VETTEL: Baseball Program at Cross Roads

The regular season is over for the Gator baseball team and, as is usually the case, Florida delivered a mixture of good news and bad news. The Gators managed to improve by five SEC wins over a year ago, earning a spot in the eight-team SEC Tournament that gets underway Wednesday. However, the Gators finished with a mediocre 15-and-15 SEC record and an equally unimpressive 28-and-28 overall.

The overall mark matches last season's tally exactly, marking the first time in 31 years the Gators have posted consecutive non-winning regular seasons.

Florida posted a combined 44-and-52 record in 1975-76 but have had just one losing season (29-and-30 in 1976) since. In order to avoid a losing season, Florida will have to have a winning post-season starting with the event in Hoover, Alabama. It's a stunning turnaround from where this program was just two years ago, squaring off against Texas in a best two-of-three for the NCAA Title.

As for an NCAA at-large bid, I think it's highly unlikely with 30 losses, which means Florida would have to win the SEC Tournament to advance to the field of 64. That's a tough challenge for a team that posted just a 3-and-7 record in the final games of their ten SEC series.

McMahon Started Extremely Well

When Pat McMahon was hired away from Mississippi State six years ago it was with the hope that Florida's pattern of having a "down" year every two or three seasons would end. Gator Athletic Director Jeremy Foley had tired of the roller-coaster ride his two previous coaches (Joe Arnold and Andy Lopez) had taken him on and was looking for consistent excellence.

After four years it appears that's just what he had found. McMahon's Gators lost a heartbreaking Regional final to Miami in 2002 and against in 2003. The next season, the Gators won a Regional in Oklahoma City before falling to those $#&^! Hurricanes in Florida's first Super Regional appearance.

McMahon's fourth season should be considered the best in Gator history as he guided Florida to the SEC Championship. The Gators won a Regional at home and then took out Florida State in the Super Regional at McKethan Stadium. The Gators then won their bracket at the College World Series before the Texas Longhorns beat them twice for the NCAA Championship.

Florida baseball was at its highest point after that trip to Omaha, but precious little has gone right since then. It started with the unexpected departure of shortstop Justin Tordi just before the 2005-06 school year which led to the unraveling of Florida's defense. That, in turn led to the undermining of the pitching staff which tried too hard for strikeouts and paid quite a price. This year the Gators never could get much going after a 7-and-2 start in conference play. They won just eight of their final 21 conference games to end up at even money.

Consistent Inconsistency

If you look at the Gators through the years it is truly amazing to note the similarity of the winning percentages for the last six Gator coaches.

Dave Fuller  .611
Jay Bergman   .656
Jack Rhone   .647
Joe Arnold   .640
Andy Lopez   .636
Pat McMahon   .620

All six posted solid results and on occasion had great seasons. Still, consistent excellence continues to elude the Gator program as it has for more than half a century. We'll examine some of the issues as we see them in the days ahead.

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