Originally created 06/07/01

In just two years, Polk takes Dawgs back to Omaha



ATHENS, Ga. -- Ron Polk shrugs his shoulders and stares at the ground, as if he's a bit embarrassed by all this talk that he's some sort of miracle worker.

He points out that most of his players were recruited by his predecessor. He calls himself a "rent-a-coach," someone who returned to the profession merely to make Georgia's baseball program respectable again.

In just two short years, Polk and the Bulldogs took a pass on respectable and went all the way to the College World Series.

Georgia (47-20) opens Saturday against Southern Cal (44-17) in the double-elimination tournament at Omaha.

"Coach Polk gave us confidence," outfielder Adam Swann said. "Knowing he was a winning coach kind of got us going."

Polk, only the second coach to take three teams to the World Series, will concede only that he brought a sense of order to the Bulldogs. He spruced up the facilities, imposed tightly structured workouts and prodded the players to realize their full potential.

"We just tried to install a new program," Polk said nonchalantly. "Whether it's cleaning the dugout after a ball game or shining their shoes, we wanted to make them feel special."

The Bulldogs weren't very special when Polk arrived in the summer of 1999, two years after supposedly retiring at Mississippi State. They had endured seven straight losing seasons in the Southeastern Conference, going through two coaches in the process.

In Polk's first year, the Bulldogs won 32 games - the most since 1992 - and barely missed the .500 mark (14-15) in league play.

"Everybody thought we had a great year last year," the 57-year-old coach said.

As it turned out, Polk was only getting warmed up. This season, Georgia won its first SEC title since 1954, earned its first NCAA bid in nine years and wound up getting all the way to Omaha for the first time since 1990.

"To go to the World Series in two years is nothing short of a miracle," said Florida State coach Mike Martin, whose team was beaten by the Bulldogs in the Super Regional. "You just don't do that when you play in a conference like the SEC. It's a great testament to his ability to get the players performing the way they should."

The Polk system is apparent in some key areas.

Georgia's hitters are patient, setting a school record with 369 walks, but the pitchers don't return the favor, giving up just 199 walks in 609 innings. Also, the Bulldogs are 16-5 in one-run games and have won 16 times in their final at-bat.

"I inherited some fine players from the previous coaches," Polk said. "I would say 80 percent of the boys I inherited, so I can't take credit for the recruiting. We just tried to put in a new system, a new plan."

With only two years remaining on his contract, Polk is reluctant to discuss an extension. He already retired from college coaching once and he's not planning to hang around another 10 or 15 years.

"I'm a rent-a-coach," he said.

Polk will be making his seventh appearance in the World Series, having taken Georgia Southern once and Mississippi State five times.

He joins Larry Cochell (Oral Roberts, Cal State-Fullerton and Oklahoma) as the only coaches to reach the World Series with three teams.

"They're all great, but this is one of the best because this program has been down for a while," Polk said. "At Mississippi State, we were booed if we didn't make the World Series."

While Georgia already has surpassed expectations, Polk doesn't get a sense of satisfaction.

"Some teams are happy when they get to this level," he said. "I don't think these guys will do that. I think they will battle."

The Bulldogs will certainly be an underdog in the opener facing Southern Cal's dominating starter, Mark Prior (14-1). Still, there's no trepidation about facing one of the nation's best pitchers.

"He's not undefeated this year," said Georgia slugger Jeff Keppinger, one of six regulars hitting above .300. "There's no reason we can't go out there and beat him."

Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley was on hand for the celebration Monday, when Georgia clinched the series against Florida State with an 8-3 victory.

Admittedly, he didn't expect Polk to turn things around so quickly, but Dooley knows there's a bit of precedent for this sort of thing.

Remember Herschel Walker?

"I thought it would take a long time for Herschel, too," Dooley said. "And it only took him one game."

While his time at Georgia may be short, Polk hopes to leave a lasting legacy. More than 4,000 fans packed Foley Field for the Super Regional - not to mention several hundred who watched from a nearby backyard.

"I hope the fans don't say, 'When you get to that level, we'll come out,"' he said. "I want to make this a weekly event."