Dooley: O’Sullivan building a legacy at Florida

Florid coach Kevin O'Sullivan led the Gators to the school's first baseball national championship last season and has them ranked No. 1 to start 2018. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

It was 2011, a hot and humid day in Gainesville and Kevin O’Sullivan was in shock.

He had just seen Mississippi State knock off his Gator baseball team on a walk-off homer against his best relief pitcher Paco Rodriguez to send the Super Regional series into a Game Three the following day. His message to the team was silence.

“I didn’t know what to say,” he says. “And I was afraid to say the wrong thing.”

That night, O’Sullivan’s phone rang. It was Billy Donovan, then Florida’s basketball coach and a close friend.

He wanted to know what Sully’s message was to the team. When O’Sullivan told Donovan he didn’t have one, Donovan told him to get the team together that night and let them know what the plan was for the following day and that everything was going to be OK.

Florida won the next day and went to the College World Series, eventually reaching the championship series.

It’s fitting that the call came from Donovan because what O’Sullivan has built at Florida has been everything Donovan built on the basketball side.

Keep getting there. One day, you’ll have the right team with the right chemistry and the right breaks and you’ll win it all.

Donovan did it twice. O’Sullivan finally broke through in 2017.

“I talked to Billy a lot when he was here,” O’Sullivan says.

Back in 2008 when then UF athletic director Jeremy Foley hired O’Sullivan, he was looking for another Donovan. Florida baseball had a history of getting to the College World Series, but had struggled to sustain success from year to year.

Foley had tried it with established coaches Andy Lopez and Pat McMahon. Both went to Omaha, but never in consecutive years.

“I wanted something different,” Foley says. “FSU and Miami were there every year. I wanted Florida to be there every year. He shared that vision.”

So Foley hired O’Sullivan, an up-and-comer with a lot of the features he had seen in Donovan so many years ago.

“Absolutely, I wanted to do what we did in basketball,” Foley says. “There were 64 teams in the tournament every year. How could Florida not be in the 64? Kevin had no doubt that would happen.”

And it has.

There was the close call in 2012 when the Gators snuck into the tournament and lost in two games to finish under .500. That team was hit by departing juniors and a recruiting class that was gutted by the Major League draft with so many players choosing pro ball over college.

“You have to take some chances,” O’Sullivan says. “But after that year, we knew we had to do a better job of getting guys that would bypass the draft. You have to recruit the families, make sure that they value an education.”

O’Sullivan has taken six teams to the College World Series and made the tournament every year of his 10 seasons at UF. The 2018 team is expected to be one of the favorites to make it again.

And that’s what O’Sullivan is most proud of — sustained excellence.

“You have to have back-to-back good recruiting classes and if you can get a third that’s even better,” he says. “You have to build on the success. So many schools, you see them win it all and they don’t make a regional the next year.

“Just getting to a regional the first year was big because we had been picked 10th or 11th in the conference. And we just kept building on that. Set the standard and build on that success.”

The building never stops. The freshmen of 2018 are considered to be part of one of O’Sullivan’s best classes.

Donovan is gone, coaching Oklahoma City in the NBA. But his impact isn’t only on the Gator basketball program he left behind.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley. This column first appeared in the December issue of Gainesville Magazine.


Collegiate Baseball Poll

TUCSON, Ariz. — The preseason Collegiate Baseball poll with 2017 records. Voting is done by coaches, sports writers and sports information directors:
Record Pts Prv
1. Florida 52-19 497 1
2. Oregon State 56-6 494 3
3. Arkansas 45-19 493 22
4. Florida State 46-23 489 6
5. Texas Tech 45-17 484 19
6. Vanderbilt 36-25-1 482 15
7. North Carolina 49-14 479 17
8. Kentucky 43-23 477 10
9. TCU 50-18 475 4
10. LSU 52-20 471 2
11. Dallas Baptist 42-21 470 20
12. Cal State Fullerton 39-24 469 7
13. Mississippi State 40-27 465 13
14. UCLA 30-27 463
15. Clemson 42-21 460 25
16. Virginia 43-16 459 21
17. South Alabama 40-21 456 26
18. Louisiana-Lafayette 35-21-1 454
19. South Carolina 35-25 450
20. Miami 32-27 448
21. Louisville 53-12 446 5
22. Missouri State 43-20 443 11
23. N.C. State 36-25 440 30
24. Stanford 42-16 437 18
25. Southern Miss 50-16 435 23
26. Texas 39-24 432 28
27. Oklahoma State 30-27 429
28. Winthrop 34-24 426
29. Georgia Tech 27-28 423
30. Houston 42-21 420 27
31. San Diego 35-18-1 417
32. Sam Houston State 44-23 414 14
33. Texas A&M 41-23 412 8
34. Kent State 37-18 410
35. Auburn 37-26 407 29
36. Arizona 38-21 403 24
37. Stetson 27-29 401
38. Mississippi 32-25 398
39. Nebraska 35-22-1 394
40. Michigan 42-17 391
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