Ex-Clemson baseball coach Lee embracing role as SC assistant

Clemson head coach Monte Lee stands in the dugout before an NCAA baseball game against South...
Clemson head coach Monte Lee stands in the dugout before an NCAA baseball game against South Carolina at Segra Park on Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. Clemson won 10-2. Clemson's 11-0 start following a three-game sweep of in-state rival South Carolina has quickly put the Tigers' first losing season since 1957 in the rearview mirror. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)(Sean Rayford | AP)
Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 4:57 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Monte Lee, born about a half hour from South Carolina, learned long ago the importance of the Gamecocks’ fierce rivalry with Clemson.

Now, Lee walks a seldom-traveled path as Clemson’s ex-baseball coach who’s joined South Carolina’s dugout as that team’s new associate head coach and recruiting coordinator less than three months after clearing out his office with the Tigers.

Lee’s ready for the catcalls, the hurt feelings and strange looks he’ll get by many who hold this baseball battle with sacred significance — and just second to the school’s yearly football game.

“In this state, there is no Yankees and Red Sox,” Lee said Monday. “We are the Yankees and the Red Sox”

Several people through the years have worked sidelines, courts, fields and sports offices for both Clemson and South Carolina. Even Lee’s longtime Tiger boss, former Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, was a sports administrator at South Carolina earlier in his career.

Only South Carolina head football coach Brad Scott, in recent times, quickly changed colors when he joined the Tigers staff less than two weeks after his dismissal after the 1998 season.

Lee, who spent seven years leading the Tigers, saw Scott at Clemson, although the two never spoke about switching sides in the Palmetto State showdown. Lee will confront that head-on.

“As far as the awkwardness of me being the head coach of Clemson for seven years, I’m not going to shy away from the fact that a lot of those kids in the (Clemson) program were kids I coached,” Lee said. “I love those kids dearly. Nothing’s going to change how I feel about the players I coached.”

Or the ones he’ll soon get to know since joining South Carolina coach Mark Kingston’s program.

Kingston respected Lee’s work for a while — Lee and the Tigers were 10-5 against Kingston and the Gamecocks the past five seasons — and is grateful to add Lee’s “passion, experience and knowledge to our team.”

Lee worked for now-South Carolina AD Ray Tanner from 2003-08, helping the Gamecocks to a pair of College World Series trips in 2003 and 2004. Lee also spent seven seasons as College of Charleston’s head coach, reaching the NCAA Tournament four times before his hiring at Clemson.

With the Tigers, Lee reached the NCAAs his first four seasons. The tournament was canceled in 2020 and Clemson failed to make the field the past two years, leading to Lee’s firing. “I did the very best job I could,” he said. “We all know what business we’re in.”

Lee’s new business is helping Kingston bring the Gamecocks as much success as possible.

The two didn’t know each other very well until they became rival coaches. Outside the lines, Lee and Kingston would talk a few times each spring to see how things were going. “We shared a unique perspective,” Lee said.

It was Kingston who called to gauge Lee’s interest in the South Carolina opening. Lee had planned to coach professionally but was intrigued at staying in-state and rejoining a program with familiar faces. Three Clemson players — catcher Jonathan French, right fielder Dylan Brewer, and relief pitcher Ricky Williams — transferred to South Carolina after Lee was let go.

Lee has quickly shifted his mind toward his latest career mission, no matter his recent past.

“I’m going to do everything I can to dominate this new role and put the players first,” he said. “This is not about me. This is about helping the people in the building succeed at a high level.”