Sizing Up Potential Candidates To Become Georgia’s Next Coach

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Georgia last week announced it fired coach Scott Stricklin after 10 seasons at the program’s helm.

The move came as Georgia’s season ended without an NCAA Tournament bid for the second time in three seasons. The Bulldogs haven’t won a regional since 2008—also the last time they reached the College World Series—but the ingredients remain for Georgia to be one of the best programs in college baseball.

This is a big moment for Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks. A $45 million renovation of Foley Field is slated to start this summer and the athletic department’s brand is at an all-time high after back-to-back national championships in football. With the wealth of baseball talent in the state, a powerful academic aid program for in-state students and newly improved facilities, there’s little reason the Bulldogs can’t compete at the top of the SEC and sport. In fact, an SEC coach once told me he thought Georgia was the best job in the country. While I don’t quite agree with that assessment, it’s not unreasonable.

Georgia is one of three open jobs in the SEC at the moment (Alabama and Missouri are the others), but it looks like it’ll be the best job that opens this year, giving it the chance to run the market. It can swing for the fences in a way that no one else can.

Brooks has been the athletic director at Georgia for 2.5 years and has already made some key hires, including both a men’s and women’s basketball coach. His hires have typically been sitting head coaches or internal promotions. It’s reasonable to expect Brooks to try to hit a home run with this hire, backed by a powerful athletic department, the SEC’s dominant position in the sport and plenty of cash.

The candidates

Dan McDonnell, head coach, Louisville

McDonnell built Louisville into a national power, has led the program to Omaha five times and has a seven-year rolling contract (it has an annual option to extend) that’s worth more than $1.25 million a year and grows annually. It was designed, according to former athletic director Vince Tyra, to keep McDonnell at the program’s helm for the rest of his career. So, what gives?

Well, McDonnell has made clear his displeasure about Louisville’s current level of commitment, most recently after the Cardinals’ season ended.

“We want to be here,” he said. “We love it here. But again, I want to work for people and be with people that want to win as well.”

Since then, Louisville athletic director Josh Heird told reporters that he “touched base” with McDonnell and said, “we’re committed to making sure he has what he needs to compete for championships.”

There’s no question about Georgia’s commitment. While its salary structure hasn’t been at the top of the SEC, it could get there (and would have to if it wanted to lure McDonnell). If McDonnell is tired of waiting for progress on promised facility improvements, maybe Georgia is the opportunity he’s looking for. The question now is what does he want?

Cliff Godwin, head coach, East Carolina

Godwin’s name is sure to come up for any SEC opening. He’s been involved in searches at Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU in the past and while it hasn’t worked out at any of those places for a variety of reasons, expect to see him again connected with nearly any opening in the conference. Godwin, however, very much wants to get his alma mater to the College World Series for the first time in program history. Would he be more open to leaving if the Pirates reach Omaha? He has a good thing going in Greenville and has six years left on a contract that pays him $600,000 a year. That’s just below what Stricklin was earning, and Georgia almost certainly would need to increase its pay structure to be the team that pulled Godwin away from his alma mater. But if he wants to be an SEC head coach, this is one of the best entrée points.

Tom Walter, head coach, Wake Forest

You want to take a big swing? How about the coach of the No. 1 team in the country? Walter has built Wake over the last 13 years and this year the program has risen to another level. The Demon Deacons are ranked No. 1 for the first time in program history, won the ACC for the first time since 1963 and are aiming for their first CWS appearance since 1955. Walter is in a comfortable spot at Wake Forest, a team he’s now built into a power and that has invested heavily into the program.

Because Wake is a private school, we don’t have exact details of Walter’s contract. Wake is ready to fight for him and it’s sunk a lot of money into the program already, but it’s also fair to say that Georgia could offer him a significant pay raise if it wanted to. The lure of the SEC and competing against the best is a powerful one, which has already drawn coaches like Jay Johnson and Jim Schlossnagle in recent seasons. So, while it may seem strange to leave just as Wake is arriving as national title contenders, there’s also recent precedent for such a decision.

Justin Haire, head coach, Campbell

Haire’s name has been persistently tied to Georgia over the last week. But how much does that mean at this stage? He’s guided the Camels to five straight NCAA Tournament appearances and this year had Campbell deep in the hosting discussion. He’s turned the Camels into a premier mid-major program, achieving both on-field success and developing high-end talent like 2022 All-American Zach Neto. The knock would be a lack of not only SEC experience, but also experience in any major conference as an assistant or head coach. No SEC coach since Missouri tabbed Steve Bieser seven years ago has been hired without experience coaching in a major conference.

Rob Vaughn, head coach, Maryland

Vaughn, 35, has gotten Maryland humming. The Terrapins have won back-to-back Big Ten titles (after not winning a conference title for 51 years), last year hosted regionals for the first time ever and are in regionals for the third straight season, the longest streak in program history. Maryland, however, is not an easy job and its facilities lag behind other top programs in the conference. The Terrapins’ two previous head coaches parlayed their success into jobs at more resourced programs—Erik Bakich at Michigan and John Szefc at Virginia Tech. Maryland is a better job today than it was when those coaches left, but the SEC is a different beast.

Chris Pollard, head coach, Duke

Pollard took a dormant program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968 and turned it into a consistent regional team. Duke this year was in the mix to host regionals and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in six seasons. That success came after Pollard took Appalachian State to a regional final. He’s deserving of a look from premium programs, though he’s also in a strong position at Duke.

Jake Gautreau, recruiting coordinator, Mississippi State; Chuck Jeroloman, recruiting coordinator, Florida; Karl Nonemaker, recruiting coordinator, Auburn

It’s unlikely Georgia goes the assistant coach route. SEC assistant coaches were once the most popular pool to hire from for the head coaching jobs in the conference. The last few cycles, however, have seen the market move to established head coaches, as Mississippi State, Texas A&M and LSU have all pulled in coaches from other major conferences. Maybe this year is different and there’s no doubt any of this trio will make a good head coach one day. Will it be at Georgia? It feels like that would be a significant deviation from Brooks’ previous hires, who have either been sitting head coaches or internal promotions.

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