David Perno had an idea what was coming.
So when Ted White, Georgia’s chief administrator for baseball, called Sunday night to tell him Athletic Director Greg McGarity wanted to meet the next morning, Perno asked, “Can we go ahead and do it tonight?”
McGarity obliged. Perno, the Bulldogs’ baseball coach for the last 12 years, was fired around 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Perno obviously was not happy about that decision, but his dismissal appeared to be as amicable as these things can be. Including three years as a player and six as an assistant coach, Perno has spent 20 years inside the Georgia baseball program. To him, it is about time to move on.
“There’s no bitterness here and really no disappointment,” Perno said Monday morning. “I loved my time here. I love Georgia. I love what we did. I love our players. And I thought we had a magic run the last 10 years. We just didn’t do that much this year, but we had some tough circumstances.
“We did the best we could. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough in Greg’s eyes and I completely understand that. I’m ready for the next chapter.”
Perno has one year remaining on a contract that pays him $450,000 a year. McGarity characterized Perno’s departure as a resignation but declined to discuss the situation beyond his statement in a news release drafted by UGA.
“We wish him the very best in his future endeavors,” McGarity said in the statement. “He has been a great representative for UGA. We have begun the process of finding the next head coach to lead our program and will do so as quickly as possible.”
According to Jim Callis, managing editor of “Baseball America” and a UGA graduate, some candidates Georgia might consider include Virginia coach Brian O’Connor, Louisville coach Dan McDonnell and Kent State coach Scott Stricklin. He also said the Bulldogs could also talk to a number of ACC or SEC assistant coaches, including Florida’s Brad Weitzel, a former UGA player and graduate (1983).
Perno goes out on a high note. The Bulldogs ended the season Saturday afternoon with 9-2 win over SEC rival Florida. That gave Georgia the season series over the Gators for the first time since 2006. The Bulldogs also defeated Georgia Tech earlier in the week to win that series for the first time since 2007.
But it was too little too late. The Bulldogs finished the season 21-32 overall and last in the SEC with a 7-20 record. That meant they did not qualify among the 12 teams invited to the SEC tournament and would miss the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years.
That is well below the standard Perno had set for the program. The 45-year-old Athenian led the Bulldogs to three College World Series berths in a five-year span between 2004 and 2008. The Bulldogs have been in the CWS only six times in their history.
Ultimately it was Georgia’s SEC play that did in Perno. He’ll end his career 29 games below .500 in conference competition (160-189-1). He’s 399-334 overall.
“Just time to make a move,” Perno said McGarity told him. “He felt like this year, we would have a chance to pass South Carolina and Florida because they were dipping down. And I did, too. We just didn’t. We lost some key pieces and just didn’t play well at times, too many times.”
Perno had some unusual circumstances to overcome. A scooter accident left Chance Veazey paralyzed in 2009 and Jonathan Taylor suffered the same fate after colliding with a teammate in a game in 2011. Both had a far-reaching impact on the program.
Meanwhile, Perno lost three starters to season-ending injuries — pitcher Pete Nagel, outfielder Conor Welton and catcher Brandon Stephens — before the first game this year. Perno also dismissed two other players after their arrests.
“(McGarity’s) mind was made up,” Perno said. “It was a situation where unfortunately, I left an opening this year. I gave him an excuse. We had a chance to make a move and it just didn’t work. I felt like we were on the cusp. I know next year is going to be special and those guys are really going to a great job. I look forward to watching them.”
Nagel, Welton and Stephens will be back, along with six other starters. However, the Bulldogs’ lose all-star shortstop Kyle Farmer as well as third baseman Curt Powell, catcher Brett DeLoach and left-handed pitcher Blake Dieterich.
Not surprisingly, current Georgia players were against the change.
“I love Coach Perno to death,” Farmer said. “He’s had my back these four years and I feel like he’s the best guy for the job. He’s the face of Georgia baseball and I can’t see anybody else doing it.”
Perno said he hopes to continue to coach and is already looking into other jobs. He has been a resident of Athens for nearly his entire life.
“I’m ready to move,” Perno said. “I’ll move tomorrow if you’ve got a job for me coaching baseball. The one thing that I have to do is make sure I keep my family on the same page. But I know my family isn’t going to be like that. So I have to make sure it’s a situation everybody can make work.”