The search is on for The Citadel’s new baseball coach

Media interest in the position of baseball coach at The Citadel was once a bit on the light side.

The first mention of Chal Port in The News and Courier came in a column by sports editor Evan Bussey on August 30, 1964:

…Chal Port joined The Citadel staff this summer. Port will be head baseball coach as well as serve as a football assistant.

He’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and played two years of professional baseball. For the past six years he served as head [football and baseball] coach at Titusville, Pa., High School.

“As long as he gets us some of those big Pennsylvania linemen, he won’t have to do any coaching,” quipped Jack Hall, another Cadet assistant yesterday. “We’ll set a quota of four tackles and four guards a year.”

Those spare paragraphs on Port came after Bussey devoted most of his column to The Citadel’s new wrestling coach, Dave Fagg (who was also hired to be a football assistant). Both Port and Fagg were also mentioned near the end of a long article on fall football practice, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throwaway line.

I’m guessing there will be a little more local media coverage when Fred Jordan’s replacement is named…

“Raw” feed of Fred Jordan’s retirement presser at Riley Park (via WCSC-TV)

WCIV-TV report

I enjoyed Fred Jordan’s comments during his press conference. Of particular interest were his thoughts on the SoCon tournament, where he got right to the point:

…unfortunately, when the league moved it for the first time, just for that two-year span, it destroyed that momentum. And it left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths, because it went afar for less money. And that’s not good business. [And the] thing about it, people got tired of The Citadel winning. No brag, just fact.”

(Those last two sentences were presumably for the benefit of former UNCG coach Mike Gaski.)

Jordan is the winningest coach in the history of the Southern Conference, but the league’s honchos probably didn’t enjoy his observations about the fate of the conference tournament. Sometimes, the truth is hurtful.

I would say Jordan’s remarks might hurt his chances of being enshrined in the SoCon Hall of Fame, but his chances of induction are probably close to nil anyway. After all, Chal Port has never been elected — or any other player or coach from The Citadel, for that matter.

I would respectfully disagree with the coach, though, about the idea that The Citadel’s sustained success between 1994-2013 will “never be done again”.

This notion has been pushed by P+C columnist Gene Sapakoff. When mentioning Fred Jordan’s seven NCAA tourney appearances, Sapakoff tweeted that “We’ll be dead before there are another 7” NCAA bids for The Citadel, an idea he doubled down on in a later newspaper column.

Sorry, but I’m not buying the suggestion that The Citadel is incapable of that kind of run in the future. (Also, when it comes to personal days left on the planet, Sapakoff can manage his own timetable, thank you very much.)

It’s not an easy job, and times have certainly changed, but there is still opportunity at The Citadel. It should be pointed out that in one 15-year span, Chal Port’s squads played in five NCAA tournaments, which strikes me as not dissimilar.

I expect the next head coach at The Citadel to have high expectations for the program. The fan base certainly will — and deservedly so.

The Citadel’s last two hires to run the baseball program were:

  • a high school football/baseball coach from Pennsylvania who had no connection to the military college (but who had served in the Air Force)
  • a local high school baseball coach who had played for the previous coach

Both of them wound up spending more than a quarter-century in charge. If the new coach stays at The Citadel until the school’s bicentennial in 2042, he will still have had a shorter career in Charleston than either Port or Jordan.

That is a selling point, by the way.

Will the job “stay in the family”, or will there be a new relative in town wearing light blue and white?

Among possible candidates who played at The Citadel are current assistant coaches David Beckley and Britt Reames; Kyle Bunn, associate head coach and pitching coach for ex-Bulldog Chris Lemonis at Indiana; Chris Swauger, manager of high Class A Peoria in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization; and ETSU coach Tony Skole, a member of The Citadel’s College World Series team in 1990.

Each committee member listed the qualities they wanted to see in the next Citadel coach. Among Senter’s six bullet points are “demonstrated experience in turning programs around as a head coach or an assistant coach” and “preferred candidate with head coach experience.”

The “preferred candidate with head coach experience” line would tend to eliminate most of the realistic alumni candidates, with the exception of Tony Skole — and in the case of Skole, you’re talking about someone who A) already has a job in the SoCon, and B) has been in his current position for 18 years. Would he be interested?

Another potential candidate being bandied about in the press is current North Greenville coach Landon Powell, who is also a former star player at South Carolina (and an ex-major leaguer). As is the case with Skole, I don’t know how interested Powell might be in the job, though he hasn’t exactly taken his name out of consideration yet. There are at least two major questions to be asked about Powell:

  • Would he be able to cope with the unique environment at The Citadel?
  • Would the job be a “stepping-stone” position for him?

The first question, of course, is something that applies to any prospective coach at The Citadel (including alums). The second question is arguably more interesting.

There have only been two head baseball coaches at The Citadel since 1965. The position hasn’t been just another rung on the D-1 ladder for upwardly mobile coaches.

This is 2017, though. What if the best candidates for the job right now are likely to consider it as a way to audition for a post in the SEC or ACC?

That could be the case, and if it is, that opens up the field to a significant degree. There are undoubtedly a bevy of aggressive coaches (including some current D-1 head coaches) who would like the chance to get noticed at a place like The Citadel, a school in the SEC/ACC footprint with a tradition of success and a loyal fan base.

That particular dynamic is definitely something the selection committee will have to consider.

