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Gary Henderson Could Never Make The Final Leap

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Gary Henderson was never a loser at Kentucky. The long-time coach at UK resigned today after missing his second consecutive NCAA Tournament. But he was not a loser. The issue Henderson had was that he could never get the baseball program to the next level. He had plenty of time to do so, and plenty of chances.

If there was ever a chance to take the program to the next level, it was with the 2012 team. In his fourth year, Henderson led the Cats to 45 wins and a spot in a regional. UK dropped a heart-breaker to Kent State in the finals and finished a win away from the super regionals. The program was never able to reach that level again under Henderson. The most wins Henderson ever had after 2012 was the 2014 season. Led by Golden Spikes Winner A.J Reed, Kentucky won 37 games, finished in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, and received a two seed in the Louisville Regional. Once again, UK lost in the finals. The two regionals were the only times Henderson led UK to the postseason in his seven seasons.

The baseball program could never climb out of a regional and into the national spotlight with Henderson at the helm. It felt as if they were knocking on the door, but could never break it down. After the 2014 season, UK faltered and did not make the last two NCAA Tournaments. This past season featured an epic collapse, similar to the one in 2015.

The BatCats were ranked in the top ten in some polls and top 20 in all the other major rankings midway through SEC play. UK took the first four SEC series and took two of three against #1 Florida. But the season was all downhill from there. Kentucky dropped six of seven and lost two games to Louisville. Midweeks began to bite UK in late March and April. Losses to NKU and WKU killed Kentucky’s RPI. UK went on to miss their fifth NCAA tournament in seven years under Henderson.

The issue with succeeding at Kentucky is that it is an uphill battle to win games. UK is the northernmost school in the SEC and it is frigid for the first month of the season. Getting recruits to come here over another SEC school is extremely difficult. Henderson and Brad Bohannon did a good job of getting talented players into the program and funneling them out as professionals. But with the 38 players drafted in the MLB under Henderson, the program only made two regionals. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Even harder is that UK had the player of the year in Reed, Team USA centerfielder Austin Cousino, and plethora of other high draft picks on the 2012 team and 2014 team. But even they could not get UK over the final hurdle.



So yes, there is an aspect of this job that is very difficult. The weather is awful early in the season and our facilities aren’t on par with others in the SEC. But with as much talent that found its way to Lexington, there should have been more results. Kentucky lost five straight games to Louisville and three straight to WKU to end Henderson’s tenure. Louisville built their program in the same climate and in a difficult conference, but UK could not match their success in the last five years.

Louisville was able to make that jump to an elite program when they became a powerhouse on Dan McDonnell in the last few years. Despite his aptitude as a pitching coach, Henderson was never able to lead a team to that same level. UK seemed to be in limbo over the last couple seasons. All the talent was there to win, but they fell apart down the stretch.

The final hurdle is not an exact amount of success. There’s no way to say “get to this point and this point in the NCAA Tournament and you’ll be fine” with a coach. But there needs to be some amount of growth after a good season. Henderson never could build on the success of the 2012 team. Henderson was the fastest to ever reach 200 wins at UK and the first to win 30 games in five straight seasons. But the program seemed to flat line. Henderson saw that he had done all that he could in Lexington, and made the decision to move on.

Article written by Trey Huntsman

The KSR Baseball guy. Follow me on Twitter @TreyHuntsmanSEC.

13 Comments for Gary Henderson Could Never Make The Final Leap

  1. RealCatsFan
    4:26 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

    Is there a facilities upgrade on the horizon for UK Baseball? This would seem to be a necessity, especially with the level of facilities 70 miles to the west. Unfortunately, UK is lagging behind UofL in regards to facilities in nearly every major sport, especially when you look at the venues where the games are played.

    • J-Dub421
      4:33 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

      No, because our illustrious Governor, Matt Bevin didn’t approve our plans to upgrade our baseball stadium with our own money.

    • whatwasthat
      6:38 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

      Don’t blame Bevin j dub, I know you are a demorat, but the scandalous 8 year administration of Beshear did nothing for UK ( see Rupp area renovation) except raise the debt and the wasteful practices of UK administration which is why now budgets have to be trimmed. Hopefully we are moving toward a time when this state can sweep away all the trash the demorats have piled on the good people of Ky during their 100 year plus reign.

  2. secrick
    4:34 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

    Get some hookers to help get better players like louisville did, hell if you get caught nothing happens to you. HOOKERS , get’em.

  3. CB3UK
    4:39 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

    You contradict yourself in there. You acknowledge that Louisville has been extremely successful, and are the current #2 team in the country. In the same breath you say that we’re the northernmost SEC school (which we’re not…Missouri is) and that it’s hard to get guys here. Louisville uses guys from this very state and obviously aren’t having any issues competing against schools that are much more further South than they are. It is cold in Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, North and South Carolina, and Georgia in February. Geography is a bs cop out. He didn’t get the job done plain and simple.

