South Carolina rewards assistant baseball coach Monte Lee by doubling his salary

Monte Lee will collect a hefty pay raise to remain at South Carolina.

The Gamecocks assistant coach, who served as interim coach following Mark Kingston’s firing last week, was retained by new South Carolina head coach Paul Mainieri. South Carolina opened its checkbook to keep Lee in Columbia and doubled his annual salary.

Under a new contract approved Tuesday by the South Carolina Board of Trustees’ governance committee, Lee will be on a three-year contract that will pay him $550,000 a year — up from the $275,000 he was making as associate head coach and recruiting coordinator the past two season.

That makes Lee the highest paid baseball assistant in the country, according to Baseball America’s Teddy Cahill.

The BOT committee also approved a three-year contract for new pitching coach Terry Rooney ($425,000 a year). South Carolina also announced John Hendry as a third assistant coach, but his contract won’t be finalized until after Virginia completes its time in the College World Series.

The move to keep Lee on staff was not surprising after South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner tasked the 66-year-old Mainieri, who had been retired for three years, with taking over the Gamecocks program.

Mainieri’s resume is impressive. He will again be college baseball’s active leader in wins (1,505), he’s taken six teams to the College World Series, elevated every program he’s taken over (Air Force, Notre Dame, LSU) and produced countless Major Leaguers.

What his resume doesn’t include is any time in South Carolina, putting an emphasis on the need to retain Lee.

A Lugoff native, few are as respected or well-connected in the Palmetto State baseball scene as Lee. And though Lee campaigned hard to become the Gamecocks head coach, it’s a major win for the garnet and black that he’s staying in Columbia.

Immediately, Lee’s presence gives South Carolina a better chance at hanging on the majority of its recruiting class — who voiced their support for him on social media — and the talent already on the roster, namely slugger Ethan Petry.

After spending four years playing at College of Charleston, he began his coaching career as an assistant at Spartanburg Methodist in 2001 — and he’s been coaching in the state of South Carolina ever since.

Lee was an assistant coach on Tanner’s South Carolina squad from 2003 to 2008, a part of two runs to the College World Series and four appearances in the super regional round. He finally got the chance to become a head coach in 2009, when his alma mater hired him exactly a decade after he stopped playing.

In seven seasons leading College of Charleston, Lee won more than 65% of his games and led the Cougars to the NCAA Tournament four times, including a trip to the supers in 2014.

Two years later, Lee was tabbed to replace a legend. Longtime Clemson skipper Jack Leggett was fired in 2015 after a 22-year run with the Tigers that included 21 trips to the NCAA Tournament and a half-dozen appearances in the College World Series.

Lee had massive shoes to fill — and for a while, he slipped them on nicely. Clemson made the NCAA Tournament in each of Lee’s first four seasons in the Upstate, but could never advance to a super regional. The Tigers’ best team, too, might have been the 2020 squad that started the year 14-3 because the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the season.

In the following two seasons, though, Lee’s Clemson teams didn’t make the NCAA Tournament and he was fired following the 2022 campaign.

He landed on his feet with the lead assistant job underneath Kingston in Columbia and will continue his time with the Gamecocks under Mainieri’s new-look staff.