Members of that committee:

  • AD Jim Senter
  • Jay Dowd, CEO of The Citadel Foundation
  • Anthony Jenkins, author of the most famous slide in The Citadel’s baseball history
  • Gene Pinson of the Board of Visitors
  • Col. Jim Scott, president of the Diamond Dogs Club
  • Senior associate AD Geoff Van Dollen.
  • Baseball supporters Jimmy Reed and Wade St. John

Included on Jim Senter’s list of qualifications for the new coach: “Someone who can reengage Citadel alumni and baseball supporters to maximize fundraising, season ticket sales and attendance at Citadel baseball games”. This item has received a little bit of scrutiny (as has Jay Dowd’s inclusion on the selection committee).

Personally, I have no issues with this. After all, Fred Jordan’s second comment at his retirement presser concerned fundraising. I don’t think it’s a knock on the Diamond Dogs Club at all (which has done very good work over the years), but simply a reflection of what it takes to compete at the D-1 level.

You have to be more than just a coach these days. Admittedly, that was always the case. It’s even more of a requirement now, though.

Fred Jordan on recruiting:

On The Citadel’s struggles in recent years: “AAU (travel) baseball really affects the mid-major, and the mid-major that’s a little different…that’s probably the biggest difference from a recruiting standpoint…The Citadel doesn’t get a guy like Terrance Smalls in today’s times…Brian Wiley, I can remember watching Wiley strike out 15 [batters], and [I] was recruiting a guy off his team, that was two years older than him, a hitter…and we ended up getting [Wiley]…It’s a different world, and it’s difficult for everybody. You look around the state, it’s not just The Citadel.

Later, in that same article:

Committee members also emphasized recruiting in a changing college baseball landscape. One member pointed out that Southern Conference Tournament champion UNC Greensboro had as many as 12 transfer players on its roster.

“I don’t know how we do this, but whoever the new coach is, he has to figure out how to compete with that,” the committee member said.

The Citadel has always had to compete with a few schools that featured a heavy dose of transfers, though the transfer phenomenon seems to have accelerated in recent years.

It is just another reason why retention is so important to success at the military college. A coach just can’t fill multiple holes on the roster by bringing in a bunch of transfers.

When it comes to recruiting at The Citadel, football coach Brent Thompson made some comments (in response to a question) at one of his press conferences last season that are well worth repeating:

…really, a lot of it is more the development and retention of those players. I think over the past three years, since I’ve been here, we’ve lost very few players. We’re going to naturally be a better football team when we’ve got fourth- and fifth-year players, rather than those first- and second-year players. We’ve got a veteran ball club at this point, and that’s what we attribute a lot of [our success].

…When it comes to recruiting, the first thing that we really look for are good football players. We know that we can win and we can train good football players. They’ve got to have it inside of them first…

We’ve got to do our research. It takes a long time for us to figure out the players [out there] we want to recruit here. It comes down to the academics, it comes down to the corps of cadets, it comes down to being a good football player.

Sometimes it’s just not a good fit for us, and we understand that, and we can move on from that. [Basketball coach] Duggar Baucom has a great saying: “The next ‘No’ gets me closer to the next ‘Yes’.”

…We know that there are plenty of good football players out there for The Citadel, that fit what we do.

Thompson’s comments ring true for recruiting at any sport at The Citadel. You have to identify players who can compete on the field, in the classroom, and in the corps of cadets. You have to retain those athletes, and you have to develop them into better players.

Someone who is a non-factor as a freshman on the baseball team may turn out to be a key cog in the lineup or a weekend starter three years later, but he won’t be if he is no longer on the roster, or if he hasn’t further enhanced his skill set.

The next coach of The Citadel has to understand that from his first day on the job.

The hiring process will be interesting to watch, even if there won’t be a lot to see. Plenty of folks will be trolling for any and all tidbits until the new coach is named.

It’s an important hire for the military college. Baseball means something at The Citadel. Fred Jordan’s work over the last 26 years is a major reason why it does.

Best of luck to the selection committee.

Game review, 2014: Furman

Members of The Citadel’s 1990 College World Series team were honored at halftime of the football game on Saturday. This reminded me of a comment from the late great Chal Port after that squad defeated Cal State-Fullerton in the College World Series:

I thought that was one great game. It was not great baseball, but my God that was exciting.

If you substitute “football” for baseball, Port’s comment could easily have applied to the gridiron battle between Furman and The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium. It wasn’t necessarily the most elegant of contests, but it kept the fans guessing for over three hours.

Against Cal State-Fullerton, The Citadel’s baseball team won despite committing seven errors. The football Bulldogs had to overcome a similar number of mistakes against the Paladins to prevail — and, like that 1990 baseball game, regulation wasn’t enough to decide matters.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Greenville News

Game report, WCSC-TV; also, additional comments from Mike Houston

Game report, WCIV-TV

Box score

When it comes to Southern Conference officiating, “open mic night” takes on a whole new meaning…

Late in the fourth quarter, just prior to The Citadel scoring the game-tying touchdown, the game referee had a conversation with Vinny Miller. The running back had been called for three highly dubious holding penalties during the game and was clearly upset (justifiably so), particularly with the last call. What the referee did not know was that his microphone was still on.

