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Henderson's priorities unchanged by new contract

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Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and baseball head coach Gary Henderson agreed to a five-year contract worth $2.145 million. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and baseball head coach Gary Henderson agreed to a five-year contract worth $2.145 million. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Considering the position he was in a year ago, Tuesday could have been a day of celebration for Gary Henderson.

Last offseason, Henderson's future as Kentucky baseball head coach was in doubt after the Wildcats missed the postseason in 2011. Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart decided to stick with the man he hired in June 2008, at once showing the kind of patience that has been characteristic of his tenure at UK and uncharacteristic of a business infamous for quick changes.

Having signed a new contract, Henderson's future is now quite a bit more secure, but he wasn't in much a celebratory mood. Rather than reflecting on his accomplishments or how far he has come in his career, Henderson was focused on something much simpler.

"I'm really glad that I know where Ty Henderson's going to go to school for the next five years," Henderson said.

His words about where his young son will attend school weren't sarcastic or meant to be funny, but rather an emotional illustration of what stability means to a family. The five-year deal he and Barnhart agreed on will pay Henderson $2.145 million through the 2016-17 season with the opportunity to earn more in performance incentives certainly provides a welcome measure of it. Barnhart believes it is well deserved.

"He has led our program here to a spot now where we have a chance to move forward in a very special, unique way," Barnhart said. "We wanted to make sure that we honored the efforts that he has made here over the last few years and especially this year."

Assistant coaches Brad Bohannon and Brian Green also signed new contracts.

"There have been a lot of fun times over at Cliff Hagan (Stadium) and there are a lot of things left I want to get accomplished," Henderson said. "I am really, really excited about the direction that we are going and there is a lot of things left to do. It's a good place for us to be at this point."

Having worked for almost a quarter-century as a coach and having spent almost his entire life around the game, Henderson is of course aware of the significance of his new deal. He appreciates the commitment being shown to him, but is matching it with the same kind of commitment rather than rejoicing in the past.

"The sense of accomplishment is there, it's great, but it's all about 2013 now," Henderson said. "That's just how it goes. You enjoy it for a short moment, but it's like I said earlier, you're happy with the direction but you're not satisfied with the results. We have some things to prove."

Henderson and his team certainly proved a great deal in a 2012 season to remember, winning a school-record 45 games and falling just one short of a Southeastern Conference title. The same was also true in 2006 when Henderson was the pitching coach on a team that won the SEC championship. The task now becomes turning that level of success into something more lasting.

"I want to create an environment where we feel good about that all the time," Henderson said. "That's just kind of an expectation level. Not necessarily the expectation that you're going to win a certain number of games, but an expectation that the kids in our program couldn't be more proud."

That won't be easy though.

Henderson, in the release announcing his new deal, said, "Kentucky baseball will not be sneaking up on anybody in 2013," and expanded on that notion in answering questions from the media on Tuesday afternoon. The Wildcats will return numerous talented players from last year's roster - eight of whom are currently playing in the Cape Cod League - and add another heralded class of newcomers, but nothing is guaranteed.

"Once you have that and you create that kind of thing, everybody's going to be looking for you," Henderson said. "That's good. That's the way athletics are. It's hard to stay on top."

Outlining his priorities for building on the momentum the program has, Henderson pointed to continuing to recruit effectively and sustaining the bullpen success of last year, but he did not overlook what was arguably the most important element of the 2012 season. Whether it was in celebration of a walk-off win over South Carolina in the first SEC series of the season or in the wake of a devastating season-ending loss to Kent State, the closeness of Henderson's team was unmistakable. Cornerstones of that chemistry like Luke Maile and Michael Williams are now pursuing professional careers, but Henderson believes his next team will have a similar bond.

"You want to create moments, you want to create memories, and you want to create a feeling of belonging," Henderson said. "That's what athletics are. We've taken a very positive step in creating an environment where I think J.T. Riddle loves playing with Matt Reida. I think Trevor Gott loves playing with Corey Littrell. That's what we want to do. And that's a lot easier said than done. Look around. We were able to do it and we're going to work really hard to create that same culture."

New baseball stadium being pursued

Barnhart showed how committed he is to the baseball program in awarding new contracts to his coaching staff, but he isn't done working to secure its future. He talked at length on Tuesday about building a venue to replace Cliff Hagan Stadium.

"We know our facility needs some help, whether it's (at the same site as Cliff Hagan) or whether it's moved to Alumni Drive or something like that," Barnhart said. "Obviously those are probably our two options and how we make that all work as fast as possible is critically important to the ability to help Gary."

Henderson needs no convincing of whether Barnhart is devoted to that cause, which is why he felt no need to push to include any language about facilities in his new contract.

"I think Mitch is going to do everything he can as quick as he can," Henderson said. "There's limitations in all areas of life, but my feeling is that Mitch is committed to a new facility...and I've got a lot of confidence that he's going to do what he can do to make that happen."

Foremost among those limitations is the fact that UK Athletics is unable to secure bonding authority at the state level. However, Barnhart has shown the flexibility to work around such issues. He also said plans at the university level are "coming down the pipe" that will give his department some clarity in terms of what it can and cannot do.

What Barnhart does not want to do is make some kind of quick fix.

"We don't want to just do it to do it and put a band-aid on it," Barnhart said. "That is not the purpose. The purpose is to have the ability to last the test of time a little bit. We have done band-aids before and they are probably not our best plan. We have to figure out how to create a facility that can stand for a while."

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