As he leaves for Clemson, Erik Bakich tells UM baseball: 'I love them'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Erik Bakich has left the job, but he's not leaving the relationships.

Bakich, who led Michigan baseball to four NCAA Tournament appearances in 10 years, including the 2019 College World Series, was officially introduced as the next head coach at Clemson on Thursday.

But he paid tribute to the school and the players, past and present, he's left behind.

Erik Bakich was introduced as head baseball coach at Clemson on Thursday.

"I told them I loved them," Bakich said Thursday during his introductory press conference. "Relationships transcend geography and location. ... It doesn't mean I love them any less and I won't continue to be in their lives. ... Just because I'm not there doesn't mean I'm not with them or not speaking with them or not involved with them. I hope to be at all their weddings someday.

"That's the hardest part of leaving, the players you are leaving and the relationships.

"It's important to continue those."

Bakich, 44, signed a six-year contract worth $6.25 million in salary, plus a $400,000 signing bonus, in becoming just the fourth head baseball coach at Clemson in the last 56 years.

At Michigan, he was making more than $500,000 a year, after receiving contract extensions in 2017 and 2019, the latter after the Wolverines finished runner-up in the College World Series to Vanderbilt.

Bakich was the top target from the start for Clemson, athletic director Graham Neff said. And, Neff said, Bakich expressed significant interest in the job shortly after Monte Lee was fired after seven seasons.

Neff said he was looking for specific qualities: an established head coach with success at a "big-time program," recruiting chops, player development, integrity and a connection to Clemson's tradition.

"It all fell into place with Coach Bakich," said Neff, who presented Bakich a No. 23 Clemson jersey, as Bakich wore a burnt-orange tie and paw-print lapel pin. "Clemson baseball got better today."

Clemson, out of the ACC, has been a traditional baseball power, with 44 NCAA Tournament appearances. But it's never won a national championship — the second-most appearances without one, behind Florida State's 58. The expectations, still, are sky high. Lee led Clemson to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons, as the Tigers reached 32 consecutive appearances. The tournament was canceled in 2020, and Clemson missed the last two years, and Lee was out despite a record of 242-136.

At Michigan, Bakich was 328-216, and saw 38 players selected in the Major League Baseball Draft.

"I'm sorry to see Coach Bakich go, but he left us much better than when he found us," Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said Thursday at the Board of Regents meeting in Ann Arbor.

He had a knack at Michigan for expanding the recruiting ground to the entire country, and he said he plans to do the same at Clemson — though it will all start locally, in South Carolina, he said.

It's a homecoming for Bakich, who began his coaching career at Clemson as a volunteer assistant under Jack Leggett and with then-assistants Tim Corbin and Kevin O'Sullivan in 2002, paid in Gatorade bars and t-shirts. He paid $200 for an apartment and had no cable TV or air conditioning. He ate regularly at Peppino's and splurged for the $2 movies in town.

Leggett, a Clemson legend, was at Thursday's press conference. Corbin has gone on to win two NCAA championships at Vanderbilt (including against Michigan in 2019). O'Sullivan has won one at Florida.

That's one impressive coaching tree, and one that's now come full-circle.

"Erik's been top of our list," Neff said. "If I'm being really honest, many years."

Michigan now has an intriguing coaching search on its hands.

Chris Fetter, 36, a former assistant under Bakich who now is the Detroit Tigers' pitching coach, would figure to be a top candidate, but it's unclear if that's the career path Fetter sees for himself.

Another top candidate will be Central Michigan's Jordan Bischel, 41, who's led the Chippewas to three NCAA Tournaments in the last three chances. He recently interviewed for the top jobs at Kansas and Ohio State, and would be very interested in Michigan.

It's expected to be at least a mostly all-new staff at Michigan, regardless of who gets hired. Recruiting coordinator Nick Schnabel is following Bakich to Clemson, and pitching coach Steve Merriman wasn't expected to be retained, even if Bakich came back. The only coach currently listed on Michigan baseball's website is volunteer assistant coach Brandon Inge, the former Tiger.

Bakich, the 2019 national coach of the year, also was an assistant coach under Corbin at Vanderbilt from 2003-09, then head coach at Maryland from 2010-12 before arriving at Michigan, where he led the Wolverines to their first College World Series appearance since 1984.

"To the University of Michigan athletic department, all our players — past and present — their families, seven decades of alumni that joined our team in Omaha, all the fans, I have the deepest appreciation and gratitude for what we were able to accomplish," Bakich said. "Thank you for an incredible ride."

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Anelique S. Chengelis contributed

Twitter: @tonypaul1984