UK hires new baseball coach

By James Pennington

Kentucky baseball coach John Cohen has resigned, and Gary Henderson has been promoted from associate head coach/pitching coach to head coach.

Henderson’s promotion came after Cohen informed UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart of his resignation in order to accept the head coaching position at SEC rival Mississippi State, Cohen’s alma mater.

Henderson has been a member of UK’s coaching staff since 2004, and has primarily worked with the Cats’ pitching staff. Under Henderson’s tutelage, the Wildcat arms led the Southeastern Conference in 2008 with a 3.71 team ERA, the second-best in UK baseball’s 104-year history.

“I need to thank John Cohen for calling me five years ago and offering me a position on his staff,” Henderson said. “When I came here and interviewed with John, we sat down and talked. I told him that I was positive that it could be done here at Kentucky. Now it’s come to pass, and we’re just getting started.”

The Cats compiled a 44-19 record in 2008, which tied a school record for wins in a season. They finished fourth in the SEC and made the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated in the regional round. The NCAA berth was the sixth in program history.

Cohen is leaving Lexington after a successful five-year tenure that included an SEC championship in 2006 and two NCAA Tournament appearances. Over the five-season span, Cohen’s Cats had a record of 175-112-1, which is the highest winning percentage for any UK baseball coach since 1921.

“He deserves a ton of credit for where Kentucky baseball is today,” Barnhart said. “He put it in a position that we haven’t seen in a long time.”

When Cohen arrived at UK in 2004, he called on Henderson to be a part of his coaching staff. At the time, Henderson was the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Oregon State. The Beavers went on to win their first-ever College World Series in 2006, led by players recruited and taught by Henderson before he left for Lexington.

“Gary has always been ahead of the game when it comes to recruiting and someone who has had an amazing impact on programs,” Oregon State head coach Pat Casey said.

Other previous coaching stops for Henderson include one season (1993) as the head coach at Chapman University in California, and assistant positions at University of Florida, San Diego State University, California State University Fullerton, Pepperdine University, and Riverside Community College in California.

While at Florida, Henderson was named the 1996 National Assistant Coach of the Year as the Gators’ pitching coach and recruiting coordinator. Henderson earned the honor that year by helping the Gators to the SEC championship and an appearance in the College World Series, all while pulling in the nation’s No. 4 recruiting class.

Henderson’s ability as a recruiter is just as unique as his coaching ability, said UK outgoing senior Andrew Albers.

“Coach Henderson is one of the best recruiters in the country,” Albers said. “I mean, he found me all the way up in Saskatchewan, Canada. Not many guys make it up there from down here.”

The 2008 season saw the Cats set new records in a plethora of categories, including fielding percentage, runs scored, RBI and doubles. Although Cohen was in charge of the team that set those marks, Henderson feels that those achievements will carry over without a hitch.

“I’m confident that we’re going to continue this success,” Henderson said. “We are going to be a force to be reckoned with across the country in college baseball. I’m very confident.”