Baseball Looking Ahead

I admit I sometimes let personal feelings get in the way of professional judgments. I wish that weren't the case, but I have come to accept it as one of the prices I pay for being human (or at least human-like). Thus, I almost always feel bad when a UF coach is dismissed.

Those feelings are particularly strong in the aftermath of the firing of Gator Baseball Coach Pat McMahon. As I have written before, I sincerely believe McMahon is the nicest man to ever coach a men's team at the University of Florida. He also is a very good coach who got the Gators to the finals of the College World Series for the first time in school history. He'll coach again and he'll do well again.

Still, for the Florida Gators to have consecutive seasons like the last two (28-28, 29-30) is somewhat mind-boggling. Florida has all the resources to be an elite program and yet I have watched a conga line of coaches all come up short in pursuit of that status. Oh, they all did good-to-excellent jobs at Florida, but none were able to escape the pattern of inconsistency from year to year. What's strange is the Gators have used virtually every philosophy imaginable in trying to find the right guy to get it done.

Hire a Top JUCO Coach ----- Jay Bergman was one of the top junior college baseball coaches in Florida when he was brought in to serve an apprenticeship under Dave Fuller before taking over as the Head Coach. He won five SEC Eastern Division titles and the SEC crown in 1981.

Promote from Within ----- After Bergman was dismissed, Jack Rhone was promoted to take over. While it's true both he and Bergman were promoted to the job, Bergman was hired as the heir apparent, Rhone was not. Rhine won the SEC East both of his seasons and the SEC Title in 1982.

Give a Shot to a Small School Coach ----- After Rhine resigned to go into family business ventures, Florida hired Joe Arnold who had won a pair of NCAA titles in Division II at Florida Southern. Arnold stayed eleven years and led the Gators to the College World Series for the first time in school history in 1988 and again in '91. But the Gators won just two SEC titles in the eleven seasons and never made three straight NCAA appearances.

Hire a Star ----- In 1994 Jeremy Foley tired of Florida's inconsistency and hired perhaps the hottest coach in the country, Andy Lopez from Pepperdine. Lopez had coached the Waves to the NCAA Championship and was viewed as one of the best young coaches in the country. Lopez led the Gators to two more CWS appearances in 1996 and '98 and brought in incredible talent like Mark Ellis, Josh Fogg and Brad Wilkerson among others. But the program leveled off, and Lopez was out after a 35-and-27 campaign in 2001 despite reaching the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in six years.

Hire a guy with Florida and SEC Ties ----- Pat McMahon then got a chance to combine his SEC background at Mississippi State with being a Jacksonville native and Stetson graduate to try and put it all together. The first four years showed consistent progress with NCAA bids each year. His third year saw the Gators make their first Super Regional appearance and followed that by the great performance in Omaha in 2005. However after two frustrating seasons, his time is up as well.

So where does Jeremy Foley go from here? There is one category left to explore if Foley wanted to think outside the box. He could look to pro baseball where there are some possibilities with strong Florida ties like Mike Stanley, Robbie Thompson and Rick Eckstein. Frankly, that's something I'd like to see, and it would spark some real excitement around Gator baseball.

If he goes the more traditional rout there are two excellent possibilities in the SEC that make sense. Vandy's Tim Corbin would the "star" type hire while Mike Bianco of Ole Miss, would be the guy from Florida who has SEC experience. Both coaches are young and successful and have turned down other top programs; so signing either would be viewed as a great move. Time will tell, however as is always the case with any coaching hire.

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