Vanderbilt might not be playing in its first College World Series if it weren’t for Tim Corbin.
Corbin has been the architect of the Commodores’ baseball success over most of the past decade. Prior to his 2003 arrival, Vanderbilt had reached the NCAA Tournament just three times. In nine years as head coach, Corbin has directed his team to the postseason seven times, including to three Super Regionals and now a CWS.
Ten years ago, however, Corbin didn’t see himself at Vanderbilt. He didn’t want to leave Clemson, where he was an assistant coach for nine years under Jack Leggett, arguably his strongest coaching influence.
“When I was there, I seriously didn’t think I was ever going to leave, to be honest with you,” Corbin said. “Being a head coach was not on my bucket list. … I was having so much fun. I enjoyed [Leggett] a great deal. We were very successful. We were working with good players. We had been to Omaha four times. He just created a very fun culture that made coaching and teaching a lifestyle.”
After the 2002 season, which ended with Clemson playing in the CWS for the fourth time in eight years, Corbin and his wife, Maggie, headed out to Fresno State for a job interview. He turned down the Bulldogs’ offer.
“We thought that if we were ever going to become head coach and head coach’s wife, that wasn’t the opportunity for us,” he said. “We went back to Clemson thinking we were going to be at Clemson another four, five, six, seven [years] — however long. Within a day of that opportunity, Vanderbilt called.”
Though Corbin left Clemson, Leggett’s imprint is still evident — and not just at Vanderbilt.
Also in the Commodores’ bracket this week in Omaha, Neb., is Florida, led by head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. In his four seasons at the helm, the Gators have made back-to-back trips to the CWS. Prior to that, he spent nine years at Clemson with Leggett, his stay overlapping with Corbin’s.
“They had some great skills coming in or I wouldn’t have hired them in the first place,” Leggett, who has spent the past 18 years at Clemson, said. “I’m just proud they have been in the program some point here at Clemson, and I’m just hoping they’ve taken something with them that helps them both be successful along the way. They are both very loyal guys and very good friends.”
Others who have coached or played under Leggett include Auburn head coach John Pawlowski and Maryland head coach Erik Bakich, who began his coaching career at Clemson in 2002 before spending the next seven years with Corbin at Vanderbilt. Recently fired Tennessee coach Todd Raleigh played for Leggett at Western Carolina from 1988 to 1991. (See related story below.)
Corbin was a head coach prior to Clemson, leading Presbyterian College for six years during its transition from NAIA to Division II. But under Leggett, Corbin said he developed many of his recruiting philosophies and learned how to run a program at the Division I level.
“He tied it all together for me,” Corbin, 49, said. “The list is long in terms of what I learned from him.”
The 57-year-old Leggett taught Corbin organizational skills, how to market the team, how to deal with draft prospects and professional scouts. What sticks out to Corbin, though, is how much Leggett enjoyed what he did for a living.
“The reason why there have been so many players that have gone onto coach underneath him is the mere fact that he loves kids and he loves baseball,” he said. “He loves to teach and he has a tremendous passion and energy for the game. … In my mind, Jack Leggett is one of the best sports coaches in college. He can do anything. He is just full of energy and full of life.”
Corbin has not coached against Leggett since taking over at Vanderbilt. He has, however, faced O’Sullivan several times. Their teams have played each other four times already this season. Florida came out victorious on three occasions, including in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Now they’re in the same half of the bracket in Omaha. Corbin said the meetings are “sometimes uncomfortable. [But] we get over that. We compete against one another, but we’ll always be friends.”
Unfortunately, their former boss and good friend isn’t in the dugout at TD Ameritrade Park. Clemson failed to reach the CWS for the second straight year, falling in a regional.
The Leggett coaching tree
Along with Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin and Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan, a total of 10 of Jack Leggett’s former players or assistant coaches are currently collegiate head coaches. (Tennessee’s Todd Raleigh made No. 11 until he was fired last month. He played for Leggett from 1988 to 1991.)
In Leggett’s 32 seasons as a head coach at Clemson, Western Carolina and Vermont, he has mentored a total of 34 former players or assistant coaches who have logged time as an assistant, head coach or as a manager at the collegiate or professional level. They include the following:
Tim Corbin Vanderbilt (2003-present) Coached at Clemson from 1994-2002.
Kevin O’Sullivan Florida (2008-present) Coached at Clemson from 1999-2007.
Erik Bakich Maryland (2010-present) Coached at Clemson in 2002. Served as Vanderbilt assistant from 2003-09.
John Pawlowski Auburn (2009-present) Coached at Clemson from 1994-98.
Tom Riginos Winthrop (2011) Coached at Clemson from 2003-10.
Keith Shumate North Carolina A&T (1999-2011) Played at Western Carolina from 1986-88.
Tim Sinicki Binghamton (1993-present) Played at Western Carolina from 1987-88.
Russell Triplett Newbery (2011) Played at Clemson from 2001-04 and coached there in 2006.
Andy Barlow MIT (2004-present) Played at Vermont in 1982.
Rodney Hennon Georgia Southern (2000-present) Played at Western Carolina from 1990-91.
Matthew LeCroy Manager of High-A affiliate Potomac of Washington Nationals (2011) Played at Clemson from 1995-97.
— Jerome Boettcher