South Carolina baseball fires Mark Kingston after another disappointing season

South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston has been relieved of his duties after another disappointing season in Columbia.
Former South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston
Former South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston / Angelina Alcantar/News Sentinel / USA

South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston has been fired. TheBigSpur's John Whittle was the first with the news.

Kingston finishes his time as the Gamecocks' skipper with a 217-155 overall record, an 83-96 SEC record in the regular season, a 5-8 mark in the SEC Tournament, and 0 College World Series appearances.

Kingston received a contract extension after a good 2023 campaign saved him from what many thought was going to be his final year in Columbia. The extension means the Gamecocks will be on the hook for some buyout money, but the number was not big enough to keep Athletics Director Ray Tanner from making the change after what was another disappointing year for the program he once led.

The news comes as no surprise to most who have paid attention to the Gamecocks in recent years. Of the five coaching tenures USC fans have watched over the past 55 years in Columbia, the Kingston era in Columbia has been the worst (he's the only coach of the 5 to have a winning percentage below 65%—his win rate was 58%—and he finished with a losing record in SEC games, postseason games, and in the rivalry series against the Clemson Tigers). Having been given seven seasons to figure things out, the time came for the program to move on to something new.

While comparing Kingston's time in garnet and black to Ray Tanner, June Raines, and Bobby Richardson probably isn't fair, he fell short of the marks held by his predecessor, as well. Chad Holbrook was fired after 5 seasons but won 40 games three times and made the Super Regionals twice. Kingston won 40 games just once and made the Supers twice despite coaching longer in Columbia.

The Gamecocks had two seasons without a winning record in the past seven years (and many thought the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign was destined for another as it followed the 2019 disaster). That is something that happened just twice combined in the 48 years that Richardson, Raines, Tanner, and Holbrook owned the dugout. The three losing seasons in SEC play (in just six full seasons) are the same total as Holbrook and Tanner combined, and they coached USC for 21 years.

In the 18 years prior to Kingston's time as head coach, the South Carolina baseball team won 12 Regionals (67%) and made 6 College World Series appearances (33%). In the last seven, Carolina won 2 Regionals in six full seasons (33%) and made 0 trips to Omaha (0%). In other words, with Kingston at the helm, USC won Regionals at half of its recent rate and made it to the Supers as often as they used to advance to the College World Series.

The Gamecocks have had more finishes in the bottom-2 of the SEC standings (2019 and 2022) than they have had in the top-6 (just 2023).

Over the past seven seasons, only Ethan Petry and Cole Messina made the All-SEC 1st Team, and the Gamecocks had zero SEC All-Defensive selections under Kingston.

At the plate, Carolina has had the same number of last-place SEC finishes in OPS (On-Base plus Slugging) as top-5 SEC years with the bat. Despite being billed as a home run guru as a coach, Kingston has produced zero top-3 SEC home run finishes but one last-place effort.

Gamecock pitchers have struggled under Kingston, too, as the team has led the conference in walks twice and averaging a bottom-half finish among SEC competition in ERA over the last seven seasons.

Even past the stats and numbers (which aren't very pretty), the "eye test" felt even worse as South Carolina baseball, once known for excelling at the fundamentals and thriving in the most difficult moments and situations, was a difficult team to watch even for the most dedicated fans. Poor defense, silly baserunning, and a lack of aggression in the batter's box were common themes.

The Kingston era also was plagued by pitching injuries, an inconsistent approach at the plate, and a low return on investment when comparing the amount of talent brought into the program and money spent on the program to the production seen on the field.

The Gamecocks' recent play was emblematic of the majority of the past seven years. Carolina just didn't play quality baseball down the stretch of the regular season, in the SEC Tournament, or the Raleigh Regional as they finished the year on a 4-10 swoon. They were outscored 114-83 during that stretch, and surrendered at least 8 runs on eight occasions while scoring 8 just four times.

An all-time great hot stretch at the plate from Cole Messina helped earn Carolina a few wins in Hoover, but the team's abysmal infield defense, poor situational hitting, lapses on the bases, and inconsistent pitching were not a recipe for advancement past the Regional. The sloppiness and disjointed nature of what fans saw on the field was typical during the Kingston regime.

A new voice was needed to lead a proud program that hasn't had much to be proud of recently, and that is why the change was made. Who Ray Tanner will decide to bring in is unknown at this point, but the sport of college baseball has never had as many good coaches as it has today.

There will be a lot of great options for the Gamecocks, and the fans of the garnet and black hope that one of them will be enticed enough by the job to come to Columbia and bring the program back to life.

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