I thought it might be instructive to take a look at other first year mentors and see how they fared. Obviously each took over a team under dramatically different circumstances so you can't really project much into the future. Still, it's interesting to compare the six debut seasons, in reverse order of success.
#6 Jay Bergman 1976 (21-27) ----- Bergman was brought in as the heir apparent and took over after a 23-25 season in '75. The Gators started out 11-5 but lost 22 of their final 32 games. Nick Belmonte was one of the few bright spots with a .321 batting average and a school record 42 stolen bases. That record still stands today.
#5 Andy Lopez 1995 (32-24) ----- I don't think any Florida baseball team ever had more personality conflicts between players and the coach as this squad did. Florida had won 40 games the previous season and lost a Regional final to Miami. They were not a good fit for Lopez's fiery personality and lost nine of their last ten games. Chris Wiggs hit.374 and Darren McClellan won 11 games as the top starting pitcher.
#4 Kevin O'Sullivan 2008 (34-24) ----- Like Bergman, O'Sullivan inherited a team with a losing record (29-30). Unlike Bergman, O'Sullivan made significant progress with his group of players. Florida finished third in the SEC, but ended the year with four disappointing losses in post-season play. Cole Figueroa (.350, 9 HR, 57 RBI) was the top gun offensively while Patrick Keating (8-1, 4.16) was the best guy on the mound.
#3 Jack Rhine 1982 (34-24-1) ----- Rhine was Bergman's top assistant when his boss got fired in January of '82. The Gators won the SEC title the year before (42-17), but Rhine had to guide a depressed bunch of Gators shocked by the preseason dismissal of their coach. The Gators had a solid season, including first place in the SEC East. The Gators won the SEC Tournament in Gainesville, which in those days was the official SEC Champion. Rhine got promoted to the job full-time, but resigned just a year later. Javier Ortiz (.392, 10 HR, 52 RBI) had an incredible freshman season but left, still angry about the Bergman firing. Rich Bombard earned 11 wins on the mound.
#2 Pat McMahon 2002 (46-19) ----- When the likable McMahon took over for Lopez he inherited a very talented team that had played a lot of youngsters in going 35-27 the year before. The 2002 Gators finished second in the SEC race, second in the SEC Tournament and came within an out of beating Miami to win a Regional in Gainesville. Pat Osborn hit an incredible .414 while Ryan Shealy added power with 23 home runs and 80 RBI. Alex Hart set the pace for the pitching staff with 13 wins.
#1 Joe Arnold 1984 (43-16-1) ----- No first year coach has more success in Orange and Blue than the guy from Florida Southern who took over for Jack Rhine. Arnold's team had an outstanding season, winning the SEC East, the SEC title and SEC Tournament. Scott Ruskin (.406, 12 HR, 59 RBI) won the team triple crown while Russ Kibler won 12 games.
To be fair the three best seasons for first year coaches involved the three most talented rosters that were inherited and that's not at all surprising.
It is also interesting to note that year two was pretty special for all five of O'Sullivan's predecessors. Bergman went 39-18, won the SEC East and earned an NCAA bid. Rhine went 38-14 and won the SEC East. Arnold won 43 games and almost took out Miami in the Regional in Coral Gables. Lopez took his second Gator squad to the College World Series while McMahon took Miami to the limit in another Coral Gables Regional. If that trend continues, 2009 should be a heckuva year for Gator baseball.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
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