-Photo by Jordan McPherson
With the Florida baseball team huddled along the right side of the first-base dugout before practice on Friday afternoon, Jack Leggett began to speak.
The 62-year-old was in the college baseball world for 38 years as a coach and has been friends with UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan for close to 20 years now.
Leggett, who was fired from his post as Clemson after the 2015 season, has come to Gainesville each of the last two years now, getting a first-hand view of the team his former assistant has built.
On a nearly cloudless day a week before the No. 3 Gators open the season against William & Mary, the former coach gave his extended family a 10-minute pep talk, one with the same mantras they’ve probably heard from their current coach more than once.
“There’s going to be a little bit of a bulls-eye on your chest, which is how you want it if you’re a competitor,” Leggett, donning a grey t-shirt and a UF ball cap, said to the group of 30 players who sat silently and attentively in admiration. “If you’re a competitor, that’s why you came to Florida and that’s why you’re still here.”
That’s why O’Sullivan, who is heading into his 10th year as Florida’s head coach, is still here.
And that’s why Leggett, who helped groom and mentor O’Sullivan for the nine years before that at Clemson, is glad to keep this relationship alive.
“For him to be successful like he is,” Leggett said, “... it's extremely prideful."
The relationship goes back to 1998 when Leggett needed a new pitching coach.
Leggett, who just finished his fifth year as Clemson’s head coach at the time, turned to his assistant coach Tim Corbin and the two started thinking about possible candidates.
They kept circling back to one name: Kevin O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan was a relatively new coach in the college baseball world at the time. He had six years of experience as an assistant -- two apiece at his alma maters Florida Community College and Virginia with another two at Florida Atlantic sandwiched between them.
“Corbin, can Sully throw BP?” Leggett asked.
“I think he throws BP better than me,” Corbin replied.
It turned out O’Sullivan was able to do much more than that.
In his nine years at Clemson — the first four as an assistant, the final five as the associate head coach — the Tigers reached the NCAA Tournament every year and made it to the College World Series three times. O’Sullivan coached 29 pitchers during those nine years who were selected in the MLB Draft, including three first-round picks.
“The Xs and Os on the baseball part of it is one piece,” O’Sullivan said, “but the emphasis of education and how to conduct yourself on and off the field, how to run a program in a first-class manner from A-Z is really what I pulled away from my experience at Clemson and with Jack.”
When O’Sullivan accepted the head coaching job at Florida following the 2007 season, Leggett gave him one piece of advice: Just be you.
“Stick your nose to the grind,” Leggett said. “Take the things you learned in the past and apply them.”
As Leggett finished talking to his surrogate team before releasing them off to practice, O’Sullivan walked toward the dugout with his two kids.
He couldn’t help but smile.
“I lean on him still to this day all the time,” O’Sullivan said, “He's just been a great resource, a great mentor. I pick his brain all the time."
The two still talk on the phone all the time.
Sometimes it’s about baseball. Sometimes, it’s about practice. Most of the time, though, it’s just about life.
“He's like a best friend, a brother, a son all wrapped up in one,” Leggett said. “So it's always great to see him do well. I know how important this is to him.”