The modern sports landscape doesn’t have much room for patience. Coaches have a short leash, while players are heroes one year, bums the next.
Save for pulling the plug on Billy Gillispie after two turbulent seasons, Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart has almost always taken a methodical approach to his coaching decisions. He doesn’t plan to alter course in regard to the baseball program
Barnhart said on Thursday he has no plans to dismiss baseball coach Gary Henderson after just three seasons at the helm. Speaking after a budget meeting involving the UK Athletics Association Board of Directors, Barnhart told reporters he believes Henderson deserves more time to get the UK program back to the postseason, which it has missed each of his three seasons.
“You guys have been around me for nine years now and you know that I’m going to do what I think is right,” Barnhart said. “Gary Henderson is a good baseball mind. He’s a heck of a recruiter. They’ve had some good classes and some unbelievably bad luck.”
“This league is about pitching. You have to have good pitching and a lot of money spent on pitching. We’ve had a couple of things happen to us in the last two to three years on the mound that has not worked out well for us. I think we have some talent and good people and I think he deserves the opportunity to continue to try and get this thing where (we want it).”
Henderson took over for John Cohen after the 2008 season when the architect of the Cats’ baseball revival left to take the reins at Mississippi State, his alma mater. Cohen had guided UK to a 122-59-1 record his final three years, which included two NCAA Tournament appearances, a pair of SEC Tournament berths and a share of the 2006 SEC regular season championship.
The Cats have not come anywhere close to matching that on-field success under Henderson, posting just an 84-81 overall record, including a 33-57 mark in conference play. UK narrowly missed the SEC Tournament in each of Henderson’s first two seasons before careening to an 8-22 mark this year.
Still, Barnhart pointed out how the NCAA eligibility issues that robbed them of potential ace and first round draft pick James Paxton crippled the 2010 pitching staff and youth comprised the bulk of the 2011 roster.
“People forget we won the SEC championship in 2005 and Gary was on that staff,” Barnhart said. “What we’ve gotten into a society is we want to turn this thing over quickly. People say, ‘we’ll give them one or two years and if it doesn’t work then we’ll start getting antsy.’ It doesn’t work.”
Barnhart, who famously stood behind former football coach Rich Brooks when a large percentage of the fan base was demanding his ouster, said he doesn’t believe in prematurely pulling the rug out from under coaches. It is, undeniably, an old school approach.
“The cycle is an interesting one,” Barnhart said. “The immediate desire for change causes turnover in the coaching ranks, which drives the prices of coaches up and then the pressure to perform turns the cycle over even faster.
“Where you used to get four to seven years to get a program going in any sport, now it’s after two or maybe three and then we’ll get rid of you. I’m just not in that circle, generally. By and large I’m going to try and be a patient guy. I think it’s important. At the end of the day I think they can get this thing turned.”