After failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season, Kentucky baseball coach Gary Henderson resigned Wednesday.
“It has been a source of pride to compete in the SEC for 17 years, including the last 13 at Kentucky, eight as head coach and five as an assistant coach,” Henderson wrote in a letter posted on the UK Athletics website. “We’ve just completed five consecutive 30-plus win seasons, for the first time in Kentucky Baseball history, and we’ve competed in two NCAA regionals. That said, it is 100 percent my decision to resign at this time, based in part because the results don’t meet my expectations.”
Henderson, who declined further comment Wednesday, was 258-199 overall and 105-134 in SEC play during his eight seasons as head coach. Under his guidance, Kentucky reached the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2014. After going 45-18 overall and 18-12 in the SEC in 2012, Henderson was named the SEC Coach of the Year.
“I am deeply appreciative of the contributions Gary Henderson made during his time here,” said UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart in a statement announcing the coach’s resignation. “He has poured his heart and soul into Kentucky baseball, giving us many of the best seasons and most thrilling moments in our history while competing in the most difficult league in the country.”
A graduate of San Diego State, Henderson was an assistant on the West Coast, including stops at San Diego State, Cal State-Fullerton and Pepperdine, before becoming an assistant at Florida in 1995. He returned to the West in 1999 to become the pitching coach at Oregon State, where he stayed for five seasons.
He came to UK as John Cohen’s associate head coach in 2004. Under Cohen, UK went 175-112-1 in five seasons, winning an SEC title in 2006 when the Cats went 20-10 in league play and reached the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky also reached the NCAAs in 2008.
When Cohen left to become head coach at his alma mater, Mississippi State, Henderson was named as successor. His first three teams at UK struggled, going just 33-57 in SEC play, before the program took off in 2012. Kentucky won a school-record 22 consecutive games and finished 45-18 overall and tied for second in the SEC East with an 18-12 record. The Cats reached the NCAA Tournament where they lost a 21-inning game to Kent State in the Gary (Ind.) Regional, then were eliminated by a second loss to the Golden Flashes.
After going 30-25 overall and 11-19 in the SEC in 2013, the Cats bounced back behind All-American and Golden Spikes winner AJ Reed in 2014. As a pitcher, Reed went 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA. At the plate, Reed hit 23 homers and an SEC-leading 73 RBI. Kentucky finished 37-25 overall and 14-16 in the SEC before being eliminated by Louisville in the NCAA Tournament.
Without Reed, UK finished 30-25 overall and 14-15 in the SEC last season. This year’s team started 22-9, including an 8-3 record in the SEC, but faded down the stretch, going 7-12 over the remainder of its conference schedule. It was beaten 5-2 by Alabama in the first round of the SEC Tournament last week.
The pitching coach on the USA National Collegiate Team last year, Henderson was praised for his work with pitchers on the field and his straightforward manner off the field.
“He has conducted himself and the program with honor and integrity,” Barnhart said. “Already solid in the classroom, he challenged the team to even greater success academically and the players responded with several consecutive semesters with a team grade-point average over 3.0. Again, I am thankful for everything he has done at UK and wish the best for Gary and his family.”
Playing in a conference that produced four of the eight national seeds in this year’s NCAA field, Kentucky’s efforts have been hamstrung by the inability to replace Cliff Hagan Stadium with a more modern facility. The latest plans had the university hoping to start construction in 2017 with an opening in time for the 2018 season. However, those plans have been threatened by the latest state budget cuts.
Inside the state, UK baseball has been overshadowed by Louisville, which has reached the College World Series three times under Coach Dan McDonnell. The Cards are the No. 2 national seed for this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Gary Henderson’s record at Kentucky