After the talk with Miller (whose comments were inaudible), the referee chatted with the umpire and had this to say:

He came to apologize…16 [Miller] came to apologize for being a jackass…why is he staring at me over there, Warren?…The head coach…

Well, I would guess that Mike Houston was staring at you because you had just announced to over 11,000 people that (in your opinion, and your opinion only) one of his players had been acting like a farm animal.

Shortly afterwards, still unaware his microphone had not been turned off, he remarked:

I like excitement. I just don’t like to be involved in the excitement, you know what I mean?

Unfortunately for the players and coaches on both teams (and their increasingly frustrated fans), the officials were all too involved in the excitement of Saturday’s game.

I’m not going to list all the questionable and simply bad calls and non-calls. I’ll just say it wasn’t a good day for the men in stripes.

Despite the officiating, the team that won the game deserved to win it. Some Furman fans may not feel that way, and I understand their misgivings.

However, Furman has now lost eight straight games, and the last half of the fourth quarter (plus overtime) was a partial demonstration of why the Paladins are on their current losing skid. With two golden opportunities to all but ice the game, Furman fumbled the ball away on The Citadel’s 1-yard line, and missed a relatively easy field goal. Teams that do those kinds of things late in close games generally don’t win those games.

Conversely, The Citadel made the big play late in the game when it had to do so, and dominated the OT session on both sides of the ball.

Random thoughts and observations:

– The two teams combined for 509 yards of total offense in the first half.

Furman entered the game last in the SoCon in total offense, averaging just over 305 yards per game. In the first half, though, the Paladins had 212 yards of total offense. Starting QB P.J. Blazejowski accounted for 194 of those yards (including 124 through the air).

– I’ve never seen fewer Furman fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium for a game. It was a bit startling, to be honest. I guess the long string of losses during the season has taken a toll on the fan base.

Those Paladin fans probably wondered about a few of their coaches’ offensive playcalls during the game, including operating out of the shotgun on 4th down and less than a yard; the play near midfield in the third quarter where Blazejowski threw a weird third-and-short pass to no one in particular; and the abandonment of the running game during the overtime period.

– There was some discussion in the stands about the number of fullback carries the Bulldogs had on Saturday. Indeed, Tyler Renew and Isiaha Smith combined for 38 rushes.

That’s a lot. It was almost half of The Citadel’s 78 rushing attempts.

However, it’s also true that those carries by Renew and Smith were good for an average of 4.55 yards per rush. Both backs were consistently getting yardage that put the Bulldogs in manageable down-and-distance situations, a key factor in the 30-18 edge The Citadel had in first downs.

I also wondered if the coaches wanted to avoid overusing the slotbacks, given how thin the Bulldogs currently are at that position. At any rate, all the fullback action set things up nicely on the outside, as the trio of Jake Stenson/Vinny Miller/Jonathan Dorogy averaged 6.9 yards per carry.

Overall, the offensive efficiency was excellent.

– The special teams for the Bulldogs were not very special on Saturday. To review, The Citadel fumbled the opening kickoff, botched a PAT, gave the Paladins great field position with a bad punt, allowed a long kickoff return to open the second half, missed a field goal, and committed two penalties on returns.

Without all those miscues in the kicking game, the Bulldogs probably would have won the game with a little room to spare. As it was, the mistakes in the kicking game made things a lot more difficult for The Citadel.

– On Aaron Miller’s 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, it appeared that Miller was running diagonally through a maze. I noticed on the replay that wideout Jorian Jordan essentially blocked two Paladins on the play, which gave Miller his final lane to the end zone.

– There were several outstanding receptions by The Citadel. The first was Brandon Eakins’ sideline grab in the first quarter, which may have been lost in the shuffle. It was an important catch, though, because it came on third down and kept the Bulldogs’ initial drive alive.

Then there was Alex Glover’s acrobatic snag of a 40-yard pass on 3rd-and-3 in the second quarter. He showed a great deal of athleticism in making that play.

Jonathan Dorogy’s late-game catch was particularly impressive given the fact he was interfered with (though it wasn’t called) and caught the ball anyway. It was also Dorogy’s first career reception. Everyone should clap their hands in appreciation.

That said, I think Jake Stenson’s catch-and-run for a TD was the play of the day, and maybe the best individual play by a Bulldog I’ve seen all season. It had a little bit of everything.

He showed good hands in making the grab near ankle level, shrugged off one would-be tackler, met another defender head-on and bowled him over, and then had the presence of mind (and understanding of the situation) to leap for the goal line, showing great field awareness in the process. It was a very impressive effort.

– Aaron Miller completed only eight passes in the game, but they went to six different receivers. He has options, and he uses them.

– The Bulldogs tried to convert a two-point PAT out of their standard unbalanced formation, and failed spectacularly. It was the third time The Citadel had tried to get two points on that setup, and the first time it hadn’t worked.

Of course, the Bulldogs lost both games in which they successfully converted the two-point trick play, and won on Saturday when they didn’t make it. What does that mean? Nothing.

– I wasn’t a huge fan of going for two at the end of the first half. I felt that was a little too early to begin chasing points, especially when the two teams had combined for eight touchdowns in two quarters of action. It worked out for The Citadel, though.

– The Citadel did not commit a false start penalty in the game. In fact, none of the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen were called for a single infraction. The o-line had a fine day at the office, and the statistics reflect that.

– The kicking contest at the end of the third quarter featured not one, but two cadet kickers. Both of them made their field goal attempts, much to the glee of the Homecoming crowd.

