College baseball coaching legend Gary Henderson's journey to Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah baseball team made a move during the offseason to bring in associate head coach Gary Henderson.

Henderson, a native of Eugene, Oregon, is known for his ability to help take programs that have struggled and turned them into contenders. His ability to coach pitchers is also one that is worth noting as eight of the pitchers he’s coached have reached the Major Leagues since 2012.

"I think my desire to start coaching began sometime in college," Henderson said, "I thought at the time that I’d be a high school english teacher and coach football, but I decided that I wanted to spend more time in the coaching world and less time in the english teacher world."

Henderson’s decision to focus on coaching has paid off for him, with a coaching resume that is impressive. After leaving college, Henderson was able to get a coaching job at San Diego State, and later jobs at Cal State Fullerton, Chapman, and Pepperdine before he made the decision to take an assistant coaching job at the University of Florida.

It was during his time at Florida where Henderson saw his career take off.

As an assistant coach with the Gators, Henderson helped lead the team to two SEC championships, along with an NCAA Regional appearance and two College World Series appearances in 1996 and 1998. In 1996, Henderson received the Collegiate Baseball National Assistant Coach of the Year.

"Going to Omaha for the first time came with a tremendous sense of satisfaction," Henderson said. "It makes you feel good about the time, effort and reward. You feel great for the kids, the fans, and everyone that supports you. The feeling doesn’t change much if you go multiple times. It’s a really cool feeling."

Henderson left Gainesville in 1998 to take an assistant coaching job at Oregon State. He didn't make the NCAA Tournament while in Corvallis, but his recruiting ranked among the top 30 nationally multiple times. Those recruits would help lead Oregon State to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 50 years and their team’s first national championships in 2006 and 2007.

During his four seasons at Oregon State, Henderson had eight pitchers drafted to the MLB, with five of them going in the first eight rounds. His pitching staff led the Pac-12 in complete games in 2000 and 2001.

"You certainly take pride in getting guys into Major League Baseball, there’s no doubt about that," Henderson said. "It’s not the only thing I take pride in, though. I have about 17 engineers out there and three doctors, and I have a lot of pride in those kids, too. I take pride in all of the kids and coaches that have been on the teams that I’ve been on."

The Kentucky Wildcats came calling in 2003, and Henderson took the assistant coaching job there until 2008. In 2009, the Wildcats promoted him to head coach, and Kentucky baseball changed for the better over the next eight seasons.

Kentucky won 30-plus games for five seasons in a row, and claimed a No. 1 ranking for three-weeks in 2012, which was first time in school history. Kentucky won their only SEC championship during his time on the coaching staff, and Henderson later won the SEC Coach of the Year before leaving Lexington after 13 years.

Hendersons journey later took him to Starkville, Mississippi, where he took an assistant coaching job at Mississippi State. In his first season as a Bulldog, Mississippi State won an SEC championship and hosted both the regional and super regional of the NCAA Tournament. His second year with the Bulldogs came to a halt at the NCAA Super Regionals.

In his third year with the program, Henderson was named the team's interim head coach after then-coach Andy Cannizaro announced he was stepping down for "personal off-field reasons" in Feb. 2018.

Henderson led Mississippi State to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament where they would knock off regional host Florida State to advance to the Super Regionals. Mississippi State then beat Vanderbilt in three games at the Super Regional to advance to the College World Series, which was his first trip back since his days in Florida.

While at the College World Series, Mississippi State beat the Washington Huskies and North Carolina Tar Heels to advance to the semifinals of the tournament, where they would eventually lose two games to the Oregon State Beavers.

The National Collegiate Baseball Writers honored Henderson for his efforts and named him the Coach of the Year in 2018, which is a year, he said, that includes some of his favorite baseball memories.

"That season had a really good coaching staff, players who cared a lot, and great parents," he said. "My favorite memory comes from that season when we got three outs in the eleventh inning against Vanderbilt in the Super Regional. After giving up three (runs) in the bottom of the ninth, on the road, to come back and win in the eleventh was something special that I’ll never forget."

Utah later hired Henderson as associate head coach in 2019 where his focus would be on the pitching staff and helping head coach Bill Kinneburg lead the Utes to a Pac-12 title.

"I took the job because I thought it was a really good place and a really good opportunity," Henderson said. "Being at Utah and coaching with Bill were two really positive things. The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is developing a pitching staff and seeing the team get better as the year goes along."

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