One thing I have learned is that good friends have other good friends. This is a series of stories about “friends of my friends”. The post below is the story for June 9, 2015.
My goal in 2015 is to learn or get re-acquainted with 365 people and doing a daily post on the “the friend of a friend” is helping me get closer to my goal.
Sometime friends go thru difficult times. I have a friend that lost his job on Thursday. He is a college baseball coach and has been at the same university for 24 years. His name is Jack Leggett and the university is Clemson. I learned the news from the Head Soccer Coach at UNC Pembroke Phil Hindson who prior to coming to UNCP was at Clemson serving as their soccer coach. Phil and I were both sad with Clemson’s decision. As a former coach who has been fired I have great empathy for what Jack is going thru.
All that Jack has done at Clemson has been to win consistently. He led the Tigers to 21 regionals in his 22 years as head coach, as well as six College World Series appearances, but none since 2010. A lot of pundits have said that in 2010 the tide started to turn against Jack. Clemson and South Carolina are rivals and in 2010 Clemson started 2-0 in the 2010 World Series only to suffer back-to-back losses to South Carolina, which went on to win the first of its two national championships.
I first met Jack in the early summer of 1982 when he came on an interview to Western Carolina University as Head Baseball Coach. At that time he was the head coach at the University of Vermont and he was just 28 years old. Everyone in the Athletic Department at WCU fell in love with him. One legendary story about Jack during his interview was eating in dining hall for breakfast and ordering cream of wheat as he pointed to grits. Jack the New Englander had some adjusting to living in the south.
I left WCU in 1985 but in the three years we were together we became friends. Jack and I are a year apart in age and we bonded because we were two of the youngest members of the athletic staff in Cullowhee. We played poker (guts), we golfed together, we told stories together, and we joked with each other. Jack’s office desk in Reid Gym was in a constant state of disarray. Scouting reports, line-up cards, recruiting letters, maps, mail, and who knows what else was stacked on that desk.
Jack was born in Maine but grew up in Vermont. He was the son of a college swim coach-Les Leggett from the University of Vermont and was one heck of a college athlete. He attended the University of Maine and played two sports football and baseball. In football he was a defensive back and kicker. In football, he holds the Maine record for longest field goal, a 52-yarder. In baseball he was part of the University of Maine trip to the College World Series in 1976. He attended Maine from 1972 to 1976.
The qualities that Jack Leggett possesses in college coaching that make him a hall of fame coach were passion for recruiting, enthusiasm, his ability to teach, and loyalty. It is loyalty that I admire the most. There is not a college baseball coach who has a more impressive college coaching tree than Jack Leggett. Coaches who have coached under him or played for him include Corbin, O’Sullivan, former East Carolina coach Keith LeClair, Michigan coach Erik Bakich, new Western Kentucky coach John Pawlowski, Winthrop coach Tom Riginos, Binghamton coach Tim Sinicki and many others. The quality of Leggett’s disciplines is a testament to the quality of his teaching skills.
A link to that tree is found below:
Jack’s loyalty trait was demonstrated to a former player, assistant coach, and great friend Keith LeClair when he battled Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The Friend-JACK LEGGETT
The Friend of the Friend-KEITH LECLAIR
Jack Leggett told me one time that sometimes as a coach you get a gift to coach certain athletes. It is not a job, it is not a chore, but it is a gift and privilege to be their coach. He felt that way about Keith LeClair who played for him at Western Carolina University.
The gift for Jack was that Keith was a walk-on at Western he didn’t offer him a scholarship. That got corrected after one season. Keith played on 4 straight Southern Conference Championship teams from 1985-1988. He was an All-Southern Conference selection in 1988 while earning SoCon Tournament MVP honors the same season. Keith established Catamount baseball records for hits and total bases in a season. He batted .375 for his career.
After WCU Keith signed with the Atlanta Braves after completing his collegiate career and spent the summer of 1988 as an outfielder for Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League. After a spring training stint with the San Francisco Giants in 1989, he was offered a student assistant coaching position at Western Carolina, which led to full-time responsibilities shortly thereafter.
Jack Leggett left WCU in the summer of 1991 to become the “head coach in waiting” at Clemson. WCU immediately hired Keith LeClair as the Head Baseball Coach at WCU at age 26. He would coach there for five seasons and win 3 Southern Conference tournament titles and three Southern Conference regular season titles. Keith was a three-time Southern Conference Coach of the Year with a career record at WCU of 229-135.
In 1997 Keith became the head baseball coach at East Carolina University. Keith became the second-winningest baseball coach in East Carolina history in just five seasons, compiling a 212-96-1 (.688) record. He guided the Pirates to four straight NCAA Regional appearances, three Colonial Athletic Association championships and one Conference USA title. He won the American Baseball Coaches Association’s East Region Coach-of-the-Year award in both 1999 and 2001. The baseball stadium at ECU is named in his honor
Clark-LeClair Stadium seen below on campus of East Carolina University
In 2002 Keith got diagnosed with an illness that forced him to quit coaching at age 36. He was battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for the five years prior to his death on July 17, 2006. LeClair is survived by his wife, Lynn, son, J.D., and daughter Audrey.
Keith LeClair was Jack’s gift at Western Carolina. I hope that folks at Clemson will one day even if isn’t today realize that Jack Leggett was their gift.
I consider his friendship one of my gifts.