Not Go­ing

Starkville Daily News - - SPORTS -

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.”

(Photo by Jason Cleve­land, SDN)

Pilk­ing­ton Mangum Mis­sis­sippi State in­terim head base­ball coach Gary Hen­der­son, right, stands with pitcher Zach Neff dur­ing se­nior recog­ni­tion dur­ing the Florida series.

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