The Bradsher Beat
Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Bethany Bradsher

The LeClair effect takes root at Michigan


Former ECU baseball players Erik Bakich (left) and Nick Schnabel (right) are still deeply influenced by the mentor they played for in Greenville, the late Keith LeClair (below). Today Bakich is head coach at Michigan and Schnabel is an assistant coach for the Wolverines. The goal LeClair instilled in them more than a decade ago is the one they still have their sights set on in Ann Arbor — helping their team reach the College World Series.

Photo credits: Bakich and Schnabel courtesy of Michigan Media Relations; LeClair courtesy of ECU Media Relations.
Iconic East Carolina baseball coach Keith LeClair penned a regular column for Bonesville after Lou Gehrig's disease forced his retirement from the dugout. Access the archives of LeClair's column as published in 2003-04.


By Bethany Bradsher
All Rights Reserved.

When Erik Bakich or Nick Schnabel sits down with a Michigan baseball recruit, there is one conversation they always have with the young man.

They tell him about their college coach at East Carolina, Keith LeClair, and about his enduring impact on them as men and as coaches.

They tell the teenage baseball player sitting across the table that Coach LeClair had high expectations for his teams – a unified group of athletes working toward Omaha – and they expect the same within the Wolverines program.

The two coaches are in their second year in Ann Arbor – Bakich was hired as the head coach in June 2012 and he quickly hired Schnabel as his assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.

They have every reason to believe that they can build a national powerhouse there, Bakich said. Athletic director David Brandon is committed to excellence across the board, and the baseball staff has the resources and support they need to forge a path to Omaha in the next few years.

“The future is going to be very bright,” said Bakich, who finished at East Carolina in 2000 and went on to assistant coaching stops at Clemson and Vanderbilt and the head coaching job at Maryland before taking the Michigan post.

The transition from Maryland to Michigan, besides just testing the ability of a California native to withstand some brutal winters, has been encouraging because of the university’s attitude toward the baseball program.

Brandon’s goal for the athletic department is ambitious and simple – to be in the running for the Director’s Cup every year. To that end, coaches like Bakich and his players are creating a climate where a national championship is a very real goal.

“One of the great opportunities here is going from a powerhouse conference where you really just struggle to finish in the top eight (in Maryland) to going to a conference with the resources and support that with a couple of good recruiting classes we can be in a position to win the conference year after year,” he said.

With an overall record of 18-22-1 and 8-7 in the Big Ten, Michigan is fourth in the conference and poised to make a run, he said. Twelve of the Wolverines' first 24 games were against top 25 teams, and with a young roster the early part of the season forged the team's toughness and identity quickly, Bakich said.

Michigan's immediate goal is a Big Ten title, he said, but like LeClair he and Schnabel never let Omaha be too far from the team’s consciousness.

“We have taken the ability to motivate a team and reach team members individually the way Coach LeClair did,” Bakich said. “I think back to the team that we had, California kids and North Carolina kids, players of different backgrounds coming together to unite around a common goal.

“What he did to get everybody to buy into his beliefs and his philosophies, to get us to gel into a group that not only really cared for each other but worked hard together and truly believed that we could get to Omaha. That’s what made Coach LeClair so great, was his ability to inspire.”

Though they are pouring themselves into building something special for the maize and blue every day, Bakich said that he and Schabel still bleed purple and gold. They are already looking forward to the first weekend of March in 2015, when they will bring their ball club into Clark-LeClair Stadium to compete against their old team in the Keith LeClair Classic.

When the homecoming takes place, the two former Pirate stars will no doubt be striving for a different outcome for Michigan than occurred in the March 4, 2005, dedication game of Clark-LeClair Stadium. The Wolverines lost that contest in a 2-1 thriller. [View Woody Peele's column from that game.] [View the box score from that game.]

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04/24/2014 03:32 AM