By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – In real terms, Sunny Golloway’s decision to leave Oklahoma for Auburn took four days. That was the amount of time that lapsed from his initial contact with the school to the announcement he was leaving the Sooner dugout Friday evening.
What started as an exploration quickly turned into a different job.
“My intentions into looking into the job were to see if it was one we desired,” Golloway told the Transcript late Saturday afternoon. “We found out it is.”
The Sooners went 346-181-1 in eight-plus seasons under Golloway including 116-97-1 in the Big 12. The trip to the College World Series in 2010, coupled with four berths in the NCAA tournament Super Regional series and this season’s Big 12 tournament title made it a successful run.
So, why leave OU?
There were issues Golloway saw that gave him a reason to end it. Golloway’s contract at OU was set to expire after two more seasons. Golloway said he did not receive a counter offer from OU athletic director Joe Castiglione when they discussed the situation Friday morning.
“Joe was really good about understanding it,” Golloway said. “He thanked me for my time and I feel has been first class and gracious about wishing me the best.”
There were issues that money couldn’t solve, too. Auburn has played in the NCAA tournament just once since 2005. Yet, it still averages around 2,500 fans a game.
OU, for all its baseball success, hasn’t averaged more than 1,900 fans a game since 1999. This past season was the 11th straight year the Sooners have finished outside the top 40 in college baseball attendance.
“It clearly is part of the equation,” Golloway said. “You clearly have a better home-field advantage with more people in the stands.”
Golloway said the fans who routinely attended games at L. Dale Mitchell Park were great, but the inability for OU baseball games to register as must-see events was discouraging.
The only major accomplishments missing from Golloway’s resume at OU were a national championship or a Big 12 regular-season title.
“I think the lack of a regular-season title has a lot to do with our attendance and our teams going to Texas and playing in front of 8,000 fans and Texas coming here and playing in front of less than 2,000,” he said. “It’s been tough on the University of Oklahoma’s baseball program to not have the support of larger crowds.”
The other issue was the status of the Big 12 Conference in college baseball. In 2009, the league sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament and was clearly a power league.
This year, they were down to three.
Shrinking from 12 to 10 teams has something to do with the lack of NCAA tournament bids. But Golloway preached about the league’s RPI problems the last two years.
It’s an issue he won’t have to deal with in the SEC, which sent nine teams to this year’s NCAA tournament and four were regional hosts.
“Nobody seemed to care about the middle of the road. I thought it was a problem. I thought it was a big problem. When you become that team, you’re gonna care. We’ve been that team,” he said. “There’s an RPI that has to be fixed. I think the coaches and the league will do that, but it hasn’t been dealt with yet.”
That will be a problem for OU’s next coach to contemplate. Golloway said pitching coach Jack Giese and coordinator of baseball operations Ryan Gaines will likely join him at Auburn. Current OU assistant Aric Thomas will remain at OU, at least until a new coach has been hired.
“Aric has some responsibilities right here that make it difficult for him to leave. He needs to be an integral part of the program,” Golloway said. “I have to allow somebody that knows the recruits, that has a relationship with the recruits and that the recruits and current players trust to be here and that they can call on a daily basis as they search. He’s a Sooner through and through.”