Bound by History: Clemson Baseball’s Erik Bakich and Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan Meet Again

This weekend’s Super Regional matchup between the Clemson Tigers baseball team and the Florida Gators will act as the backdrop of a reunion for the two team’s head coaches.

For those that have followed Clemson baseball for a few years, you won’t need to be reminded that Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan was an assistant at Clemson for nine seasons from 1999-2007, where he worked under Tiger program developer and legendary coach Jack Leggett. A homecoming of sorts, O’Sullivan (or “Sully,” as many know him) will find his visit back to Clemson bittersweet, despite his focus on the task at hand. He was a part of Clemson’s journey to three College World Series in 2000, 2002 and 2006. He’s been at Florida ever since, taking the Gators to the College World Series nine times from 2010 to 2023, winning the national title in 2017 and finishing as runner up twice – including last year’s wild finish that saw Florida fall one game short of a title to eventual champion LSU.

It would be amiss to not also mention Florida’s current pitching coach, David Kopp, played for Clemson baseball from 2005 to 2007. Kopp was named a first-team All-ACC pitcher for the Tigers in 2007, where he pitched 99.2 frames with a 3.79 ERA.

Clemson head baseball coach Erik Bakich was on Leggett’s staff with O’Sullivan in 2002. While O’Sullivan’s journey back to Clemson this weekend has taken a more direct route, Bakich’s journey has had a few other stops along the way. He join Vanderbilt’s staff in 2003 to recruit and coach hitting and fielding. After a massive success in Nashville via recruiting and improved play, Bakich moved to Maryland in 2009 to take his first ever head coaching job. Three years at Maryland put him in position to join the staff at Michigan in 2012, where he’d take the Wolverines to their first College World Series in thirty five years and be named national coach of the year in 2019. His return to Clemson came in 2022, where he’s seen nothing but success since: an ACC tournament title, an ACC division title, and two NCAA regional appearances – with a Super on the way.

Pictured, left to right: Jack Leggett, Erik Bakich, Kevin O’Sullivan (Florida), Tim Corbin (Vanderbilt)

You want to talk about accelerating the learning curve? That was it. I’ve only ever been a part of one coaching tree, and that’s the Jack Leggett coaching tree, and I’m very proud to be a part of that.

Coach Erik Bakich, when asked about other baseball coaches coming out of Clemson

Florida made its way back to the NCAA Tournament on its last leg, carrying a 28-27 into the Stillwater regional. Something clicked for the Gators during postseason play, however, as they would go 4-1 and stun the hosting 11th national seed Oklahoma State Cowboys by beating them twice in as many days for the regional title. Led by do-everything Jac Caglianone, Kevin O’Sullivan is confident his team can make a statement this weekend against his former Clemson team.

The Tigers come in on a perfect slate in the tournament thus far, going 3-0 in regional play. Erik Bakich and team are happy to be seeing some old faces, but are not ready for Sunday’s celebration in Doug Kingsmore to be its last of 2024. During the regional win postgame press conference, pitcher Austin Gordon would be asked about the feeling of the celebration. His response was that he didn’t think that anything could top it. Coach Bakich’s response?

Next weekend.

Coach Erik Bakich, to Austin Gordon about this weekend’s potential Super Regional win

When the two coaches meet at home plate before first pitch of game one on Saturday around 2pm, it will mean more than just two competing coaches getting ready for another game. The paths of O’Sullivan and Bakich will have converged to a point in time representative of two programs’ ships passing in the proverbial college baseball night: O’Sullivan looking to continue success at the program he’s built, with Bakich seeking to bring glory back to a once storied organization. Bakich will see O’Sullivan’s prosperous coaching career at Florida up close, and O’Sullivan will get to see what Bakich has turned over to flourish at Clemson.

Just like in the regional round, it’s doubtful Bakich will want to engage in much nostalgia. He wants the focus to be on his players. However, all in all, look for a warm reunion between the two head coaches before the game – with the Clemson faithful hoping something more is exchanged during the handshake. That one thing in particular? A Tiger visit to Omaha.

Other Notes:

This would mark the second time in as many weeks that Clemson has hosted a former coach. Last week, former Clemson assistant Tim Corbin brought Vanderbilt to the Clemson Regional. Bakich was the lead assistant of Corbin’s during his time with the Commodores. While The Tigers and Commodores didn’t play each other, Vanderbilt would go 0-2 in the regional with losses to Coastal Carolina and High Point.

Clemson and Florida last played on the baseball diamond in 1983, where the Gators would win both games played. The two programs have only played two games ever at Clemson, both of which came all the way back in 1930. The teams split the two matchups, winning one a piece.

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