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LeClair wins inaugural C-USA special award

From staff and ECU Media Relations reports

Keith LeClair  congratulates a player during East Carolina's run to an NCAA regional championship in Wilson during the 2001 season. (AP Archives File Photo)

Keith LeClair was effective as East Carolina's head baseball coach in ways that go far beyond the league championships and NCAA berths his teams delivered, according to a select group of student athletes representing each of Conference USA's schools.

LeClair, who despite a brief tenure was one of the most successful coaches in the history of East Carolina athletics, was named Thursday the first recipient of the league's Student Athlete Advisory Committee's (SAAC) Coaches Choice Award.

The award, which will be presented annually, goes to the coach in C-USA who best exemplifies a commitment to creating a positive academic and athletic atmosphere while fostering the development and welfare of student athletes.

The selection criteria for the award take into consideration accomplishments in a number of areas both on and off the field, including:

  • Interaction and participation with athletic and the campus community.
  • Commitment to academics.
  • Athletic achievements and improvements.
  • Motivation, innovation and creativity.

Each of the conference's 15 SAAC representative nominates a coach from the representative's school for the award and all representatives vote to determine the winner.

LeClair constantly stressed the importance of academics to his teams, arranging monthly meetings with players to discuss grade reports and the value of attending class, as well as working with academic counselors to further the players' academic development.

Several Pirate players were named to the Commissioner's Honor Roll, including junior pitcher Sam Narron, who was honored this spring as a Verizon Academic-All-American and as Conference USA`s scholar athlete of the year for baseball.

A highly successful coach at East Carolina and Western Carolina, LeClair stepped down after five seasons as the Pirates head coach on June 19, citing health reasons. During the summer of 2001, the 35-year old LeClair was diagnosed with "Lou Gehrig`s Disease."

With his health deteriorating, LeClair was unable to coach his team from the dugout most of this past season. However, he did continue to attend games — including the Pirates' run to the C-USA tournament title in Kinston and their NCAA regional appearance in Clemson, SC — sitting in a specially-designed van that contained a ventilator to aid in his breathing.

"His passion and love for the game of baseball and for East Carolina University motivated us to the best that we could be and to never give up, " said Pirate junior pitcher Neal Sears. "His faith and determination is what kept us going."

In 1992, LeClair became Western Carolina's head coach at the age of 25. In his first season, he led Western Carolina to the Southern Conference regular season and tournament championships. The team, which finished with a No. 17 national ranking, advanced to the NCAA Tournament and came within one game of making the College World Series field, falling to Florida State in the championship game of the South Regional.

His 1994 Catamounts posted a school-record 45 wins and earned the program's first-ever at-large bid to the NCAA postseason. In his six seasons at Western, he posted a record of 229-135-2, led WCU to four NCAA Tournament berths, and was Southern Conference Coach of the Year in 1992, 1994, and 1997.

LeClair continued that success after arriving at East Carolina in 1997. Despite serving as the Pirates' skipper for only five seasons, he became the school's second-winningest baseball coach. His teams won 43 or more games in each of the last four seasons, advancing to NCAA Tournament play each time, and were ranked in the national Top 25 polls each of the last three seasons.

LeClair's 2002 club won the C-USA tournament title in its first season in the league, sparking a continued resurgence in fans' interest in Pirate baseball.

LeClair, who has been integral in the push for the building of a new, state-of-the-art baseball stadium on the ECU campus, remains with the ECU athletics department as a special assistant to Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick.


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