Loran Smith’s sports column: Wes Johnson

Published 12:18 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

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In all likelihood, Georgia baseball coach Wes Johnson is not a

devotee of medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer. He may not have studied

Chaucer, and he probably has not read “Canterbury Tales.” One thing is

certain, however: he would disagree with Chaucer who is credited with

originating the phrase, “All good things must come to an end.”

Johnson is just getting started. A painful loss makes the coach hurt

for his kids, but he is a man who enjoys an eminent reputation that brings

about inherent recruiting advantages. He is already at work for the next



High School players will want to play for this man—one who can pick

up the phone and call Big League managers, coaches and players any time

he likes. He talks to baseball scouts as often as he does his family. This

suggests that there is going to be a culture with Georgia baseball that will

bring about championship dividends.


Johnson worked overtime his first year coaching the Bulldogs by

accentuating the positive. He didn’t arrive in Athens with favorable

recruiting circumstances. The calendar worked against him but he set


about establishing his program by underscoring the work ethic and utilizing

his reputation which enabled him to put together a winning roster.

He didn’t kick trash cans, he didn’t slug water coolers and go into an

expletive filled rant when his team could not do anything right and lost, 18-1

in the first game of a three-game series. His soft-spoken style may bely his

deep competitive nature. His assets have to do with motivation, inspiration,

deep study, fundamentals and knowledge.

His faith in and commitment to analytics will never waver, and he will

gain the advantage. Just give him time. “He is going to build a dynasty

here,” said Ben McDonald, former Big League pitcher, who was the color

analyst for ESPN for last weekend’s Super Regional.


An example of Johnson’s baseball intellect came in an exclusive

interview with Collegiate Baseball’s editor, Lou Pavlovich Jr., back in

September. “Johnson may be the only pitching coach in baseball who can

quantify by scientific data how many pitches each of his hurlers will be able

to throw in a given game which cuts down on injuries.


“For relivers in games, his warmup procedure is vital to stay away

from throwing unnecessary pitches prior to entering games. How many


times have you seen relief pitchers essentially throw a game in the bullpen

before being summoned into the contest?”

Johnson’s Bulldogs came back to win the second game of the series

against N.C. State, but lost in the series final, 8-5, leaving too many men on

base to be able to advance to Omaha which would have made this one of

the most serendipitous seasons ever for the “Diamond Dawgs.”


Not sure what the Bulldog coach did the morning after, but based on

what we know about this astute, introspective leader of the UGA baseball

program, he was up early, not dwelling on the disappointing result, although

he hurt for the program, but, nonetheless, is looking ahead.

He will evaluate the season as one in which Georgia made significant

progress but will be driven by the goal to bring about improvement. No

reason, he will tell you, that Georgia shouldn’t be an annual contender for a

berth in the College World Series in Omaha.

When I first met him, it was easy to see he was aware that the state

of Georgia has an acclaimed baseball reputation from Ty Cobb, Spud

Chandler and Johnny Mize to Charlie Condon. The past is gleaming with

lore and accomplishment and today there is abundant talent for developing

a championship program.


“The baseball tradition in this state is rich,” Johnson said as if he were a historian. “You look at the high school level and you find some of the

best talent there is in Georgia. You evaluate the Atlanta area and all over

the state and you find really, really good baseball. I was on record before I

got this job that Georgia has the best college campus in the SEC. The

environment here is just so outstanding. Then there are the Braves in

Atlanta, how great is that?

In his first season, in Athens, there were highs and lows, but it

caused an accentuation of the positive which is the Wes Johnson way.

Even when he was in the big leagues for four years, he never mentioned

the word slump with any player on the roster. He would point out all the

plusses on the stat sheet.

He will always remember that in his first season as the Bulldogs head

coach that the team came up one game short of making it to Omaha, a

disappointment but a windfall for the future when you view it through the

Wes Johnson prism.


Getting the better of Georgia Tech in the regional tournament to host

a Super Regional at Foley Field was something especial that brings about

positive thinking with respect for the future of Bulldog baseball.


The coach’s roster building in his first year brings him high marks and

stimulates high hopes for the future. Let’s not forget that when he cobbled

his first team together, he was out front early on telling Bulldog baseball

enthusiasts that his fist team would “score some runs.” This coming from a

man whose expertise is pitching.

Georgia fans can take heart in that Wes Johnson is a selfless man

who preaches loudly by his actions that it is all about the team—not him.

When it comes to coaching, he believes the limelight belongs to the players and the school.