When it came down to it, the Georgia baseball team's finish to the 2017 season did enough for athletics director Greg McGarity to keep Scott Stricklin on for at least another season.
Despite a fourth consecutive sub-.500 season, McGarity elected to retain Stricklin. The Diamond Dogs finished 25-32 and squeaked into the SEC Tournament as the No. 12 seed. They were bounced in the first round by Mississippi State.
But leading up to the SEC Tournament, Georgia won its final three series of the regular season, which included taking two of three games each against top-10 teams Kentucky and Mississippi State. The Diamond Dogs also defeated South Carolina twice in three games to close the year.
Concluding his day of SEC spring meetings Wednesday, McGarity spoke with a group of UGA beat reporters about the deciding factors that went into keeping Stricklin as his baseball coach.
On what led him to keep Stricklin: “With all our coaches I have a monthly meeting with them. In each month we talk about the progress they’ve made, whether they’re in season or out of season. The things Scott and I talked about in months leading up to the last run of the season were things we wanted to see, things that were very important, and those things materialized. As we walked down that path and what we expected to see, and what he expected to see, they matched up with our performance at the end of the year.”
On how much of it had to do with the Diamond Dogs being a young team: “Scott would be the first one to tell you that it was important to see us finish strong. He was very confident in these young people becoming more seasoned. As he said before, it took a lot longer to get going than he thought. The last three series of the year you’re playing Kentucky, who was fighting for the SEC Championship, you’re playing Mississippi State, who’s fighting for the SEC Championship. You’re fighting against South Carolina, who’s fighting for a tournament bid.
“So we’re going into those series and two out of those three were on the road. To see the way we played against (Georgia) Tech, against a hot Furman team, you saw the errors were minimized – the wild pitches, the passed balls, all the things that plagued us so early. All of a sudden these kids started hitting. You saw a lot of things that I know Scott was hoping happened a lot quicker and they just didn’t. But they happened at the right time. I think everyone was very impressed with the way we finished the season. Of course you don’t want to finish with a loss. We certainly played a lot better in the back half than we did the front half.”
On if it is tough to be patient after four sub-.500 seasons for the baseball team: “When Scott discussed the job at the very beginning, we talked about his plan, and his plan was to build a team based on high school freshmen. You can see we don’t have many junior college kids in our program. We have a few but he wanted to build it the right way. What he did that some coaches don’t do is his very first year, he honored all the kids that were already entering school.
“You’ve got to remember he took the job in the summer so the freshmen class, Stephen Wrenn’s freshmen class, was already coming on campus, OK? The junior class, which was going to sign early, they were already committed. He honored all of those commitments. Keegan McGovern’s class. Really, the first class where they had input was really the sophomore class right now, Michael Curry’s class. The first two years of those kids were basically kids that the University of Georgia honored their commitments. Those two years, no one was cut, nobody’s scholarship was revoked. Those that had committed to come to the University of Georgia, Scott honored those commitments.
“Has it taken longer than we all thought? Sure. I think it was promising to see the way it ended. I think he’s got 10 kids in the Cape Cod this summer. Last year, I think he had three kids in Cape Cod. What these kids are doing now to put them in a position, certainly at one time I think we had six position players as freshmen. It’s a tough league to break into. You're starting on the road at LSU. We all know what that first game at LSU was like. It was pretty tough but I think it was awakening and a lot of these kids grew up in a hurry.”
On the kind of improvement he needs to see out of the baseball team in 2018: “All coaches know what to expect. I don’t really have to put it down on paper. I’ve talked to a couple of other former coaches about putting pressure on coaches as far as you must do this, you must do that. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”
A reporter followed that Texas A&M AD Scott Woodward made some comments that put football head coach Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat: “That’s Scott’s prerogative. Everybody handles things differently. These coaches are under enough pressure as it is and they certainly don’t need specific goals. Our coaches know what our goals are. You ask Mark Fox, his is goal is to be in the (NCAA) Tournament, I promise you. Scott Stricklin’s goal is to be in the NCAA Tournament. Our tennis coaches, they’re disappointed if they are not in the final day. You ask swimming, Jack Bauerle is disappointed if he’s not in the top five in the country. Volleyball would be ecstatic to be in the NCAA next year, the same thing with soccer, so there are different expectations for different sports across the board. Some have a lot longer way than others.”