ATHENS – I don’t know, maybe Greg McGarity doesn’t fire baseball coach Scott Stricklin. Maybe the Georgia athletic director brings him back for one of the two years left on his contract. Even though doing that is pretty much a death knell in recruiting, I’m not sure how in the world McGarity could justify an extension. Not at this point.
But can he do nothing?
Really, not firing the Bulldogs’ baseball coach of the last four years is the harder argument. I mean, it was a year ago almost exactly that I wrote that Georgia needed a big turnaround on the field this season if Stricklin was going to stick around. So what has happened since?
Well, Georgia (25-32) lost two more games than last year (27-30). As for SEC play, the Bulldogs finished in the exact same spot that they were in 2016 (11-19). That is, they finished 12th in the 14-team conference, battling until the last weekend for that final spot in the SEC tournament. And just like last year, they were one-and-done in the tourney. Mississippi State ousted Georgia this time with a 3-0 win Wednesday in Hoover.
Oh, there were some good things that happened toward the end of the year. The Bulldogs won the last three SEC series of the season, taking two of three games in each, and they were against three of the league’s best teams (Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina). But there are some statistical stains on this season those six wins just can’t wash out.
Even after the late surge, Georgia ended the season last in the SEC in pitching (5.06 staff ERA), last in fielding (.961) and last in runs batted in (224). Last time I checked that about covers it in baseball.
The Bulldogs were 12th in batting (.259) and 13th in runs scored (257), so they weren’t last in everything. But I perused the conference stats to find something Georgia was good at and I honestly couldn’t find anything. I take that back. The Bulldogs were tied for second in the league for fewest catcher interference calls (1).
There are plenty of people who will defend Stricklin’s record and situation. I’ve done it myself. Chiefly, though, you’ll hear them say that the Bulldogs are young. Indeed, Georgia often started six and sometimes seven freshmen.
But why is that exactly? I mean, it’s not like Stricklin just showed up. While he certainly couldn’t have affected recruiting much that first year, it’s not like he inherited a smoldering crater of a program. The Diamond Dogs had struggled some prior to Stricklin’s arrival, but the team had been mostly competitive if not pretty darned good for most of the 2000s.
Now Georgia has failed to log a winning overall record in four straight seasons (first time that has happened since 1971-74) and stands at 32.5 games below .500 in SEC play (43-75-1). It goes without saying that they haven’t gotten a sniff as far as an NCAA regional bid.
These are mind-blowingly bad numbers for a program that has won a College World Series and played in six of them.
Meanwhile, the rest of the SEC is competing – hard. Tennessee, which finished a game behind Georgia in the SEC standings this year, fired its coach at the end of the regular season. Alabama, the league’s last-place team, fired its coach Wednesday after only one year. Even South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook found himself having to defend his ability to get the job done just a year removed from winning three NCAA regional champions in five years.
Of course, a coaching change at this point would put Georgia in direct competition with Alabama and Tennessee, not to mention others outside the conference looking for a coach. So there always remains the question, to whom would the Bulldogs turn?
Actually, there is a group of UGA baseball lettermen that believes they might have an answer. They’ve been working behind the scenes to gain signatures and drive donor support for one potential candidate. And he sounds like a pretty good one. He is under 50 years old, is a former national coach of the year, has led teams to six NCAA regionals and three College World Series and has won two SEC championships.
Georgia fans might’ve heard of him. It’s David Perno, the coach that preceded Stricklin.
That’s not a joke. These guys are dead serious. I’ve been hearing from them for weeks.
Of course, it was McGarity who fired Perno to start with, so there doesn’t seem much likelihood he’d hire him back now. Then again, the way things have been going with Georgia athletics of late, McGarity might not have much of a say-so in the matter.
The UGA Athletic Association board of directors is meeting down in St. Simons the next two days. You might want to keep a close eye on that. I can assure you that we will be.
Look for Seth Emerson’s reports from the King & Prince Resort. There’s no telling what news might be coming out of there his week.