Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin firing comes on verge of overdue facilities upgrade
ATHENS — Georgia baseball started its season on a sour note and ended it with a coaching change on Friday.
UGA athletic director Josh Brooks announced on Friday that 10th-year coach Scott Stricklin has been fired on the heels of a 29-27 season that started with an opening day loss to Jacksonville State and ended last Tuesday with a 9-0 loss to South Carolina in the SEC tournament.
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The Bulldogs were just 11-20 in conference games and dropped six of their final seven contests after a late run put UGA on the bubble to make the NCAA tournament.
Brooks announced a national coaching search is underway. The Georgia baseball coaching position will be more attractive than it has been in quite some time.
Brooks shared details of a pending $45 million commitment for two-phases of renovations to Foley Field and the building of new facilities over the next two years earlier this week.
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The third-year athletic director acknowledged that even with the improvements, Georgia baseball facilities will still not be as big as larger, more invested programs in the ultra-competitive SEC.
“We know when this project is done it still won’t be as big as Mississippi State or Ole Miss or some other facilities that have larger capacities,” Brooks said. “We may grow one day to larger points, but our first focus has to be on the student-athletic amenities so when they are recruiting they can see where they are going to be spending their time.
“I think when this project is complete it will be in line with all of our peers in terms of the student-athlete spaces.”
Stricklin had been promised the facilities for years, but delays had taken place on account of the COVID shutdown and other UGA sports facilities plans, such as tennis, taking priority.
Brooks said at the start of the season he understood the challenges Stricklin and his staff were facing.
WATCH: A look at SEC baseball stadiums, how Foley Field compares
“When I first took the job two years ago I met with Coach Stricklin, and we knew that improvements to Foley Field were important not just for recruiting but also for student-athlete development, right?” Brooks said.
“Because right now our pitchers are practicing their bullpen outdoors, right? So having an indoor pitching lab is important, not to mention the technology that goes along with it, right? And we’ve seen the impact facilities can have on recruiting.
“And, obviously when you look across the league in the SEC, the facilities arms race has gotten pretty competitive across the board. So really, for Coach Stricklin and his staff to really keep growing this program, we thought it was important.”
Still, Stricklin took full responsibility for the disappointing campaign after the season concluded.
“You know what, when you look at it on paper, we had a bad year -- that’s the way I look at it,” Stricklin said. “This program has a lot of expectations, and it has a lot of pride, and I didn’t feel like we performed up to our expectations. And that’s on me as the head coach.
“That’s my responsibility. I take a lot of pride in trying to uphold that expectation here at Georgia, and this year we came up short.”
Stricklin led Georgia to three postseason appearances in his 10 years at the helm — 2018, 2019 and 2021.
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The Bulldogs, however, were unable to advance beyond regional play under Stricklin’s direction, and have not done so since the 2008 team went to the College World Series.
The 2020 Georgia baseball team appeared loaded with elite talent and was ranked No. 2 in the nation when the season was suddenly ended by the national COVID shutdown.
Brooks had addressed Stricklin’s future on Thursday at the UGA spring athletics board meeting, but he did not tip his hand.
“This is not the standard that coach wants, and I guarantee you there’s no one more disappointed than Coach Stricklin,” Brooks said. “The standard is we want is to be in regionals and moving on, and it’s been a tough year, there’s been a lot of injuries.
“I am proud of the way they fought through and won some series late, had a rough start early, went 1-9 and then made a run with a great series against Arkansas and a great Series against Tennessee and then getting one against LSU, but there is a standard that we achieve to be to that ties into our goal of being successful in every sport that we have.”
Unlike football and basketball, baseball is a sport that does not allow full scholarships, so most players end up paying a larger portion of their expenses.
Brooks points out that in-state Georgia players have the advantage of being able to quality for the Hope Scholarship, which somewhat offsets the disadvantages of the lack of out-of-state tuition waivers.
UGA president Jere Morehead fell noticeably silent when the issue of UGA’s inability to waive out-of-state tuition costs — as some of Georgia’s SEC rivals do — came up at the spring meetings.
Georgia baseball insiders were all aware of the uphill battle Stricklin was facing, even as the casual fans were not.
What if Kirby Smart could not offer all the football recruiting incentives that rivals Alabama, Tennessee and Florida had available?
UGA baseball is a different deal, fore sure, and Stricklin confirmed earlier this season that UGA is at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting out of state players, as Georgia is one of the SEC programs that does not waive out-of-state tuition costs.
That, combined with the subpar facilities, had been a tough pill to swallow.
“(Recruits) come to Foley Field and it’s beautiful, and if they haven’t been to another place, they are overwhelmed by it,” Stricklin said. “But then you go to other places — they’ll knock you out of your chair …. we’re far behind, and we know that.”
Stricklin once shared how UGA’s most recent baseball upgrade to the stadium, for $12 million in 2014, was announced the same week Mississippi State announced a new $68 million stadium.
RELATED: Mississippi State cuts ribbon on $68 million baseball stadium
“That’s hard to beat,” Stricklin said. “We’ve lost a lot of kids (in recruiting) over the years based on that.”
Sixth-year South Carolina coach Mark Kingston put the challenges of coaching in the SEC into perspective after the Gamecocks eliminated Georgia at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
“The best way you can sum it up, the two defending national champions didn’t make the SEC Tournament this week,” Kingston said, referring to Ole Miss and Mississippi State finishing outside the field of 12 who qualify.
“It is a dogfight every week, it’s the best players, the best coaches, the best environments, and it’s hell on wheels on the road to try to win games. Nobody goes through it unscathed, there’s an effect it takes on your team of having to be on your A game every single weekend.”
Stricklin had three years left on his contract at the time of his firing, with his $655,000 baseball salary ranking 10th out of the 14 coaches in the SEC.
Brooks extended his contract in 2021, saying that “Coach Stricklin has built a strong program the right way. His teams play with skill and toughness, which is a direct reflection of his leadership.”
The first phase of improvements at Foley Field will get underway this summer with new turf, LED lighting, locker room and meeting room renovations and utilities work. Phase ll will take place after the 2024 season and includes a new hitting cage, pitching lab, coaches offices and an expanded canopy over stadium seating.
Brooks, who received a raise at the UGA spring meetings, noted 19 of UGA’s 21 sponsored sports had made it to NCAA tournament in the last year. Baseball and men’s basketball, led by recently hired coach Mike White, were the two that did not.
RELATED: Details, Josh Brooks receives raise and extension at UGA spring meetings
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