The message Mississippi State interim baseball coach Gary Henderson wrote on a dry erase board at the team’s facility and the signatures of the players and coaches who agreed to adhere to the message. Photo by: Brett Hudson/Dispatch Staff Buy this photo.
March 16, 2018 9:56:58 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State's baseball players filed into their first team meeting with newly named interim head coach Gary Henderson on the morning of Feb. 21 with a blank whiteboard. Before MSU left for that day's game at Jackson State, that whiteboard was filled with the team's standards going forward and the name of every player, signing to agree to that standard.
Henderson did it because he felt the team needed, "to have some place to go with what we are doing." Since that meeting, MSU is 10-4.
On the Henderson foundation of honesty, integrity, competitive and men, not boys, MSU (10-7) has shaken off the residue of a 0-3 start in time for Friday's Southeastern Conference opener against Vanderbilt (6:30 p.m., SEC Network Bases Loaded). Henderson was hesitant to proclaim the meeting as the beginning of a culture change or to call the winning that's happened since it a product of said culture change, but his players are fine with that proclamation.
"He's brought a lot of wisdom to our team. He's really slowed the team down and broke down the fundamentals of the mind-set and how to go about things with baseball," starting pitcher Konnor Pilkington said. "With him being our head coach, I feel like he brings a lot to the table having coached over the years.
"I'd say it's more, I guess, laid back. Everybody is competing just as well -- it's baseball, it's a competitive sport -- but with him it's more a mind-set kind of thing instead of physical. Everybody knows if you play SEC baseball you're going to have the physical attributes to play, but he really harps on the mental aspect of the game."
That fascination with the mental aspects of the game manifests itself in Henderson's public comments: his breakdowns of pitchers tend to deal with execution and pitch selection more than physical ability, his comments on hitters dealing with approach more than physical tools.
That emphasis shines in the foundation for his tenure he laid on that Wednesday morning, starting with honesty.
"That's about being honest with yourself, honest with the people you come in contact with and giving us an honest game, an honest effort," Henderson told The Dispatch. "Integrity is being who you say are; it's that simple, in all aspects.
"Competitive, I think speaks for itself: practice, games, drill work, academic. The concept is not too narrow: not just baseball or baseball practice, just trying to live your life that way. Men, not boys is about being mature and making mature decisions, making decisions that men make, not boys make."
As Henderson outlined each one of those points to his players, he did so under a title plastered on the top of the whiteboard: Create an Identity. It was an identity well known to MSU's pitchers, given Henderson was the pitching coach before taking over as interim head coach, but one position players heard in that format for the first time. The results since then lead to the belief such focuses can help MSU play better baseball, but that's not necessarily the goal.
"He really talks about the human act: If something is funny, he wants you to laugh; if you have a question, he wants you to ask it; he wants you to be a man, he wants men, not boys," Pilkington said. "That's what it comes down to, becoming a man, and through your three or four years here at Mississippi State, he wants to know he has had an impact on somebody."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson