UK took the opener of a three-game series with Tennessee on Friday night, 5-4.
Long considered one of the top pitching coaches in college baseball, Gary Henderson is in his seventh year as the head coach of Kentucky and his 12th season overall with the Wildcats after spending five seasons as the associate head coach.
Henderson, who was UK's associate head coach, recruiting coordinator and pitching coach for five years before becoming the 25th head coach in the history of Wildcat baseball on June 6, 2008, has been a cornerstone in the success of the UK program over the past decade, which includes the best 11-year run in the over 100-year history of the program. Henderson has helped transform the Wildcats into an annual national contender with a dynamic recruiting approach, an attention to fundamentals, a diversity of skills and a constant eye on the mental approach to the game.
Henderson's 2012 season also marked a season of firsts for the UK program, as UK was ranked No. 1 in the nation for three weeks in the middle of SEC play, the first No. 1 national ranking for the program. UK finished the 2012 season with a No. 11 national ranking by Baseball America and the No. 14 NCAA RPI, both program highs, leading the SEC a record eight of 10 weeks and winning seven of its 10 weekend series, also a program first. UK ran up a school-record 22-game winning streak, the second-longest winning stretch in the storied history of the SEC and won its first ever series over a No. 1 ranked team, taking two of three games from LSU at home when UK ranked as high as No. 2.
The Wildcats are coming off their eighth all-time NCAA Tournament berth in 2014, with Kentucky posting one of its most successful seasons in program history. Under Henderson's guidance, UK two-way star AJ Reed blossomed into one of the top individual performers in the history of college baseball. UK's Friday-night ace for two seasons and its primary run producer at the plate, Reed was the unanimous national player of the year, winning the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award, the Dick Howser Trophy, Baseball America College Player of the Year, American Baseball Coaches Association National Player of the Year, SEC Male Athlete of the Year, SEC Player of the Year and the John Olerud Trophy.
Reed became the first player in league history to lead the SEC - and the nation - in homers and also pace the circuit in pitching wins, going 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA. Reed belted 23 homers, hit .336 and had a SEC-best 73 RBI and a .476 on-base percentage. His 23 homers were more than 185 teams combined to hit during the 2014 season.
Following the season Reed and UK star centerfielder Austin Cousino - a two-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner - were selected in the top three rounds of the 2014 MLB Draft. Overall, UK had six players drafted or sign a professional contract, including Reed (second round), Cousino (third round), infielder Max Kuhn (13th round), righty Chandler Shepherd (13th round), catcher Micheal Thomas (22nd round) and shortstop Matt Reida (free agent).
Henderson's impact on the UK program can be seen directly in the amount of talent it is producing, as UK seen a program best 63 players selected in the MLB Draft or signed as a free agent, including a program best eight in 2012. Overall, Henderson has seen 25 of his pitchers drafted at Kentucky and a total of 63 of the 162 players drafted in program history have come under his watch, a staggering 39 percent.
UK's 2012 campaign that ranked as the best in the history of the program, with Henderson voted Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year by the league coaches. Henderson directed the Wildcats to a school-record 45-win season, with UK completing its best finishes in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments in school annals.
The 2012 campaign features a bevy of record-setting statistics, with Henderson's pitching staff set new program records in saves (22), innings pitched (570), strikeouts (502) and opponent average (.260). UK also set a new program standard with a .976 fielding mark. A key piece of the UK 2012 season was the dynamic Wildcats bullpen, which owned a staggering 40-0 record when leading after seven innings and a 32-1 mark when leading after four frames. Overall, UK's bullpen owned a 17-6 record, a 2.97 ERA, with 22 saves and a .235 opponent average.
Following the season, a school-record nine UK players were selected in the 2012 MLB Draft, the second-most in the NCAA and the Wildcats sent a nation-leading nine players from its 2013 roster to play in the Cape Cod League or on the USA Collegiate National Team.
The Wildcats posted another 30-win season in 2013 that saw UK ranked in the top-25 for 12 of 15 weeks. Kentucky again took aim at the UK record book under Henderson's tutelage, as UK set a new program record for bullpen ERA, with UK boasting a dynamic relief corps that included record-shattering closer Trevor Gott. UK sported a 2.29 bullpen ERA, went 25-0 when staked to an eighth inning lead and finished the year winning 88 consecutive games when leading after eight innings, dating back to 2011. UK also had the third-best fielding percentage in school annals, with two of the top three marks coming under Henderson's eye.
