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THOMBS TAKES: What has made Wes Johnson successful in year one?

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs06/04/24

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ATHENS, Ga. — Wes Johnson and the Georgia Bulldogs are advancing to a place UGA Baseball hasn’t been in 16 seasons, so what better time to talk about the success the first-year head coach has had. Thanks to WillieBlue for the question submitted on the Dawg Walk message board, and I encourage others to continue to submit them as I’ll happily circle back to answer them all!

So, what has made Wes Johnson successful in year one at Georgia? Put simply, I think it’s been his strong understanding of what he’s working with. Hired a year ago tomorrow – June 5th – Johnson prioritized building around power in the transfer portal. He knew he had something special with SEC Freshman of the Year Charlie Condon returning and certainly welcomed both Corey Collins and Fernando Gonzalez back when they went undrafted. Picking up Kolby Branch, Slate Alford and several outfielders with offensive firepower, Johnson knew the way Foley Field played and made sure his team was strong in those areas.

You might be asking, well what about the pitching? There must’ve been a confidence in his ability to develop pitchers because Georgia did not add anybody circled as a top-tier prospect out of the portal. I haven’t heard Johnson say that, but my gut tells me he felt that way.

Sure, Georgia brought in the likes of Christian Mracna, Brian Zeldin, Josh Roberge and Zach Harris who have all had key roles this season. Daniel Padysak and Brandt Pancer were two others with tons of high-level experience, but in several cases it’s been a homegrown approach. Charlie Goldstein – albeit battling injuries throughout the season – Leighton Finley, Kolten Smith and Chandler Marsh have all gotten better as the year has gone on. That doesn’t happen – at least to the extent they’ve improved – without Johnson in my opinion.

MORE: Wes Johnson, Corey Collins soak up special night for Georgia Baseball

Finally, Johnson has understood how to navigate the SEC. It’s a tough league, and expecting to win every game is silly. It takes an ability to withstand the ups and downs to get through the 30 conference games and advance to the NCAA Tournament. Whether that’s with 13 wins, 17 wins or 20-plus, just getting into a regional is a battle that the Bulldogs were able to win. Advancing out of there – as they did – takes some sort of combination of talent, luck and confidence.

Confidence is a key word in talking about Johnson that won’t go unnoticed by this writer. From the get go, he’s seemed to feel good about his team and excited to go out there and compete each day with them. He and his staff have put faith and trust in the players and allowed them to face adversity and overcome it.

“Coach always has our back and harps on belief,” Georgia pitcher Zach Harris said after Sunday’s win over Georgia Tech in a quote that sums up well why Johnson has had success in his first year as a head coach.

“Every day you’ve got to wake up and believe in yourself no matter what it is in life, you’re attacking it,” Johnson added himself, once again going back to that idea of belief. “That’s something that we talk about. I’m real big on being the hero of your imagination. If you’re not, what are you?”

Those two quotes and that idea of belief is big in all of this too. Johnson, from the day he was hired, believed Georgia Baseball was capable of more. He’s accomplished more in year one than the Bulldogs have the past 15 seasons, and if what he said to the team after the announcement of the NCAA Tournament bracket is true, he’s not done believing in this year’s team either. Georgia Baseball is back in a great place, and Johnson has the Bulldogs’ program on an upward trajectory – not just for this season, but for years to come.

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