– The regimental band/pipes performance at halftime was excellent. The band needs to be more of a presence during the game, of course. I’ve mentioned this before, and I know the powers that be are working on it.

The crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium got what it wanted, which was a fun football game that ended with the home team celebrating. What was gratifying (and a little surprising) to me was how many people stayed throughout the contest.

Usually at Homecoming games, there is even more action than usual going on outside the stadium. While there were plenty of parties in full swing on Saturday (I can attest to that), the west stands remained mostly full and engaged.

In overtime, the atmosphere was tremendous. I remember looking around at one point and thinking, “This is great.”

I wish it were always that way. It can be. It’s going to take a little time, though — and a few more victories for the Bulldogs.

Homecoming was a lot of fun. I got a chance to reconnect with a lot of old friends. We told a few stories, most of them funny, and counted our blessings.

The new overhead video scoreboard at McAlister Field House is a pleasure to see in person. It’s fantastic. Well done, Class of 1964.

After viewing the scoreboard, I wandered over to the parade ground and watched the Joe Riley announcement. After he leaves office as Charleston’s mayor in January 2016, Riley will be teaching at The Citadel as the first professor in an endowed chair named in his honor, which is outstanding.

I watched the twilight parade, and then went to a reunion party. There, I learned that having multiple food trucks available for sampling at one’s leisure is a very fine thing indeed.

Tailgating on Saturday was quite enjoyable, too.

It was a great weekend. The win over Furman was just the icing on the cake.

Very tasty icing.

This week’s pictures range from surprisingly decent to incredibly bad. It’s a diverse mix, to be sure.

The collection starts with some non-football photos. It was Homecoming, after all…


SoCon Hall of Fame, revisited: from bad to worse

A few days ago I wrote about the Southern Conference Hall of Fame, and how it has botched its induction process. Since then, more information has come to light.

Jeff Hartsell wrote about the SoCon Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and included some tidbits about the SoCon’s election procedures that are just infuriating. I had noted in my previous post on the subject that the league had “bent over backwards to honor players and coaches from its distant past.”

Well, it turns out that the conference’s de facto position is that players and coaches from its first 33 years of existence are actually twice as important as those from more recent decades. No, I’m not kidding.

From Hartsell’s article:

Voters are asked to pick two nominees from the pre-1954 era (when the ACC split off from the SoCon), two from 1954-now and one female.

This is simply absurd. The “pre-1954 era” is a 33-year period, while “1954-now” is 60 years (and counting). Why, then, should the conference allocate the same number of spots for both eras? The modern era should have twice as many spots, because it is twice as long a period of time as the pre-1954 era.

This ludicrous lean to the days of long ago will only get worse as the years go by, of course, because the “1954-now” period will continue to expand, while the other era will always remain the same in duration — 33 years.

Oh, but that’s not the only ridiculous move the SoCon has made with its Hall of Fame:

The plan to induct a new class just every other year will only make the perceived backlog problem even worse.

Yes, that’s right. The league is only going to vote every other year. Why? I have no idea. I couldn’t even think of a cynical reason. It’s just bizarre.

Hartsell suggested on Twitter that the league might be trying to save money by not having a banquet every year. My response to that is maybe the league could elect new members every year while holding the banquet every other year.

As a result, the next scheduled election isn’t until 2016. What does this mean for modern-era male athletes?

Let’s take 2012, the first election in the SoCon’s “elect five in three specific categories” format. The two modern-era inductees that year were longtime Furman tennis coach Paul Scarpa and Jim Burch, a basketball officiating supervisor. No male athletes from the last six decades were selected.

2013: No election

2014: Furman soccer star Clint Dempsey and Appalachian State football coach Jerry Moore were elected as the “modern era” choices.

2015: No election scheduled

2016: Here is where things get really fun. Both Stephen Curry and Armanti Edwards will be eligible in 2016. There is a good chance that one or both of them will be elected, and that all the other modern-era candidates will be shunted aside for another two years.

It is even more likely that Curry and Edwards will get the nod because neither of their schools will be in the league by 2016, which seems to have been a significant advantage for past candidates.

2017: No election scheduled

2018: By this time no officiating supervisors will have been elected for six years, so expect at least one to take up a “modern era” slot, much like Burch did in 2012. The other inductee will likely be a former Elon player or coach (again, the no-longer-in-league factor).

2019: No election scheduled

2020: Will the league still exist? Of course, if you follow sports on television, you might be under the impression the SoCon doesn’t really exist in 2014.

It also doesn’t help the league that certain schools seem to have a leg up on getting people inducted. For example, Appalachian State, which has been in the league since 1971, has five enshrinees.

Jerry Moore retired (or was forced out), and the following year was immediately waved into the Hall. Chal Port of The Citadel, with similar accomplishments as a baseball coach, is not in the Hall.

Dexter Coakley is one of four post-1960 male athletes to have gained enshrinement into the league’s Hall of Fame. He was a dynamite force on the gridiron, but is he really one of the four top SoCon male athletes of the past 50+ years?

Coakley was a truly outstanding football player, to be sure, and the recipient of many honors, but is there a particular reason why he is in the Hall of Fame and (just to name one example) Brian Ruff isn’t? From Coakley’s Hall of Fame bio page:

His name still stands among the Mountaineers’ all-time leaders in all tackling categories, twice registering at least 20 tackles in back-to-back games.

