ATHENS — Georgia is playing Ole Miss in the SEC Baseball Tournament this afternoon in Hoover, Ala. It’s a double-elimination tournament — if you get past this first round — and if the Bulldogs don’t win the whole shooting match, their season will be over.
Georgia has never won the SEC tournament, and it carries a 27-29 record into the event this year. So odds are pretty good that it won’t.
That means in all likelihood the Bulldogs will miss an NCAA regional for the third straight year under coach Scott Stricklin, for the fifth time in a row going back to David Perno’s final two seasons and for the sixth time in the last seven going back to 2010.
There’s going to be some of you out there who say this means that Stricklin should be fired. In fact, I’ve heard directly from some of you to that effect already, and heard a couple of folks espousing as much as they left Foley Field after Saturday’s regular-season ending loss to Tennessee.
Here’s a couple of things about that: One, it’s not going to happen; two, nor should it.
First, the facts. When Stricklin came to Georgia from Kent State, he signed a six-year contract at roughly $600,000 a year. Athletic Director Greg McGarity gives new coaches six-year contracts for a reason, and it’s not to fire them after three years.
Also, the timing Stricklin’s hiring didn’t help matters. He was hired in June of 2013 at a time when recruiting was over. He could do nothing about the 2014, his first season, in which he went 26-29-1.
And, for all practical purposes, due to the baseball calendar, that’s actually a bit of a late start on 2015. Baseball, due to all the professional ramifications and such, is a very early recruiting process. But with the renovation of Foley Field at the time and the auto-generated energy that comes with a coaching change, Stricklin had an opportunity to make an impact.
This past year, it was all Stricklin and his staff, however. From this point on, the roster belongs solely to him. And he knows he needs to make something happen with it.
There certainly are reasons for concern. The Bulldogs will head into Year 4 under Stricklin having not made the postseason and only eking into the SEC tournament. And they’re going to lose a lot of their best players off this current squad.
One can be sure that junior pitching ace Robert Tyler, despite an underwhelming season, will answer the call of the draft. I’d guess the same for big junior left-hander Connor Jones. You already know you’re losing fellow SEC weekend starter Heath Holder and reliever Mike Mancuso, both redshirt seniors. Who knows what some of these juniors will do, like outfielders Skyler Weber and Stephen Wrenn, big infielder Trevor Kieboom or right-hander Drew Moody?
That’s the thing about college baseball; between the draft and the competition, it’s a really tough job. I mean, depending on which poll one refers, and there’s a bunch of them, seven of the top 10 teams in the country this week are from the SEC. That’s including the team Georgia is playing today (Ole Miss is 10th).
The bottom line, it’s Stricklin’s considerable charge to get it done. Entering the SEC tournament, he has won 47.8 percent of his games for the Bulldogs (78-84-1) and is 22 games below .500 in conference play (31-53-1).
That’s not getting done at the moment. In fact, it’s among the lower winning percentages among Georgia’s all-time coaches, closer to Robert Sapp (.470) than Ron Polk (.622). And it’s trending considerably behind Perno, the man Stricklin was hired to replace. Perno was fired after a dozen seasons with a .538 winning percentage (390-335-1). But he also led UGA to three College World Series berths, including the 2008 championship game, and six regionals overall. At least got it done every once in a while.
I’m not an inside-baseball guy, so I can’t really say what’s holding back Stricklin, if anything. He certainly came to Georgia with a record of success, and at Kent State no less. The Golden Flashes went to five NCAA tournaments and one College World Series and won a bunch of MACs in his nine seasons there. So obviously he knows what he’s doing.
But that was the Mid-American Conference, and this is the SEC. Suffice it to say, regardless of what happens the rest of this season, next year will be a big one for Stricklin.