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June 26, 2013
Stricklin ready to get started
When new Georgia baseball Scott Stricklin scans his current roster, taking into account the freshmen he expects to have on campus this fall, he sees no reason why the Bulldogs can't reverse their fortunes quicker than some might expect.
"I think the talent level is very good, I think the guys coming back from injury are very good and I think we've got some players who are very hungry," Stricklin said in an exclusive interview with UGASports. "Last year was a difficult year, they had a lot of injuries, issues off the field and things kind of snow balled. It was unfortunate, but I think the kids that are here realize it's a special time and we can make an impact, we can be a team that competes very favorably and there's no reason this team can't be a regional team. I feel like this is a team that can play in the postseason and when you get in the postseason anything can happen."
Stricklin is confident the pieces are in place.
Along with six returning position players, outfielder Conor Welton (shoulder) and catcher Brandon Stephens (elbow) will be back, along with eight pitchers, including Pete Nagel who sat out all of 2013 after undergoing elbow surgery.
Couple that with the fact that with the exception of Clint Frazier (1st round pick of Cleveland) and Blake Shouse (5th-round pick of Colorado), Stricklin said Georgia's other draftees (infielder Mike Bell, catcher/infielder/pitcher Jarrett Freeland, infielder Wesley Jones, pitcher Robert Tyler and outfielder Stephen Wrenn) are all expected to be on campus when fall semester begins in August.
"We feel very good about those other five guys. All those kids, if you look at the projections, could have been top 10 round picks. I think they all would have been if they didn't value their education and when kids come in the draft, a lot of times they'll set a number - this is my number, this is the price to keep me from going to college," Stricklin said. "A lot of these kids value their college education and when you value your college education, your college experience, you put a number in there that makes pro teams really consider whether or not they can draft you. If they get that number, great, but if you don't, those kids are going to come to school and I feel very confident that we're going to get those five kids here on campus come August and it will be a great recruiting class."
As for Stricklin, the 41-year old said becoming the head coach at Georgia is his dream job.
It didn't take him long to hear from athletic director Greg McGarity.
Following Perno's dismissal, Stricklin said he talked to McGarity on May 28, and two days later, the Bulldog AD, along with associate AD Ted White and Compliance chief Jim Booz hopped a plane to Akron where they met with Stricklin, eventually offering the job after a nearly three-and-a-half hour meeting.
Stricklin accepted the position Friday morning.
"When it opened up, you certainly have some thoughts about that, but in my opinion, and my family, this was the best job in the country. When it opened up I knew there would be interest from everywhere to go after this job, and when I got the phone call from Greg on Tuesday I was flattered and relieved to be honest with you," Stricklin said. "I hoped I'd at least get an interview and as we went through it on Thursday I realized this was more than an interview, this was pretty realistic and they offered the job at the end of the interview."
Stricklin's record speaks for itself.
In nine years at Kent State, Stricklin posted a 350-188 record, a mark that included five regular season Mid-American Conference titles and a trip to the 2012 College World Series, that after a six-year minor league career, including a season with the Atlanta Braves organization in 1996.
Prior to becoming the head coach at Kent State, Stricklin enjoyed two stints at Georgia Tech (1998-99; 2002-2004) where he served as the team's hitting coach and recruiting coordinator.
The decision to accept McGarity's offer was basically a no-brainer for Stricklin, who said in his mind, the Georgia job was the top opening in the country.
Why does he think its No. 1?
"I think you look No. 1 being in the SEC, it's the best conference in the county and Athens, Georgia, you put a very compelling argument that it's the best college town in the entire country. It's in the South, I don't have to use my snow blower anymore," he said. "You look at the talent in Georgia I think you can compare it with California, Florida and Texas very favorably and to be honest with you it might be better because there's not as many Division I schools as there is in those states. That talent is not as spread out as it is in those other states, and I just think the potential here, the ceiling is really high at the University of Georgia."
But with only 11.7 scholarships to work with, recruiting is never an easy chore.
The reasons are many.
"If he can be an impact freshmen in the SEC, then the pro scouts are going to recognize that as well and feel like he's going to be an impact pro player so now the challenge is finding the right kids, finding the kids that value an education, value the families that want their kids to go to school and get that education and then have the goal to be a professional baseball player, but after three or four years of college," Stricklin said. "That's the biggest trick, to find kids who are actually going to come to school because we'll go out and watch a kid, they'll be times we'll say he's too good, that's a first-round pick and that's the tough part, finding the kids who are good enough to be impact players in the SEC, but not be first or second-round picks where they're going to get a full scholarship to go to college plus get money on top of that to play professional baseball. No other sport has to deal with what we have to deal with."
Stricklin's staff is almost complete.
The Bulldogs have already announced long-time Kent State assistant Scott Daely as Georgia's new third-base and hitting coach with Fred Corral at Memphis expected to be named the new pitching coach in the coming days.
Corral, who showed up for his interview with Stricklin wearing his complete baseball uniform, still has to go through background checks required by the University before he's officially a member of the staff.
"I interviewed six people for the pitching coach job and I wanted to make sure I got the right person. I took my time. Sometimes I can get a little impatient, I want to get things done right now, but I'm really glad I took my time on this. All six guys I interviewed were great," Stricklin said. "I don't think I could have gone with any of them but (Corral) just really struck me as a really good teacher. That's what a pitching coach needs to be, someone who can teach, that can break things down mechanically and that's what our guys really need. The most important hire to me was the pitching coach, to find the right fit and (Corral's) the man."
Stricklin said he's encouraged with the work set to begin on Foley Field.
Last week, the University announced the final renovation plans for the 25-year-old park, a $10 million dollar project, with $5 million required from private donors to get the facelift underway.
"Optimistically we're hoping after this season, we're hoping this time next summer those things are going on, now we're going to have to pick up our fundraising efforts to do that, the original plan was after the 2015 season, so that's two years from now but that doesn't mean we can't start next summer," Stricklin said. "In order for it to happen next summer we're going to have to have a really good summer, a really good fall of fundraising, getting people involved and feeling good about the program and making their pledges and donations to make it happen."
Stricklin said the baseball facilities were part of the discussion during his interview in Akron.
"It was interesting, when Greg, Ted and Jim were talking to me in Akron, they talked about Foley Field, that it was behind and needed upgrades. To be honest, when I came down here after I accepted the job, when I walked into the stadium I actually expected to see it in really bad shape. I was really pleasantly surprised. It needs a facelift, it needs some updates, it needs some fan amenities, but the setting is as good as there is in college baseball," said Stricklin. "What they've done with Kudzu Hill and making that into the pavilion in right field, the new scoreboard, all the things are there. It needs some makeup, it needs a facelift but the setting and the stadium itself, it's going to be breathtaking when we're finished with it and that's our goal. When it's all said and done we want to do things at the University of Georgia that will compare with anywhere else in the country and when this is done they'll say it's one of the best facilities in college baseball."
Stricklin said he'll happily help out in that regard.
Plans are already being made to help raise the money, and Stricklin is anxious to get former Bulldog lettermen back involved with program, including alumni functions and coaching at baseball camps.
"No question I'm going to help, and that's something I've done throughout my career at Kent State. This is a little different level, but I had to be involved in fund raising but to be honest I enjoy it," Stricklin said. "I enjoy talking to people that have the same passion that I do about our baseball program so there's no question that I'm going to be out talking to people, wanting to get people involved."