That’s great, and Coakley is second all-time in the Southern Conference in tackles, with 616. He’s behind Ruff, who had a staggering 755 tackles in his college career.

Coakley’s bio also notes that he was “the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore, junior and senior.” Again, this is very impressive.

Brian Ruff was the league’s Player of the Year twice. That was before they started giving awards for both offense and defense, so Ruff had to compete with all the league’s offensive stars as well as defenders. Only four SoCon players won the PoY award multiple times; Ruff was the only defender to do so.

Ruff was also the last Southern Conference football player to have been named a Division I first-team All-American. (Not I-AA; I.)

I want to reiterate that Coakley is not undeserving of recognition. If there were six to eight football players from the “modern era” in the Hall, it would stand to reason that he might be one of them.

It’s just that right now, there are only two (Coakley and Georgia Southern’s Adrian Peterson). Where is Ruff, or Thomas Haskins, or Stanford Jennings, or Bob Schweickert?

Heck, since Schweickert went to a school that is now in the ACC (Virginia Tech), he would seem to be a natural choice under the current guidelines.

In all honesty, though, Appalachian State’s prowess in lobbying is not the biggest problem with the Hall. No, it’s the league’s favoring of a shorter period of its past at the expense of the majority of its history that is most frustrating, and which needs to change.

Jeff Hartsell suggested the following in his column, which I think makes a lot of sense:

Induct a six-person class every year: At least one woman and one candidate from the pre-1954 era, with the other four from the “modern era.”

That would work. For one thing, it would alleviate a smaller problem with the current setup, which is that while the number of women currently in the Hall of Fame is more or less appropriate (if you are into quotas, anyway), the “women’s category” would be slightly over-represented in a one-out-of-five format going forward.

One out of six is (at least for this current time in league history) a more reasonable percentage. That isn’t such a big deal, though, at least relative to the league’s other procedural shortcomings.

Obviously having elections every year is the way to go. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame got started, the powers that be made a similar mistake in not holding yearly elections.

This led to a host of problems, some of which still negatively impact Cooperstown today. Seventy-five years later, the Southern Conference should not be repeating the same mistake.

While you could argue that having four “modern era” picks for every one pre-1954 selection is reversing the current problem, the fact is that the SoCon Hall of Fame has so many pre-1954 honorees already it would take about a decade of voting to even things back out.

Incidentally, the SoCon has changed its voting procedures before:

In the fall of 2009, the conference created a special contributor category to honor administrators.

Yes, the league changed the rules so it could elect officiating supervisors…

Jeff Hartsell wrote that “the SoCon, despite its rich history, did not even have a Hall of Fame until current commish John Iamarino came on board in 2006. He and his staff got it up and running and should be commended for that.”

Well, I’m not sure I’m willing to commend the commissioner for establishing a Hall of Fame that seems to primarily exist as an auxiliary Hall for the ACC and SEC.

I’ve been following the Southern Conference for my entire life. I would like to see appropriate recognition for the coaches and athletes I have watched compete in the league. That isn’t happening right now.

(Also, here’s a tip: I don’t watch the games for the officiating, and nobody else does either.)

It may be that the league is unwilling to change its voting procedures to more accurately reflect its history. If so, then I would respectfully suggest to the administration at The Citadel that it may be best for the school to “opt out” of the SoCon Hall of Fame.

It is likely that The Citadel helps fund this entity. However, if its coaches and players are not going to be treated fairly (along with those from other schools, notably VMI), then why should The Citadel have to pay for the privilege?

Chal Port and his legacy

Chal Port was the best coach I ever had, and his love of his boys poured out of him the way it always does with the best of the breed.

— Pat Conroy, Prologue, My Losing Season

We are not reloading; we are in a rebuilding process.  Our team is made up of reserves of past years and freshmen who will get the opportunity to play this year and hopefully be up to the challenge…Our baseball accomplishments measured by victories this year could be moderate.  From our players we need a dedication of purpose, firm self-discipline and tenacious determination.  Hard work and aggressive play must overcome our limitations.

We will be playing off the enthusiasm of youth, and that should result in some entertaining baseball.  We must judge this team on the basis of their performance, according to their individual abilities and improvement throughout the season.  We want to teach them not to beat themselves and to always play with a fighting spirit and essential mental toughness.

We need to stay out of the way of line drives and recover foul balls so that we can stay within our budget.

— Chal Port, from The Citadel’s 1990 Baseball Media Guide

That last line is one of Port’s more famous witticisms, mainly because it is one of the most publicized, as it got a lot of press after the 1990 team reached the College World Series.  It is quintessential Port, to be sure.

Port died Saturday in Charleston after a long illness.  He was 80 years old.  You can read and view stories and tributes to Port in many places, including Jeff Hartsell’s article in The Post and Courier, WCIV-TV, WCSC-TV, and this selection from the 2005 documentary DVD “Who’d a Thunk It?”.

Chal Port won 641 games and seven Southern Conference championships at The Citadel, but the opening paragraph on any story about his career at the military college always prominently includes that 1990 squad, and justifiably so.  At the time, longtime Clemson coach Bill Wilhelm said he didn’t know of “a lower-budget team to go to the College World Series,” and he wasn’t being patronizing in any way.

