It seems likely that Gary Henderson is in his final days as the leader of Mississippi State’s baseball program.
There’s a good chance in the coming days that the Bulldogs are going to hand over the keys to the kingdom to a new man after Henderson’s now-three-plusmonth reign as the interim head coach.
When or if that’s the way it goes down,
MSU and its supporters will likely rally around whoever the new coach is. A bright future will be celebrated. However for the players wearing the maroon and white, they’re not going to forget the job Henderson did after inheriting the job under unexpected circumstances.
“He stepped in from being the pitching coach and really fulfilled the role when we needed him to,” Mississippi State pitcher Konnor Pilkington said of Henderson. “Him being a head coach and getting us where we need to be now after the tough first half of the year is really impressive and it really comforts us as a team to know he has our back and is going to get us where we need to be.”
To call the first few weeks of MSU’s season tumultuous would be an understatement. The Bulldogs lost their first three games of the season to instate rival Southern Mississippi. Less than two days later, Andy Cannizaro abruptly resigned as Mississippi State head coach due to what he termed “poor decisions.”
With nearly three decades of collegiate coaching experience including being picked as the 2012
Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year when he was at Kentucky, Henderson was the obvious choice to fill in for the rest of the season.
However the road didn’t get any smoother quickly for MSU. By the end of March, the Bulldogs were a game under .500 overall (14-15) and had lost seven of their first nine SEC games. Soon after though, State came to life.
The Bulldogs went 17-9 over
their final 26 regular season games and won 13 of their last 21 league contests. Sure, MSU benefitted from young players maturing and better performances, but the backbone of it all was Henderson.
“You come home after getting swept opening weekend and it’s definitely not how you planned for the season to start,” State centerfielder Jake Mangum said. “(Henderson) stepped into the head coaching role and what he’s done there is unbelievable. He’s 9-1 against top five teams in the country. He’s 15-15 in
conference. That’s extremely hard to do in this league. He really gave us an identity is what he did. That speaks a lot for him. He has done this for a long time and we have a lot of trust in him.”
Henderson’s ride isn’t over yet. It continues on this weekend as he takes MSU into the Tallahassee NCAA Regional. The Bulldogs are the No. 2 seed in the event and will battle third-seeded Oklahoma on Friday at 11 a.m.
Only a couple of months ago, such a fate seemed like a pipe dream for
Mississippi State, then the steadying hand of Henderson righted the ship.
As for Henderson himself, he doesn’t seem to want to take much of the credit. Instead, he simply tips his hat to the men he works with and the players he coaches.
“I think it starts with a really good group of kids,” Henderson said. “Just as important is the quality of people on your coaching staff. Everyone has to come together. There has to be trust developed on the fly so to speak.
“It’s unheard of what those kids
went through and what we went through as a staff. As I’ve said many times, I’m very appreciative of our coaching staff here – Jake Gautreau, Mike Brown, A.J. Gaura – they’re really impressive people. They worked really hard. There are no hidden agendas, then obviously, there’s the kids and the families. You’ve got to jump on board. There was no shortage of distractions in the short term you may have noticed, but our kids did a great job. I have a lot of respect for them and appreciate them a great deal.”
Pilkington Mangum Mississippi State interim head baseball coach Gary Henderson, right, stands with pitcher Zach Neff during senior recognition during the Florida series.