Sidelines with John Clay

Two years ago, he resigned at UK. Now Gary Henderson is in the College World Series.

Mississippi State head coach Gary Henderson celebrated after his team's 10-6 win over Vanderbilt on Sunday clinched the Bulldogs a spot in the College World Series. Henderson was Kentucky's head baseball coach for eight seasons before resigning after the 2016 season.
Mississippi State head coach Gary Henderson celebrated after his team's 10-6 win over Vanderbilt on Sunday clinched the Bulldogs a spot in the College World Series. Henderson was Kentucky's head baseball coach for eight seasons before resigning after the 2016 season. Associated Press

Two years ago, Gary Henderson was resigning as Kentucky's head baseball coach after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.

Sunday night, as the interim head coach at Mississippi State, Henderson was earning a spot in the College World Series.

What a crazy season it has been for the veteran coach, who led UK to a 258-199 record and two NCAA Tournament appearances in his eight seasons (2009-16) as head coach.

After going 32-25 overall and 15-15 in the SEC, Henderson resigned on June 1, 2016, saying it was time to step aside and let someone else try and take the UK baseball program to new heights.

His successor, Nick Mingione, led the Cats to a 43-23 record and a spot in an NCAA Tournament super regional, where UK lost at Louisville last year. This year, however, Kentucky slipped to 34-22 overall and 13-17 in the SEC. The Cats didn't receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, Henderson returned to his roots. He took the job as pitching coach at Mississippi State under John Cohen, whom Henderson had worked for at Kentucky from 2003-2008 before being named Cohen's successor as head coach.

Cohen's boss at MSU was Scott Stricklin, former associate AD under Mitch Barnhart at Kentucky. When Stricklin left Starkville to become the new athletic director at Florida, Cohen was named as the new head of Mississippi State's athletic program.

He hired former LSU assistant Andy Cannizaro as head baseball coach. Cannizaro kept Henderson as his pitching coach as the Bulldogs went 40-27 and reached an NCAA super regional.

Three games into this season, however, Cannizaro abruptly resigned, citing "poor personal decisions." Reports surfaced that Cannizaro had become involved in an extramarital affair with a Mississippi State employee.

Henderson was named interim head coach. State started 2-7 in the SEC before rallying to finish 15-15 in the league, good enough for an NCAA tourney bid.

After losing their first game, the Bulldogs rallied for three straight victories to win the Tallahassee Regional. That brought a trip to Nashville to face Vanderbilt in this past weekend's super regional. After a 10-8 win on Friday, MSU lost 4-3 on Saturday before winning 10-6 on Sunday night to earn the trip to Omaha.

"It's been really unusual. It's been at times weird. At times you're playing the game, and some dude is heckling you from the stands, calling you Mr. Interim. That's as awkward then as it is right now with me telling you that," Henderson told the AP. "I really admire our coaching staff. Those guys got on board, no hidden agenda. It was, 'Hendu, what do we need to do?' And I let them do it."

State's victory Sunday after such an unusual and trying season was certainly cheered by his old friends back in Kentucky.

In fact, when MSU was in town to play the Cats on May 11-13, I was eating breakfast at Panera Bread Brannon Road on a Saturday morning when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and it was Henderson, who wanted to say hello and see how things were going.

I remarked that his team had lost a tough one the night before, falling to Kentucky 9-6 on Friday night.

"Oh, don't worry about that," said Henderson. "We'll be all right."

Turned out, he was right.

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