Port was the only fulltime coach on the staff; his two assistants were a part-timer (Tom Hatley) and a GA (Ken Creehan).  As for how many scholarships Port had available, I have heard different numbers, though all sources agree that he had far from the maximum 11.7 schollies.  He probably had half that amount at his disposal, at best.

Winning 46 games with a team that had such limited resources, including the wins over North Carolina State and East Carolina at the Atlantic Regional, becoming the only team to ever win two games against Miami at Mark Light Stadium in a regional, and then actually winning a game in Omaha…that was some kind of run.  Nothing like it had ever happened before, and it is hard to imagine it ever happening again.

Port guiding his Bulldogs to Omaha was a godsend for both the local and national media in 1990, as he gave scribes and TV commentators all the material they wanted and then some.  Just a sample:

— [From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution] “After his team beat perennial power Miami to reach the CWS, ESPN’s Tim Brando asked Port how it felt to win in the shadow of the building named for Ron Fraser, Miami’s coach.

‘No big deal,’ he said.  ‘I’ve got a building at The Citadel named after me.  It’s the Port-O-Let next to the dugout.'”

(After that comment, the AJC‘s Tom Whitfield wrote that “Chal Port of The Citadel has been named college coach of the year by The Sporting News…when it comes to down-home wisdom and one-liners, he’s the coach for the ages.”)

— Brando interviewed Port at the Atlantic Regional in Miami.  Also at that regional, a young Miami Herald sportswriter named Dan Le Batard documented an exchange with Port that went in part like this:

Le Batard: “…but Chal, your team…is an impressive 41-12 and…”

Port:  “Good scheduling, don’t you think?”

Le Batard:  “But Chal, pal, your team had a 26-game winning streak this year, the nation’s longest, and…”

Port:  “Aw, we don’t win a lot of baseball games but we do pretty good in wars.”

— Port also gave an interview to columnist William Rhoden of The New York Times:

“When we looked at the calendar last fall, our goal for June 1st was to make sure that the kids had turned in all their equipment.” …

… “‘Baseball has never been big at The Citadel,” he said. ”It’s a military school, and as a military school, football is the god, then basketball. When baseball has a good year, we’re third. When we have poor years, we drop down behind golf.”

For all of the success of this year’s team, Port realizes that The Citadel will never become a perennial baseball power.

”Most excellent baseball players are not interested in marching and wearing uniforms,” Port said.

Of course, one team and a bunch of jokes don’t really define the man.  His overall record is extremely impressive, but when put into context, the adjective “amazing” may be a more appropriate term than “impressive”.  This next section is something I wrote a couple of years ago as part of a study of the records of Port and Fred Jordan, with some minor editing.

Chal Port had to make numerous on-field adjustments during his tenure, including the change from wooden to aluminum bats, and the Southern Conference moving to divisional play (and then dropping the divisions), among other things.  Then there were the off-field adjustments, which included integration, and the fact that going to a military school wasn’t exactly the cool thing to do in the early-to-mid-1970s (not that it’s ever been the really cool thing to do).   Consider what the baseball program accomplished, especially when compared to The Citadel’s football and hoops programs of that decade:

From 1971-1979, the football team was coached by Red Parker, Bobby Ross, and Art Baker.  Ross in particular is known as having been an outstanding coach, with major success at multiple levels of the sport.  The football team had four winning seasons overall in those nine years, with no league titles and a conference mark of 26-29 (47.2%).  SoCon finishes:  3rd, 4th, 7th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 3rd, 5th, 3rd.

The basketball team was coached from 1971-79 by Dick Campbell, George Hill, and Les Robinson.  Robinson would later prove his worth as a coach with an outstanding rebuilding job at East Tennessee State, but during this period the hoops program had just two winning seasons, bookends on seven straight losing campaigns, and had an overall conference record of 43-69 (38.4%).  Conference finishes:  4th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 7th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 3rd.

Meanwhile, from 1971-1979 Port went 85-43 (66.4%) in conference play, with three championships, nine winning seasons overall, and eight winning seasons in the league (and the other was a .500 season).  His SoCon finishes during that time:  1st, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st.  He finished in the upper half of the league all nine years.

He wasn’t done yet, either.  He had his best teams up to that time in 1982 and 1983, with the ’82 squad finishing 40-8.  At that point another power arose in the Southern Conference, as Western Carolina hired Jack Leggett to upgrade its already promising program.  The Catamounts would win five straight league titles, a stretch dovetailing almost exactly with a gradual decline in The Citadel’s fortunes on the diamond.

Port outlasted WCU’s run and (even more impressively) Hurricane Hugo, however, and orchestrated a season that won’t soon be forgotten, plus a very nice coda (the ’91 campaign).

The 1990 season was incredible, but don’t forget all those terrific teams he had in the 1970s and 1980s.  A few of those squads were just a break or two away from being DVD-worthy themselves (the 1982 team in particular).

Port is, without much doubt, the best coach The Citadel has ever had, in any sport.  He got it done off the field, too, as almost all of his players graduated.

The State of South Carolina has had more than its fair share of outstanding college baseball coaches over the years, but Chal Port was arguably better than any of them, given his resources.  I say that as someone who has a great deal of respect for the wonderful job Ray Tanner has done at South Carolina (not to mention Wilhelm, Bobby Richardson, etc.).

Port’s influence over the game continues today.  Numerous former players went on to become successful high school coaches in the state, preaching the gospel of Chal.

