get to the people that I needed to get to, and I honestly vetted out a lot of candidates," he said. "I know at times that is not great for a particular candidate, but I thought it was the right thing to do. I wanted to get it right. I wasn't concerned about being fast."
Tanner said Kingston was on his radar from the very beginning of his search. Kingston, who led South Florida to 42 wins this year and to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons, has long been considered one of the nation's top up-and-coming coaches. He led Illinois State to two NCAA Tournament appearances in five seasons and has been an assistant or head coach on 11 teams that have made the postseason.
"He is mentioned as a young guy who is going to be on the scene. I knew that," Tanner said.
Kingston coached for fives seasons at Illinois State, and Tanner is good friends with ISU AD Larry Lyons. He also knows other coaches and ADs who have worked with Kingston.
"I know where he has been and I know who he has worked for very well," Tanner said. "… I had a chance to talk to them about the perception that I have, and it is extremely valuable to have those assets. I believe that he is the right man for this job."
Tanner said he was not concerned that Kingston did not come from a major-college program. He likes the career path Kingston has followed, he said, watching him help lead Miami and Tulane to the College World Series before taking over the programs at Illinois State and South Florida.
"I don't believe that it matters where you were as far as big programs or one that is not a big program," Tanner said. "The places he has been and challenged himself, I am familiar with the Illinois State program and I'm familiar with USF, and those jobs are not easy jobs. In many ways, being in the Southeastern Conference, you have better resources, you have greater opportunities.
"He is a young man who is excited about what lies in front of him and what this program stands for. I am confident he will embrace competing in the Southeastern Conference and competing against our rivals and try to position this program to make trips to Omaha."
When Kingston addressed fans and the media Friday, he emphasized the traits and goals that are important to him.
"Faith, family and baseball. That is 99 percent of what you see with me," he said.
And he said his approach to coaching focuses on taking care of his players, developing them as students and athletes and instilling in them a strong work ethic that leads to success.
Those are the things that made an impression on Tanner and other university officials.
"A lot of the traits he possesses are important to our program and where we are today," Tanner said. "There is going to be a work ethic, there is going to be an accountability, there is going to be an expectation to win. I believe he will put us in the position to succeed at a high level.
"I believe strongly in what he stands for. … The investment is going to be made to get the return."