Kentucky again made a splash in the MLB Draft in 2013, as Corey Littrell (fourth round), Gott (fifth round), J.T. Riddle (11th round) and Jerad Grundy (12th round) were all signed to their first professional contracts.
During the summer of 2012, Henderson started working with USA Baseball, serving as an instructor during the USA Baseball 14-U National Development Team Program, joining Arizona State head coach Tim Esmay on the USA staff, along with former New York Yankees general manager Bob Watson.
During his five years as the associate head coach, Henderson helped lead the Wildcat program to two then-record 44-win seasons, two NCAA Regional Championship appearances, an NCAA Regional host and the first SEC Championship in UK's 75-year history in the SEC.
Henderson's 2008 pitching staff was the best in the SEC, pacing the conference with a 3.71 team ERA, ranking as the second-best ERA in school history.
A former national assistant coach of the year in 1996 at Florida, Henderson is in his second collegiate head coaching job, with assistant coaching stops at San Diego State, Fullerton State, Riverside CC, Pepperdine, Florida and Oregon State. Henderson's head coaching experience came as the head coach at Chapman University (Calif.), where he helped transition the program to Division I, guiding the program to a national ranking in just its first year.
Henderson's impact on the UK pitching staff has been drastic, helping transform the Wildcat staff into one of the top in the nation. Individually, impact can be seen by the improvements made to 2008 senior pitchers Andrew Albers, Brock Baber and Greg Dombrowski, a trio which exited UK among the pitching record holders. UK's 2007-08 Friday night starter Chris Rusin became the first Wildcat pitcher tabbed as a first-team All-SEC selection since current MLB reliever Scott Downs in 1997.
After securing the fourth-best recruiting class in the nation in 2008 - a school record - Henderson has helped mentor the group into the next phase of their baseball careers, most notably 2011 first-round MLB Draft pick Alex Meyer, who became the second-highest UK draft pick in program history.
Henderson worked tirelessly with Meyer, who arrived at Kentucky as a 6-foot-6, 175-pound projectable right-hander. Meyer and Henderson worked to smooth mechanics and develop on and off the field into a dynamic starter that earned All-SEC honors in 2011. Meyer finished his UK career ranking among the career and single-season record holders, fanning 253 in 211.2 innings, with 13 wins. In 2011, Meyer finished with a 2.94 ERA and a 7-5 mark, striking out 110 in 101 innings. Just a year later, Meyer was on the mound in the MLB Futures Game at Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City, as the 50th-best prospect in the game.
With Henderson guiding the pitching staff in 2009, Kentucky ended the season setting a school-record for strikeouts in a season, fanning 523 as a staff. Kentucky also had three pitchers drafted in the 2009 MLB Draft, including two players who signed contracts. Rusin, a 2009 senior, signed to play in the Chicago Cubs organization after being drafted by the Cubs in the fourth round and has since made his MLB debut. In 2010, UK junior Logan Darnell went in the sixth round to the Minnesota Twins, after going undrafted in high school out of Nashville suburb, Joelton, Tenn.
Henderson's pitching staff became a force during the 2006 SEC Championship season, ranking third in the conference in ERA. The Wildcats' pitching staff improved under Henderson immediately, as the team improved from a 5.23 ERA in 2005 to a 3.95 ERA during 2006. Most impressively, Henderson transformed the 2006 pitching staff into a weapon, using journeyman weekend starters, Dombrowski, Craig Snipp and Aaron Tennyson, a trio of players without imposing "stuff" that bought into Henderson's approach on the mound. Most notably, Henderson turned Dombrowski - a 5-foot-11 side-arm righty with an 82-mph fastball - into a 10-win performer in 2006.
In 2008, despite playing in a "hitters ballpark", Henderson's pitching staff allowed the fewest home runs in the SEC. That staff also allowed the fewest runs and the fewest earned runs in the SEC in 2008.
One of the stalwarts of the UK pitching staff in 2008 was Albers, whose leadership and competitive fire was a key element to UK's run. Albers was a 10th round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, playing in the minor league system for one season before having Tommy John surgery. After rehabbing and proving his health in the independent leagues, Albers traveled to Lexington to stay in Henderson's basemen and workout. Henderson arranged for scouts from the Minnesota Twins to watch an Albers bullpen and after a second workout session in Florida, Albers signed with the Twins. He completed his fairytale rise to the big leagues in 2013, setting a franchise record for consecutive shutout innings to start his career and earning Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year accolades.