Some of his disciples moved on to the college ranks, including three current D-1 head coaches:  his successor at The Citadel, Fred Jordan; Tony Skole (ETSU);  and Dan McDonnell (who made a little history for himself by leading Louisville to Omaha a few years ago, joining the exclusive club of individuals to have played for and coached a CWS team).

Port’s influence can even be seen indirectly with players like Baltimore Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters, whose father Richard was an outstanding pitcher-outfielder for Port in the 1970s.

Chal Port’s ability to develop and nurture leaders inside and outside the game is his real legacy, even more so than his renowned storytelling ability and his championship-winning baseball teams.

Condolences to his family and friends.

Port and Jordan

In the last four baseball seasons, The Citadel’s conference record by year is as follows:  14-16, 15-12, 12-15, 12-15.  That is not exactly what Bulldog fans have come to expect from the baseball program, which has historically been the school’s strongest varsity sport.  On the other hand, what should be expected?  I decided to check some numbers in an attempt to answer that question.  I concentrated on the team’s play since 1965, Chal Port’s first year as head coach.

One thing I want to make clear is that this discussion has nothing to do with the current Bulldog squad, which as of this writing is 9-9 overall, 5-4 in the Southern Conference.  This is more about the program’s history, and the current edition of the baseball Bulldogs is just beginning to make its own mark in the historical record.

One of the difficult things in trying to compare and contrast baseball teams of the past is that there have been a lot of variables over the years — in the scheduling, in the makeup of the Southern Conference, in how the conference determines its champion, even in the equipment used.  I made some decisions on how best to make comparisons.  The biggest decision I made was to concentrate solely on league play.

Nowadays the Bulldogs play a lot more games than they did 30 years ago.  In 1975, for example, Chal Port won his second conference title with an 11-3 league record.  His overall record that season was 21-9.  Twenty years later, in 1995, Fred Jordan won his first regular season SoCon title with a conference mark of 19-5, 39-21 overall.  The Bulldogs played exactly twice as many games in 1995 as they did in 1975, and almost twice as many league contests.

Comparing by league record is hard enough, what with more games and more/different schools in the league, but it’s almost impossible to make observations based on the non-conference slate, not only because of the number of games but because of the level of the competition.  Since 1994 The Citadel has played only three games against non-Division I opponents — a game against North Florida in 1995 (in a tournament hosted by UNF), and two games against Presbyterian in 1998 (scheduled after The Citadel won the league tournament in order to prevent an 18-day layoff prior to regional play).

The lack of non-Division I games is due to a SoCon edict handed out following the 1993 season.  For the 1994 season, the conference found itself in a situation in which it didn’t want to be, namely as a “play-in” conference.  The NCAA tournament was a 48-team affair at the time, and in 1994 there were 30 automatic bids.  However, the NCAA mandated that 24 berths for the tournament were to be at-large, which meant there were 6 auto bids too many.  As a result, the 12 lowest-rated conferences from the 1993 season each had to qualify for a regional by winning a best-of-three series against one of the other low-rated leagues.

If that sounds like the NCAA basketball tournament’s “play-in” game, it’s because that’s exactly what it was, times six.  The Southern Conference was one of the 12 leagues that had to play an extra round just to get in the main tournament, and the champion was drawn to face the winner of the Ohio Valley Conference.  The Citadel won the league tournament that year and beat Middle Tennessee State, 2 games to 1, in Charleston to advance to the regional held at Clemson.

To prevent this from happening again, the league determined that its schools should play a Division I-only schedule to improve the league’s power rating.  This was a marginally risky short-term strategy (what if the league had lost an overwhelming number of those extra D-1 games?)  but proved a benefit to the conference in the long run.  However, it meant that the days of The Citadel playing the likes of Hiram or Gannon were over.

As mentioned earlier, comparing eras by conference play is no picnic either.  In 1965, league schools included West Virginia, George Washington, William & Mary, Richmond, VMI, and Virginia Tech.  None of those schools are still in the SoCon.  You also have schools like East Carolina, East Tennessee State, and Marshall, which have come and gone, Davidson (which left and then came back), and schools making their debuts in the league in the 1970s (Western Carolina and Appalachian State), 1990s (Georgia Southern, UNC-Greensboro, and the College of Charleston), and 2000s (Elon and Samford, the latter beginning conference play this season).  UT-Chattanooga competed in the sport for six league seasons before the school dropped baseball following the 1982 campaign.  The conference has had as few as seven and as many as eleven baseball schools over the past 45 years.

Let’s look at Chal Port’s career SoCon record.   Port coached for 27 years and finished with an overall league mark of 253-156-1 (.618).  Port won seven conference titles and one tournament title (it should be noted that the conference did not have a tournament until 1984; five of Port’s league titles came prior to that season).  Port had a stretch of 10 consecutive winning conference records, with that run preceded by three winning records and a 7-7 season, so he actually had 14 straight non-losing seasons in SoCon action.  Overall, Chal Port had 18 winning SoCon seasons, 7 losing seasons, and 2 at .500 in the league.  Port had a winning record in conference play in exactly two-thirds of his seasons as head coach.

Incidentally, Port’s record in the conference after his first seventeen seasons was 143-98-1 (.593), with 12 winning seasons, four losing seasons, and one at .500 in SoCon play, with three league championships.  I mention this because Fred Jordan completed his seventeenth season as head coach last year.  Jordan entered this season with a record of 285-166 (.632)  in league play, with 13 winning seasons and four losing campaigns, and with four regular season titles and six tournament championships.

