ATHENS, Ga. -- The gaping chasm that separates Ron Polk and the NCAA wasn't wide enough to keep him away from baseball.
The former Georgia Southern coach -- who cited NCAA restrictions for his resignation from Mississippi State in 1997 -- is back in baseball and the Peach State, this time as the 23rd coach at Georgia.
Polk, who became the winningest coach in SEC history during his 22-year tenure at Mississippi State, was named to the Diamond Dogs' post at a news conference Thursday.
"I have one more challenge in me at the age of 55," said Polk, among the most successful coaches in NCAA history. "I felt this was the time to do it."
Polk rarely wastes a moment to take issue with NCAA scholarship limits and its restrictions on graduate assistant coaches, and he asserted Thursday that his differences with the NCAA are as steadfast as ever.
"I feel the same way," said Polk, who signed a four-year contract worth $80,000 annually. "The NCAA people may not be pleased with this news. I'll still blast the NCAA wherever I go, but I'll try to be professional about it.
"We're the discriminated sport now. This doesn't change a thing," said Polk, who took 17 teams to an NCAA regional tournament, six of which advanced to the College World Series -- five at Mississippi State and one at Georgia Southern. He has amassed a career record of 1,043-486, including a 326-213 SEC mark.
His four-year tenure at Georgia Southern produced an NCAA appearance in 1974 and a spot in the College World Series in 1973. He left Statesboro in 1976 and proceeded to craft his sparkling resume at Mississippi State.
"The one question I had was did Ron really want to get back into coaching," said Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley. "I could see the fire in his eyes. Baseball has been his life. You could tell that he missed coaching."
Polk replaces Robert Sapp, who was relieved of his duties last month after the Diamond Dogs sagged to their second losing season in his three years at the helm.
Polk spent the past two years in an administrative position with Mississippi State, one similar to the post assigned to Sapp last month after he gave up the reins of the baseball program.
Sapp brought a formidable record from Middle Georgia College to the helm in 1997, but he was doomed by inferior pitching and, last season, a lack of clutch hitting.
"They're real competitive," said Polk, who inherits a team that finished 25-30-1 last season. "They don't have real bad ability. Their pitching is not up to par in the SEC, but they fielded well, and they put the ball in play."
Bulldogs' third-baseman Mark Thornhill doesn't know Polk well, but he said his new coach's reputation precedes him.
"I've only spoken with him once or twice,"said Thornhill, a former Evans and Greenbrier star who recently completed his sophomore season in Athens. "But as far as what he's known for, he's a pretty high-class guy.
"I compare him to Terry Holder," Thornhill said of the former Greenbrier coach. "He's going to give us a good work ethic."
Larry Williams covers college sports for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org