In his capacity of Senior Associate Athletic Director at East Carolina University, Dr. Henry VanSant had many responsibilities, not the least of which was a central role in hiring new coaches.
When the time came to identify, investigate and attract suitable candidates to fill open positions, VanSant’s understanding of the ECU community and the ingredients necessary to be a trusty and effective skipper capable of successfully steering a particular sport's program often had the one-time ECC football player and coach deeply involved in the hiring process.
Of all the hiring that VanSant did during his tenure, his most memorable and meaningful by far was the courtship and subsequent appointment of former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
VanSant, by many, is considered the architect for the LeClair hiring. But VanSant, who counts LeClair among his most cherished friends, insists that Providence brought LeClair to ECU.
Through the entire process, VanSant absorbed a genuine fondness for the sport of baseball and for the man who would be coach.
“I got to know Keith LeClair and the baseball program in years following his hiring and baseball became a real joy for me," VanSant recalled. “Keith is a great man of faith. He is a special person and we still gather for prayer at his home regularly.”
Looking back on the hiring, VanSant recalls that the hiring of LeClair was LeClair’s doing, not his.
“First of all, and this is the absolute truth, the hiring of Keith LeClair was probably the cleanest hire in the history of athletics,” VanSant said. “I chaired the hiring committee and we went into the hiring process with no preconceived ideas. We took applications and I talked with baseball people in the front offices of Texas, Baltimore, Milwaukee, all over the country. Good baseball people.”
And what did these references have to say about LeClair?
“Well… Keith LeClair was the only coach that was hired that had no one call to speak in his behalf,” VanSant explained. “We got no athletic director calls, no big leaguers calling on his behalf. We screened his application and did a background on him. But he was hired from that alone.
"I told him, ‘Keith, you are the first coach that had nobody call, no state senators, no influential people, no one. How come?’ He said, ‘Well, I sent in my resume and application and I felt like if that wasn’t good enough, I didn’t want the job anyway.’”
VanSant already knew what he was getting and the response was true to form for LeClair.
“Number one, he had a tremendous record at Western Carolina,” VanSant. “I had a former college teammate, Johnny Wyke, who is now a retired golf coach from Western Carolina. I knew him very well and I knew he would tell the absolute truth and not be tainted in any way. I called Johnny and said we're looking for anew baseball coach and he said, ‘Henry, he’s a damn ball coach and you’ll love him.’ That was his recommendation.”
As VanSant recalls, the committee took two names to the new athletic director, Mike Hamrick, and made a recommendation. Hamrick chose LeClair.
“We checked with Jack Leggett (Clemson and former WCU coach),” VanSant said, in seeking recommendations. “Keith’s teams played Georgia, Clemson, Tennessee… and still won 40 games a season. His record was tremendous with very little resources.
"He was hired because we knew he could get us to Omaha. That was Keith’s dream and it was ours and it would have happened if he was not short-circuited by illness.”
It is a hiring that VanSant values well-beyond its impact on the Pirate athletic program because it brought a relationship that has helped enrich his own life.
“Keith is absolutely one of the finest human beings I have ever run across,” VanSant said. “And, he is a great coach. I would love to take credit for hiring him, but he was the only choice, really.”
02/23/2007 02:05:45 PM