Ute baseball program has a new pitching coach, in response to a 6-24 record in Pac-12 play

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah dugout keeps an eye on the game as Utah and BYU renew their rivalry on the baseball diamond as they battle it out at Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg promised that changes were coming in the program after the Utes finished 10th among 11 teams in the Pac-12. A major move came Thursday, when Kinneberg hired Gary Henderson as associate head coach, mainly working with pitchers.

“The ability to attract Gary is huge for our program and our pitching staff,” Kinneberg said.

Henderson replaces Mike Crawford, who worked with Kinneberg for 11 years. Crawford's departure was not mentioned in Utah's news release about Henderson's hiring. Crawford was instrumental in Utah's Pac-12 championship season of 2016, but the program has regressed since then. The Utes went 6-24 in conference play this year.

Kinneberg said he intended to assess the program “from top to bottom” after the Utes' 16-33 season ended May 25 with two nonconference wins over UC Davis. Crawford's pitchers allowed a total of one run in those games, but they ranked eighth in the league with a 6.49 ERA in Pac-12 games. Jay Brossman remains on the staff, primarily coaching the hitters.

Crawford coached the team for the first 14 games of the 2018 season when Kinneberg was suspended for NCAA rules violations involving a former staff member.

Henderson is a 30-year veteran of college coaching, including eight seasons as Kentucky's head coach and the 2018 season as Mississippi State's interim coach. After leading the Bulldogs to the College World Series, Henderson surprisingly was passed over for the permanent job.

Henderson, 58, previously coached at Florida and Oregon State, before returning to the Southeastern Conference as a Kentucky assistant and then becoming the Wildcats’ head coach. The San Diego State graduate is known for his work with pitchers; eight of his former players have reached the major leagues on the mound since 2012.

Henderson resigned at Kentucky after the 2016 season, citing the demands of the position. “Coaching in the SEC is not a job, it's a lifestyle,” he said.

He then became a Mississippi State assistant and was temporarily promoted after the school’s former head coach was fired for off-field issues.