Regarded as one of the top coaches in college baseball in terms of controlling the running game defensively, Henderson had four consecutive years, from 2005 to 2008, where each of his Wildcat staffs led the SEC in fewest stolen bases allowed. Overall, UK has allowed the fewest steals in the SEC in six of his 10 seasons directing the pitching staff.
Henderson's impact can not only be seen in the pitching staff but also in his recruiting ability. His impact was immediate upon his arrival, as UK's first recruiting class under Henderson was hailed as one of the top 25 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. Henderson has continued to recruit the best players in the country, as the 2007 class was ranked among the nation's best and the 2008 class was tabbed No. 31. Henderson's 2008 (2009 newcomers) class was widely regarded by many as one of the best class in the nation (fourth overall) and the top recruiting class in program history. The 2009 (2010 newcomers) class wasn't too far behind, ranking in the top-15 in Baseball America and as the sixth- best class in the nation by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Henderson has kept up the recruiting momentum, signing the No. 16 class in the NCAA in 2010 and the No. 25 class in 2011 (2012 newcomers). His 2012 class (2013 newcomers) boasted five previous draftees, a program best, ranking as high as No. 11 in the nation.
Prior to his current post, Henderson spent five seasons as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Oregon State. The Beavers notched the school's first ever College World Series titles in 2006 and 2007, riding the arms of several players recruited by Henderson. The most notable was CWS MVP Kevin Gunderson, who pitched a brilliant postseason in leading the Beavers to the title.
At Oregon State, Henderson coached eight Beaver pitchers who were drafted by major league teams, five of whom were selected in the top eight rounds. With the help of Henderson's recruiting efforts, the Beavers improved from 19 wins in 1999 to 31 in both the 2001 and 2002 seasons, finishing 31-24 and 31-23, respectively. In his time with the Beavers, two of Henderson's recruiting classes were ranked among the top 30 nationally. Meanwhile, his pitching staff led the Pac-10 Conference in complete games in both the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
In 1996, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper tabbed Henderson as the National Assistant Coach of the Year. At the time, he was in his second year at Florida, where he served as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the high-octane Gators from 1995-98. In that time, he helped the Gators to the SEC Championship and the College World Series in both 1996 and 1998. Collegiate Baseball awarded national rankings to all four of Henderson's recruiting classes at Florida, including a No. 4 spot in 1996. In his playing days, Henderson pitched one year at Linfield College before transferring to San Diego State. He compiled a 19-5 career record at the two schools.
Henderson, a former standout prep quarterback, earned a bachelor's degree in English from San Diego State and a master's degree in sports psychology from SDSU.
Henderson and his wife, Vicki, have two sons, Alex (29) and Ty (13).
* Paced UK to the best season in program history in 2012, as UK won a record 45 games and posted its best finishes in the NCAA and SEC Tournaments in UK history.
* Was named 2012 SEC Coach of the Year in a voting of the league coaches, leading UK to a 20-13 record against SEC foes, with UK finishing just a game shy of the SEC Title and spending three weeks ranked No. 1 in the nation.
* Paced UK 2012 bullpen that went a stunning 40-0 when leading after seven innings and 32-1 when leading after four innings. UK's bullpen set a school-record with 22 saves, with closer Trevor Gott breaking the single-season mark with nine saves.
* Had a school-record nine players selected in the 2012 MLB Draft - second-most in the NCAA.
* Has brought in staggering amounts of talent, as his 2013 roster led the NCAA in players in the Cape Cod League or the USA National Team during the summer and with 15 players drafted on its roster, ranks second in the NCAA.
* Henderson helped develop 6-foot-9 Alex Meyer from a 20th-round pick out of high school to the 23rd overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft after his junior season, with Meyer transforming from a projectable talent into a polished dominating SEC starter.
* As the pitching and recruiting guru, Henderson has brought in a bevy of talent since the 2006 season, with a staggering total of 53 UK players have been drafted or signed a free agent professional contracts.
* Over the history of UK baseball in the MLB Draft, dating back to 1965, 156 players have been drafted or signed a free-agent MLB contact, with 37-percent (57-of-156 total) coming during Henderson's time as the recruiting coordinator and head coach.
* Henderson directed his 2010 team to the first sweep over LSU since the 1991 season and just the second sweep over the tradition-laden Tigers in program history. UK also posted a series win over South Carolina, the eventual 2010-11 NCAA Champions.
* Henderson's 2010 team was one of the top in school history, finishing half a win shy of advancing to the NCAA Tournament, owning the seventh-best strength of schedule in the nation and a top-30 RPI, with UK charting the fourth-most wins over top-25 RPI teams in the NCAA.
