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New coach Stricklin: UGA can be national baseball power

Scott Stricklin pledges to return UGA baseball to national prominence after the program fell on hard times in recent years.

Scott Stricklin pledges to return UGA baseball to national prominence after the program fell on hard times in recent years.

ATHENS — Scott Stricklin said he received two very special phone calls on his first day on the job as Georgia’s baseball coach.

And they did not come from the usual suspects.

One came from the coach he is replacing, David Perno, and the other came from the coach of Georgia’s biggest rival, Georgia Tech’s Danny Hall.

Stricklin played for Hall as a catcher at Kent State and served as an assistant coach at Tech in two separate stints (1998-99, 2003-04), but Stricklin assured Bulldogs fans his relationship with Hall will only intensify the rivalry with the Yellow Jackets.

“We’re going to be very competitive,” Stricklin said of Hall. “It’s almost like when you get in the backyard and you play one-on-one with your brother. You love him, but you want to beat him. That’s the way this is going to be. It’s going to be a heated rivalry.”

As for the call from Perno, who was fired May 19 after 12 years as Georgia’s baseball coach, Stricklin said: “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a conversation where I hung up and was so touched by someone’s grace. It’s a very difficult situation he’s gone through, and I understand that. But he reached out to me and wanted to let me know that he is a Georgia Bulldog for life and he supports this program, and that meant a lot to me personally.”

Stricklin, 41, was introduced as the Bulldogs’ coach in a modest ceremony last week. He comes to Georgia from Kent State, where he was 350-188 the past nine seasons. Stricklin led the Golden Flashes to five NCAA regionals and a College World Series berth in 2012.

Accompanied by his wife, Cheri, and three children, Sydney (11), Cale (8) and Keaton (5), Stricklin called Georgia “a dream job” and being able to coach in the SEC “a dream come true.”

Said Hall: “I’m very happy for Scott and his wife, Cheri, for the opportunity they’ve been given. Scott was an excellent player for me at Kent State and very good assistant coach for me at Georgia Tech. He’s worked extremely hard in the coaching profession and built a winner at Kent State.”

Stricklin said his goal is for the Bulldogs to compete for an SEC Championship and NCAA Regional berth every year.

“The University of Georgia sells itself,” Stricklin said. “This state bleeds red and black, and we are going to bleed red and black, and we are going to build this baseball program into the national power it deserves to be and needs to be.”

UGA A.D. Greg McGarity said Stricklin was the only candidate Georgia interviewed. McGarity and associate athletic directors Jim Booz and Ted White met with him in Akron, Ohio, on May 30 and offered him the job at the end of that meeting. Stricklin accepted via a telephone call to McGarity, who was in Destin at the SEC spring meetings, first thing the next day.

“The interest in our job on a national scale was overwhelming,” McGarity said. “As we navigated through the list of potential candidates, Scott’s name was consistently referred to as ‘someone who must be on your list.’ It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that Scott was the right fit and the right person to lead our program.”

Stricklin agreed to a six-year contract that will pay him $600,000 per year, including yearly longevity bonuses. That will place Stricklin in the top third of the SEC and top 10 nationally, according to McGarity. Stricklin had five years left on a contract that paid him $300,000 per year at Kent State.

Stricklin hit the ground running. He said he recruited in East Cobb and North Georgia and has already met eight of Georgia’s 10 incoming signees and had “two great players” in for a visit just last week.

One of those new recruits is former Crisp County pitcher Robert Tyler, who told The Herald over the weekend he opted to honor his verbal commitment with Georgia instead of turning pro. Tyler, who was projected to go in the first 10 rounds, was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles late last week in the 28th round — much later than he expected to be taken.

“We’re going to recruit the state of Georgia as hard as you can recruit,” Stricklin said. “We’ve already been at work. I got here Monday, and we had one of the most productive days we could have yesterday going around the state of Georgia. We’re going to make the Georgia Nation proud, and we’re going to make this baseball program into a national contender. The possibilities are endless here at the University of Georgia, and that’s one of the big reasons I came here. The potential is so great.”