The Case for Replacing David Perno as the Head Coach of the Georgia Bulldogs Baseball Team

It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it is one damn thing over and over.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Of all the coaches in all the sports in which the University of Georgia fields varsity teams, David Perno is the one about whom I have been the most conflicted. I have doubted him, I have defended him, and, increasingly, I have become disillusioned with him. Heck, even the ordinarily upbeat Tyler Dawgden is down on the Diamond Dogs’ skipper. Quite simply, it has gotten to the point that, now, I have come to the conclusion that Coach Perno no longer is the right man to lead the Georgia baseball program.

I take neither pleasure nor visceral satisfaction in making that statement; I bear Coach Perno no ill will, and I am grateful for the many good things he has done for our alma mater’s oldest varsity sport. However, it appears clear to me that the steady mediocrity (or worse) in which the Bulldog baseball program has languished, frankly, since the bottom of the third inning of the second game of the 2008 College World Series finals is no mere bad patch, but, rather, is indicative of systemic problems that start at the top, and that will not be righted until a new head man is on the job in Athens. It is, therefore, with regret that I state the case for replacing David Perno:

Three College World Series appearances in a five-year span offered some hope that Coach Perno’s program was on the rise, but those three 45-win seasons in 2004, 2006, and 2008 are offset by three years in which the Red and Black could not get out of the NCAA Regional (2002, 2009, and 2011), four in which the Classic City Canines did not make it into the 64-team field at all (2003, 2005, 2007, and 2010), and several spent either below .500 (23-33 in 2007 and 16-37 in 2010) or near it (32-29 in 2002, 29-26 in 2003, 30-25 in 2005, and 33-32 in 2011). Mark Richt has seven ten-win seasons and one losing campaign in eleven years, making it pretty clear which is the aberrational trend; Coach Perno has seven seasons out of ten without an NCAA Super Regional appearance, which suggests that trips to Omaha are the exception, rather than the rule.

Why is that, exactly? As noted by downindixie, Coach Perno has chased away quality assistants and failed to recruit players he should have, both of which are valid concerns. To me, however, the more telling statistic is the one brought to my attention recently by a keen observer of the program. We all know about the former Bulldogs who have moved on to the professional ranks, but consider these numbers:

Player BA HR RBI SLG% OBP
Christian Glisson .342 3 17 .456 .438
Todd Hankins .320 1 13 .393 .336
Zach Taylor .247 1 8 .365 .323

Those were the stat lines from 2010, when Glisson was a sophomore, and Hankins and Taylor were freshmen. Also among the 2010 frosh was right-handed pitcher Malcolm Clapsaddle, who struck out seven, walked five, allowed a .479 batting average, and gave up 23 hits and 21 earned runs in ten and two-thirds innings pitched in his first collegiate season. (There’s a reason Brady Wiederhold was fired.) Just take a look at what those players have done since, though:

Player BA HR RBI SLG% OBP
Christian Glisson .365 7 30 .609 .468
Todd Hankins .393 9 40 ? ?
Zach Taylor .290 4 25 ? .339

Those were the 2011 numbers put up by those players. Pretty impressive, right? Unfortunately, none of those achievements benefited the Bulldogs, because none of those players were wearing red and black last season. Even though the transfer rules for college baseball players are as onerous as those for football players---Division I athletes must go to lower-division schools or sit out a year---there has been no shortage of players who have been a part of the exodus from David Perno’s program.

After seeing action in 42 games (with 33 starts) as a freshman in Athens, Hankins was told his playing time might decrease, so he transferred to Seminole State College, where he earned junior college All-American and conference player of the year honors as a sophomore. Was Hankins’s statistical surge a product of facing lesser competition in the junior college ranks, from which I could not retrieve his slugging and on-base percentages despite an evening of Googling? The Cleveland Indians didn’t think so; the major league ball club drafted Hankins in 15th round of last year’s professional baseball draft, making him one of four Seminole State baseball players drafted in the first 19 rounds that year. Only two then-current Bulldogs were taken in that same draft, neither of them earlier than the 23rd round. Think about that for a minute.

Glisson, meanwhile, moved on to Valdosta State, and Taylor ended up at Armstrong Atlantic State after spending 2011 at Santa Fe College. Through 43 games this year, senior starter Glisson leads the Blazers in batting average (.420), runs (42), hits (68), doubles (20), triples (3), home runs (9), RBI (44), total bases (121), slugging percentage (.747), walks (20), and on-base percentage (.508). With 48 games under his belt at Armstrong State, Taylor leads the Pirates in batting average (.376), runs (63), hits (77), triples (4), home runs (15), RBI (71), stolen bases (21), total bases (145), and slugging percentage (.707), and he is tied for second on the team in doubles (15) and is fourth in both on-base percentage (.467) and walks (30).

In March, Glisson was named the conference player of the week and Taylor was named a national player of the week. Meanwhile, Georgia continues to suffer from a lack of power at the plate, and Coach Perno was heard to complain this weekend that his Diamond Dogs “have to get production from some left handed bats.” Glisson and Taylor are left-handed hitters. Think about that for a minute.

Clapsaddle, like Taylor, spent his sophomore season at Santa Fe College, where he was named conference pitcher of the year and a junior college All-American after working 89 and one-third innings, going 11-2, carding 103 strikeouts, and posting a 1.81 ERA. Currently, Clapsaddle is at High Point University, where he has held opposing hitters to a .292 average and walked a total of three batters in four starts, notching a 2-1 record and a 3.47 ERA. Of the 15 pitchers who have seen action for the Diamond Dogs this season, ten have earned run averages worse than 3.47 and eleven have records worse than 2-1. Think about that for a minute.

As I noted before, I personally bear Coach Perno no ill will, but it appears that bad decisions are being made all over the place, from game-day management to assistant coach hiring and retention, from which players to pursue to which players to keep, and the Georgia baseball program is suffering the consequences. Players who ought to be on the Diamond Dogs’ roster right now would rather be playing for Armstrong State, High Point, and Valdosta State than for David Perno.

I’ve thought about that for more than a minute, and I am forced to conclude that the time has come to put a coach in charge of the oldest varsity sport at the nation’s oldest state-chartered university who at least is able to persuade promising prospects that Athens is a more attractive option than a junior college or a Division II school. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask, does it?

Go ‘Dawgs!

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