    • runningunnin.454
      6:45 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

      Not exactly, I went to grad school in Alabama and we wore t-shirts in February. So whom do we want?
      Tony La Russa has a pretty good gig with the Diamondbacks, Billy Martin is dead. We could probably get Jim Leyland; but, well, he ran the Tigers into the ground. As a Tiger fan, I cringed every time he would take out a guy with a 2 hitter in the 8th, and turn to the worst bullpen in MLB.
      I know, some of you that are so quick and happy to run a coach off…….you could apply.

  4. UKInsider
    6:21 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

    Let’s put records in perspective. Regardless of the ‘quickest to 200 wins’ feat, Cohen was the original architect and rebuilt a program that had fallen on hard times, had few serviceable SEC talents, and lacked player development. Additionally, Henderson’s pre-SEC schedule was the easiest in the conference year after year. How can a team sufficiently prepare for top 20 programs, when they play Buffalo, USC Upstate, and Eastern Michigan to name a few? You can rack up a lot of wins playing against teams with RPIs in the 200 range, but this doesn’t help you during in-conference play or battle test you for postseason play (SEC & Regionals), where UK often fell short.

    When I think of Henderson’s tenure, the following positive highlights stand out: He was a strong recruiter (opened new pipelines in Canada and the Northwest), likable player’s manager, excellent pitching coach, helped his player’s succeed academically, and sent a lot of talent to the pros. However, this is the SEC and his flaws ultimately led to the forced resignation (Barnhart refused to publicly support him 2 days ago). For all that was good with Henderson, he was consistently out-coached during the game, his talented recruiting classes had some higher than expected attrition, his teams lacked focus (defeat top 5 programs one week and lose to directional schools the next), and he hired an awful hitting coach in Brian Green (offense recessed under his tutelage).

    I could care less about the weather excuses or facilities, quite simply Henderson had the talent but couldn’t lead the team to the next tier, something he should have been able to accomplish, given the program he inherited and the strong recruiting classes Bohannon secured year after year.

    Moving forward, I expect Barnhart to sell a top assistant or an up and coming mid-major coach on the SEC, plans for a new stadium, and a sizable pay increase. UK is not going to secure a big name because the program does not have the history, revenue, or financial commitment to lure away an elite coach.

    I liked Henderson, but the time was right for this move, and I for one, would argue this resignation came two years too late. Good luck Gary, thank you for your time, but this is SEC baseball and 2 regional appearances in 8 seasons is not acceptable.

  5. JRock1966
    6:26 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

    “The issue with succeeding at Kentucky is that it is an uphill battle to win games. UK is the northernmost school in the SEC and it is frigid for the first month of the season. Getting recruits to come here over another SEC school is extremely difficult.”

    That didn’t seem to bother John Cohen when he coached at UK.

    • Trey Huntsman
      6:59 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

      Cohen was a builder. He was destined for a bigger program. I agree it was time for Henderson to go. He had very little support from those involved in the program and never got the program in a position to win. But it is difficult to succeed at UK. Cohen only made two tournaments in five years, Henderson made two in eight years. There has not been much attention on this program, and it takes the right coach to make the best out of what is available.

    • JRock1966
      7:39 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

      @ Trey. I have to disagree with you. I don’t think it should be all that hard to win at UK like you and the author are making it out to be. I grew up playing baseball in high school, summer ball, and college in Ky and there is plenty of baseball talent year in and year out in Ky and in nearby states. It does take the right coach to make out the best of what is available, you’re right, but it should not be so difficult for the right coach to get Ky to the NCAA tourney on a yearly basis.

    • Trey Huntsman
      8:01 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

      1. I am the author.
      2. That’s what I’m trying to say. Henderson had the talent, but never was successful enough. Not sure why there is so much discord, the article makes it clear the program should be successful outside those conditions. I have said for two years that this team should be in a super regional and everything else was a failure. All of the facts about UK being a hard place to recruit to came from D1 Baseball’s Aaron Fitt.

      “I think Gary Henderson has done a good job making Kentucky competitive every year in a conference where that is very tough to do. The Wildcats have some of the worst weather and facilities in the SEC, and still the program is in better shape than places like Tennessee and Georgia, programs that have a lot of built-in advantages over UK.”

  6. serdi
    7:21 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

    Cohen won at Kentucky and BTW Columbia, MO is the most northern location in the SEC

  7. pappy2036
    8:44 pm June 1, 2016 Permalink

    The absolute perfect replacement for Henderson is “on-staff”: Rick Eckstein. His professional credentials are impressive, his track record of recruiting the last 2 very good classes is established, he is young and aggressive; and, he u understands the needs of “marketing” the program to the state schools, recruiting a nucleus from in-state kids and adding national select kids to fill the roster. Give this terrific young man the chance to coach, and THEN provide him the facilities needed to compete nationally. Rich Eckstein is a Coach Cal of baseball just waiting for a chance!!