* Since taking over a head coach, Henderson has helped transform the UK offensive attack into a dynamic approach geared towards athleticism, power and speed, with UK leading the SEC in stolen bases and homers in 2010 and ranking second in the league in doubles and homers with the scaled down bats in 2011 and ranking among the top three in nearly every offensive category in 2012.
* Recruited the core of the Oregon State rosters that won back-to-back NCAA Titles in 2006-07, where he served as the recruiting coordinator and pitching coach.
* Was named the 1996 ABCA Assistant Coach of the Year after directing the Florida pitching staff to the 1996 College World Series.
What They Are Saying About UK Head Coach Gary Henderson
"No question that this program is going nowhere but up. Coach Henderson has played a huge part in so many players lives. He is one of the best recruiters in the country. I mean he found me all the way up in Saskatchewan, Canada. Not many guys make it from up there down here. He does a great job and I think his ability to form relationships with players and their families really just attracts people to this program and it should. He has that personality and is just a tremendous person. He's very intense, is a tremendous competitor and he's locked in at all times. Guys just want to be around him, he's a winner." - Former UK pitcher and 2013 Team Canada World Baseball Classic member
"I love Coach Henderson. He actually came out to a game here in Reno (when Cowgill played for the Triple-A Aces). He was recruiting a kid in Sacramento, I think, and just jumped over a night and we sat outside at the field for at least an hour and just talked about everything from baseball to his son, Ty. He's a friend and he's been great mentor to me. The way he treats us when we come back in the offseason to work out, he does everything he can to help us. He'd do anything for us and, at the same time, we try to do everything we can for them. It's a great relationship I have with them and they take great care of me, so I can't thank them enough for what they've done." - Former UK All-American and current New York Mets outfielder Collin Cowgill
"What a great hire for the University of Kentucky. Gary is one of the top coaches in the country and I am so proud of having gotten to work with him and be apart of his life. Gary's work ethic, his attention to detail and his pure knowledge of what is going on with all aspects of the game makes him an outstanding coach. Gary is someone who has always been ahead of the game when it comes to recruiting and someone who has had an amazing impact on programs. He has earned the job, he is a man of integrity and someone who will do an outstanding job at Kentucky." - Oregon State Head Coach Pat Casey
"Gary Henderson is going to be a phenomenal head coach, I am really happy for him and the University of Kentucky. Gary is a guy who really knows his stuff and him getting a head coaching job in the SEC is a really long time coming. He is a coach that can really relate to the players, a guy who is smart and witty, definitely one of the funniest coaches I have ever had. Gary Henderson deserves to be a head coach at a top-notch major school and he is going to do an outstanding job." - Boston Red Sox Catcher David Ross
"Gary is very deserving of the Kentucky head coaching job. He has been in the business a long time and is one of the best baseball minds and pitching coaches out there. I have much respect for him, and as a friend I am very happy that he has gotten this opportunity." - Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin
QUOTING UK GREAT ALEX MEYER
On Gary Henderson's influence on his career ... "One of the things that I can thank coach Henderson the most for is the maturation process that he made me go through. When I showed up at Kentucky, I was thinking that I was going to come in and dominate right away and I would be the big guy right from day one. Pretty soon I figured out that it was going to be a lot harder than I thought and he was there for me from day one. He was there the whole time, through the good and the bad. He would tell me that I was going to get through the struggles. After fall ball my freshman year, I was worried. I started pretty good but by the end of it our veteran hitters started to understand what I was going to do. And all of a sudden I couldn't get a guy out in my freshman fall. And he told me that I was going to figure it out and this is part of the process. That I was going to be successful and if I stuck with it I would be successful. He did a real good job of keeping everything in perspective."
On Henderson's attention to the mental game ... "One thing that he told me that I will never forget. And I have told people this, when I go to speak to a local middle or high school team, one thing I always tell them that resonated with me from coach Henderson is that baseball is truly a game of failure. When he told me that, I didn't necessarily understand what he was talking about. But he told me to think about it, if a guy fails seven times out of 10 at the plate in baseball you are going to go down as one of the best to ever play the game. And that is over half the time failing. So if you fail seven times and you let that eat you up, it is just going to wear on you and break you down. That is something he really preaches, is that you are going to fail. And he says he isn't going to get mad at you when you fail, he is going to talk to you and hope you can learn from it and give you another chance to go out and prove that you can learn from it. That is something he did a great job with me. When I messed up, he would explain what I was doing wrong. When you have a coach that is able to break things down for you and make things so simple, it can really help you out and make things easy for you."