Bringing The Tradition Back

Kevin O'Sullivan looks to restore rich history in Gainesville

Aug. 2, 2007

By Douglas Kroll



Doug Kroll is an editor for, focusing on baseball.
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June 13, 2001 was an important day in Florida Gators baseball history.  A new era was ushered in when the school pried away Pat McMahon from his head coaching post with SEC rival Mississippi State, to continue the team's upward path towards a national championship.


It wasn't like the Gators had struggled prior to McMahon's arrival.  UF had made the NCAA Tournament in five of seven seasons under Andy Lopez, but the closest they came to a national title, was a two-and-out in Omaha in 1998. 


Six years and one day after McMahon was brought in as the 20th head coach in Florida baseball history, the 21st head coach in school history was introduced by athletic director Jeremy Foley.  The man standing on the podium was Kevin O'Sullivan, who was tabbed as the best to lead the program back to Omaha, a spectacle they were most recently apart of in 2005 when they finished as the runner-up.


O'Sullivan's baseball history is one that rivals few others in the collegiate game, including being the associate head coach at Clemson under good friend and mentor Jack Leggett since 2002, and he just completed his ninth season as the Tigers pitching coach in 2007.  It's that relationship with Leggett that O'Sullivan credits as such a help to his baseball coaching career.


"Jack was both a best friend and mentor," O'Sullivan said.  "He is a great leader and has done so much for Clemson University and the baseball program. In speaking with Jack about the job, he was very happy for me. Regardless of where I'm at, we will always remain close."


Regarded as one of the best recruiters in the game, the Goshen, N.Y. native has brought in class after class of impressive talent to Clemson.  His 2007 freshmen at Clemson were named No. 4 in the nation by Baseball America. 


Only days after taking the job in Gainesville, O'Sullivan was right back out on the road trying to reel in the next Gators class. 


"We had a press conference on a Thursday and I traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, for the Perfect National Showcase right afterwards," O'Sullivan said.  "We just jumped into it without much time for anything else. It was pivotal that we got out as soon as possible and represent the University of Florida."


His new boss has had so much success of late in football and men's basketball, there's no question that Foley's expectations have risen with his other programs.  The women's basketball program will also have a new coach, after Carolyn Peck was let go after a couple disappointing seasons.


Foley's reason for hiring O'Sullivan speaks for itself.


"This is an exciting day and signals a new chapter for Gator baseball," Foley said. "What Kevin has accomplished as one of the top assistants in the nation with highly-respected recruiting skills and player development speaks for itself. He possesses the qualities in a head coach that we were looking for and is eager to hit the ground running. We are counting on Kevin to help return our program to the elite level of collegiate baseball."


The job that O'Sullivan was able to do at Clemson with the pitching staff is somewhat amazing.  In his first season of 1999, the team's ERA wasn't pretty at 5.82.  In only one year he was able to get it down to 3.99, and in no season did it rise above 4.39. 


Part of the reason for that feat was O'Sullivan's ability to recruit in the state of Florida.  Seven members of the Tigers 2007 roster were from his new home state.  It's somewhere he's spent a lot of hours on the road.


"I was probably in the state of Florida recruiting 50 percent of the time recruiting for Clemson and now it will be double that," O'Sullivan said.  "I think that you've got to take care of your home state [when recruiting] and we will do that. If you are doing your job right, I don't think that you'll have to go outside of state. I have told recruits that I don't care if they are from Texas, New England or South Carolina, if they're good, then we need them. I think the focus, though, definitely needs to be on the state of Florida." 


This isn't his first time living in the Sunshine State.  O'Sullivan played two years at Florida Community College before transferring to Virginia.  He then coached at FCC and Florida Atlantic as well. 


It's that experience, coupled with his relationship with Leggett that has Gators fans excited about another new era in UF baseball.  Coming from one of the winningest programs in the nation over the last several years, O'Sullivan will bring a lot with him from his former job. 


"The idea of tradition, pride and player ownership in the program," O'Sullivan named when asked what he'll bring.  "In order to be successful at this level year in and year out, your players have to believe in the program like you do. There can not be people going in different directions. Everyone has to commit themselves on a daily basis to winning a National Championship."


The prospects for the 2008 season are up in the air.  One thing we do know is that he won't have the services of All-Everything first baseman, Matt LaPorta in the middle of the lineup.  He'll also take over a pitching staff that boasted a hefty 5.27 ERA in 2007, part of the reason why the Gators failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. 


With Miami to the south and Florida State to the north, the recruiting has always been a tough war.  Adding one of the best in the nation, coupled with Florida International's hiring of legendary Turtle Thomas, and things have really picked up.


O'Sullivan takes over a team in desperate shape for a national championship.  Having never won one, the Gators have started over.  But not from scratch.

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