For Monte Lee, it’s all about the student-athletes. Lee was recently hired as South Carolina baseball’s associate head coach for his second stint with the Gamecocks after spending the last 14 years as a head coach at the College of Charleston and Clemson. He had worked as an assistant coach for the Gamecocks under current Athletics Ray Director Ray Tanner from 2003-2008. Regardless of his position, Lee’s concern was and is the young men he works with every day.
“They don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care,” Lee said. “That’s the main objective for me right now. It’s really important for me early on to show the players that I’m here to lead them by serving them first. Just getting to know them, whether it’ by their strengths or weaknesses, is how I can I help them.
“The main priority is to develop that relationship with the players and get into a good comfort zone and understanding of what we want to try to create.”
While he had been a head coach for more than a decade, Lee isn’t concerned with his title.
“If I want the players to believe in something, then I have to believe in it too,” Lee said. “We’re going to be big on the players being selfless and putting the program first and dominating their role. If you want to play at a national championship level, you have to be willing to sacrifice for the program, be selfless and dominate your role. I have no problem doing anything whatsoever to dominate the role that I’m in.
“I was an assistant coach for eighth years before I was a head coach. My sole mission as an assistant coach was to dominate the role that I was in as an assistant coach. The title doesn’t necessarily matter to me. My job is to do the very best job I can for the University of South Carolina baseball program, to recruit the best players I can, develop the players that we have here, and to help (head coach) Mark Kingston get to Omaha and win a national championship. That is my role, and I’m going to do everything I can to dominate that role and put this program first. It’s not about me.”
“My focus is very simple right now, and that is to help our players get better for fall practice and develop that type of culture that we need to have to win at a high level.”
That’s not to say that Lee’s experience as a head coach won’t serve him well in his new role with the Gamecocks.
“I’m certainly more calm, cool, and collected now than I was when I first began,” Lee said. “I’m a big believer in that you have to learn how to work hard before you learn how to work smart. You learn by making mistakes. Over the course of time, you learn what works for you, individually. You learn how to work a little bit smarter. With 22 years total as a coach, I can help the head coach when it comes to the some of the decisions that he has to make in his chair because I’ve been in that chair.
“I can be a sounding board for (head coach Marking Kingston) and try to help him when it comes to lineup decisions, in-game adjustments, bullpen discussions, practice decisions, and communication with players. Anything I can help him with, I will, and more importantly, what is it I can take off of his plate, because as a head coach you have to wear a lot of hats.”
Lee said he and Kingston enjoyed a good relationship, even when they were in opposing dugouts for the rivalry series with Clemson.
“We share very similar perspectives,” Lee said. “Over the years, we’ve contacted each other during the course of the spring just to check in. It was a very healthy relationship and a friendship. Just with the rivalry and our staffs being on the road together we began to develop some relationships and a mutual respect for each other.”
Having been on both sides of the rivalry, Lee keeps things in perspective.
“My focus is very simple right now, and that is to help our players get better for fall practice and develop that type of culture that we need to have to win at a high level. I’m certainly not focused on the rivalry right now. I know it’s going to come up.
“As far the awkwardness of the rivalry, a lot of the kids in the (Clemson) program are kids that I recruited. I love those kids dearly. Nothing is going to change how I feel about the kids I’ve coached. The jersey that we wear is never going to change how I feel about them as people.”
While Lee was looking at other opportunities in professional baseball, the chance to come back to South Carolina was an easy decision for him.
“It was the University of South Carolina,” Lee said. “It was pretty simple. I’m a big ‘gut’ guy. I just trust my gut. It was really that simple. I’ve been here. I know what this program is all about. I know what this program can do. It was a no-brainer. I have such a tremendous amount of respect for the program.”
Now that he back in the Garnet and Black, Lee is also glad to be back on an athletics staff with his former boss, Coach Tanner.
“He is a mentor of mine,” Lee said. “I still call him Coach Tanner. I still call him ‘Skip.’ He has meant so much to me in my career.”