January 1, 2014

Dalton High grad Rodney Hennon has built coaching legacy at Georgia Southern

Devin Golden

— Ask Rodney Hennon to summarize his coaching career in college baseball, and he’ll use the words “fun” and “blessed” a whole bunch.

Even with the success he’s had at Georgia Southern, he still holds a soft spot for Dalton.

Hennon and two former Dalton High School standouts now playing for the coach returned to the area last week and held a youth baseball camp Saturday at ProFormance Sports Academy, a baseball training facility in Dalton.

Hennon, who graduated from Dalton High School in 1989, enters his 15th season leading the Eagles. In each season except for last year, the program won at least 30 games and has won four Southern Conference tournament championships (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2011). In 16 total years as a head coach — he coached two years at Western Carolina prior to taking over Georgia Southern’s program — he has a 581-380-1 record.

“That’s unheard of,” said Bart Richt, owner of ProFormance and a long-time friend of Hennon’s from high school. “They play a pretty competitive schedule.”

Richt graduated in 1988 and played minor league baseball. Hennon played at Western Carolina and earned second-team All-Conference honors in 1992 and first-team honors in 1993, his senior season. He has twice won the Southern Conference’s coach of the year award.

“We’ve been fortunate to get good support from our administration and coaches and we have good players here in Georgia,” Hennon said. “It’s been fun.”

Richt said Hennon held a coaches clinic for local coaches before the youth camp started. After the youth instruction, he held a question-and-answer session for parents. Hennon said this is the first time since 1999 he’s been able to hold a camp in the area.

“It’s always good to be back here,” Hennon said. “This worked out well with the holidays and being good friends with Bart.”

Hennon joins former Georgia Southern coach Jack Stallings as the only other coach in program history to earn 10 consecutive 30-win seasons.

“At the time he retired, (Stallings) was the winningest active coach in college baseball,” Hennon said. “He had over 800 wins at Southern and was there for over 20 years.”

While not wishing to think about retirement himself, Hennon continues to say he is “fortunate to be at a place where baseball is important” and still “loves the competition.

“I love still being able to be around the game,” he added. “Like anything else, it has its days and moments. Overall, I’ve been pretty blessed.”

Hennon’s run of 30-win seasons ended last year when the Eagles finished 27-32 and fell short of winning another conference title.

“We didn’t reach the goals we wanted to reach (winning a conference championship),” Hennon said, “but I think a lot of times coming off a season like that might motivate you that much more.

“I think our team is definitely motivated for this season.”

Joining him at the clinic were former Dalton High players Stryker Brown and Garren Palmer, both 2010 graduates and both juniors heading into the Eagles’ 2014 campaign.

Brown said he “recognized the success the program had” when he pledged heading to Georgia Southern and is confident Hennon and the team never worried about any streaks.

“I don’t think he cares about streaks and numbers,” Brown said. “You can see from his numbers he has been one of the winningest coaches.”

Hennon has had other Dalton players come through — and he said he tried recruiting Mitchell Boggs, who went to the University of Georgia and has had a solid professional career playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies.

“This area has always had baseball talent,” Hennon said.

“We always try to make sure we’re aware of the better players around him and when we can get up here to see them play and stay in touch with coaches.”

Lastly, he acknowledged what a facility like ProFormance brings to the quality of the sport in northwest Georgia. He said year-round training helps improve skills but also can increase injuries.

“Personally, I like kids that are athletic and play multiple sports,” Hennon said. “One thing, kids have access to more quality instruction. There are places like this popping up everywhere where kids can get great instruction.