It’s not yet five in the morning. The sun hasn’t even begun to think about rising but Jack Leggett is up in Clemson, South Carolina ready to get in his car. The 38-year veteran coach packs a bag for a two day, one night stay to see his protégé and best friend Florida Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
Leggett shows up to the field, he readily admits that he still has the baseball bug and getting out to see the Gators is a fix. He’s wearing a blue fitted Gator cap as well as Gator branded shorts and T-shirt. It looks strange to see Leggett in Orange and Blue rather than orange and purple after 23 years coaching Clemson as an assistant and then head coach but he still has his orange and white turf shoes with the Clemson logo on the tongue.
— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) February 10, 2017
“We go back a long ways. He gave me an opportunity, I think back in the fall of ’97,” O’Sullivan recalled of how the two met. “I had spent a couple years at Virginia in ’96 and ’97 and he called out of the blue. It was late in the fall, it was probably around August, and I was living in Fort Myers and he offered me a job, I flew up and we’ve been best of friends ever since. Just excited he’s got a chance to come down. Obviously this time of year his juices are flowing and he just wants to kind of be around it a little bit. He left early this morning and I’m excited to spend a weekend with him.”
Leggett spoke with the team last year. He watched several practices and knew that Sully had a special ballclub in 2016. That team went to Omaha but fell short. This is the first time Leggett has been to Gainesville to see the 2017 team, he actually apologized to the team that gathered in the visitor’s dugout prior to practice for not getting down in the fall.
O’Sullivan spent nine years with Leggett. He learned how the veteran coach ran the day-to-day operations. He watched Leggett surround himself with sharp minds like O’Sullivan and now Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. When Jeremy Foley called in 2007, Leggett knew that O’Sullivan was ready.
“If it comes up then you’re expected that they got the fundamentals behind them, know how to run a big program, an ability to teach and communicate,” Leggett said of O’Sullivan. “It’s always really good to see them do well. There’s a reason and the reason in my estimation is he’s passionate and he sees things, picks things up quickly and has a good baseball mind and has been able to surround himself with good people too.”
The two have remained close friends ever since their time together at Clemson. They talk on a regular basis, more about life and family than baseball. The bond that they have is the reason Leggett, 62, made the seven-hour drive from South Carolina on a Friday morning. He’s invested in a team he never coached because of the man that leads them.
When he addressed the team he told them the difference between achieving their ultimate goal of winning the final game of the season is all about the tiny details. The team huddled around Leggett, not a mumble in the crowd as the three-time ACC coach of the year spoke to them about how they had a chance to make school history.
O’Sullivan walked up towards the end of Leggett’s speech. The two embraced as the Gators jogged passed to begin practice. Leggett knew O’Sullivan was ready to take on a team and build his own program. The decals commemorating SEC Championships and College World Series appearance show Leggett was right. Now, he wants to see O’Sullivan do something even he didn’t during more than three decades coaching college baseball.
Win the whole damn thing.