Jordan, like Port, also had a stretch of 10 consecutive winning seasons in conference play (from 1995 through 2004).  The problem, from the perspective of the program’s current status, is that since 2005, he has had just one winning league season, in 2006 (when the team was 15-12).  In the last four years Jordan’s conference record is only 53-58 (48%).  Did Chal Port ever have a stretch like that?

Well, yes.  After Port’s earlier-mentioned 10-year run of success, which lasted from 1975 through 1984, he had five conference seasons that went like this:  8-10, 9-9, 6-12, 12-6, 8-9.  Overall record during that five-year period:  43-47 (48%).  You may see a pattern developing.  You would be right…

Both Port and Jordan won four regular season titles during their respective 10-year winning streaks.  During those runs, Port won 73% of his league games.  Jordan won 72% of his.

The similarities in the two coaches’ records are striking.  Of course, it’s not that simple.  After those five relatively mediocre seasons noted above, Port finished his career with a run of 29 wins in 32 league games, with two regular season titles, a tournament crown, and a completely unfathomable trip to Omaha.  It’s that finish that people understandably tend to remember, even more so than the terrific teams he fielded during a good chunk of the 1970s and early 1980s.

It’s difficult for Jordan to compete with those memories, particularly since the conference has in recent years seen an influx of schools that take their baseball seriously (Georgia Southern, College of Charleston, UNC-Greensboro, and Elon).  The competition within the league is arguably tougher than it was two decades ago.

That’s not to take away anything from Port’s record, which is lauded with good reason, and in fact is probably even more impressive than a lot of people realize.  Port had to make numerous on-field adjustments during his tenure, including the change from wooden to aluminum bats, and the conference moving to divisional play (and then dropping the divisions), among other things.  Then there were the off-field adjustments, which included integration, and the fact that going to a military school wasn’t exactly the cool thing to do in the early-to-mid-1970s (not that it’s ever been the really cool thing to do).   Consider what the baseball program accomplished, especially when compared to The Citadel’s football and hoops programs of that decade:

From 1971-1979, the football team was coached by Red Parker, Bobby Ross, and Art Baker.  Ross in particular is known as having been an outstanding coach, with major success at multiple levels of the sport.  The football team had four winning seasons overall in those nine years, with no league titles and a conference mark of 26-29 (47.2%).  SoCon finishes:  3rd, 4th, 7th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 3rd, 5th, 3rd.

Tangent alert:  Ross was really good at putting together a coaching staff.  For example, his 1973 coaching staff included Frank Beamer, Ralph Friedgen, Jimmye Laycock, Cal McCombs, Charlie Rizzo, and Rusty Hamilton, along with none other than Chal Port (who doubled as an assistant football coach during his first decade at The Citadel; Port had been a fine football and baseball player for North Carolina in the early 1950s).  The team itself also had some future coaches, like David Sollazzo and Ellis Johnson.  Despite all that coaching talent, in 1973 The Citadel was 3-8 overall, 1-6 in the conference.

The basketball team was coached from 1971-79 by Dick Campbell, George Hill, and Les Robinson.  Robinson would later prove his worth as a coach with an oustanding rebuilding job at East Tennessee State, but during this period the hoops program had just two winning seasons, bookends on seven straight losing campaigns, and had an overall conference record of 43-69 (38.4%).  Conference finishes:  4th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 7th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 3rd.

Meanwhile, from 1971-1979 Port went 85-43 (66.4%) in conference play, with three championships, nine winning seasons overall, and eight winning seasons in the league (and the other was a .500 season).  His SoCon finishes during that time:  1st, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st.  He finished in the upper half of the league all nine years.

He wasn’t done yet, either.  He had his best teams up to that time in 1982 and 1983, with the ’82 squad finishing 40-8.  At that point another power arose in the Southern Conference, as Western Carolina hired Jack Leggett to upgrade its already promising program.  The Catamounts would win five straight league titles, a stretch dovetailing almost exactly with a gradual decline in The Citadel’s fortunes on the diamond.

Port outlasted WCU’s run and (even more impressively) Hurricane Hugo, however, and orchestrated a season that won’t soon be forgotten, plus a very nice coda (the ’91 campaign).  That’s quite a legacy, one augmented by Port’s well-deserved reputation as a jokemeister and storyteller.

Jordan should be credited with maintaining the high standard of the program throughout much of his time as head coach, as the numbers rather clearly demonstrate that he has done so.  What he needs now is a “second wind”.  Port got his after a real-life gust of wind, Hurricane Hugo, blew through Charleston.  Then, rather amusingly (and appropriately), he capped a season for the ages by beating a team called the Hurricanes to reach the College World Series, giving a then up-and-coming Miami sportswriter named Dan Le Batard enough material for several columns in the process.

Jordan doesn’t need another hurricane (let’s hope not, anyway) to re-establish momentum.  He doesn’t even need to start making appearances on Le Batard’s radio show.  He just needs better pitching and defense (don’t sleep on the need for better defense).  He’s had championship-caliber pitching and defense in the past, and I see no reason to believe he can’t get the program to that championship level again.

I certainly hope so, anyway.  I would like to make another regional trip, preferably sooner rather than later…