BY GREGG ELLIS
STARKVILLE – Can Ron Polk really walk away from college baseball?
He says the timing is right.
But remember, the 29-year Mississippi State baseball coach has attempted retirement twice, only to be lured back into the game on each occasion.
“It's a young man's game now,” he said with a laugh. “It's time for me to move on. It will be good for Mississippi State, and it will be good for me.”
Polk has been a head coach for 34 years. It's a run, Georgia coach and former Polk pupil Dave Perno said, you won't likely see again.
For starters, he pointed out, with higher salaries comes more pressure. And with a “win-now” attitude from alumni and major donors, administrators are far more quick to fire a coach than ever before.
“I don't see doing this for 34 years,” Perno laugh. “Look at football and basketball. It's not nearly as common today as it was years ago to have a coach stay at one place for so long. I really see the same happening for baseball coaches.”
Polk said he won't be far removed from the game.
He intends on traveling the country doing clinics and speaking engagements, mainly as a platform to blast the NCAA over rules he says are an injustice to the game, such as scholarship and roster limitations.
Whether he remains in Starkville, he's just not sure.
“I've always enjoyed speaking and meeting people,” he said. “I guess I'll have more time to do that. But I'll never stop blasting the NCAA for trying to ruin college baseball.”
Skip Bertman, who retired from LSU in 2001 after leading the Tigers to five College World Series titles, says it is tough to walk away from something that is such a big part of your life.
Life after baseball?
And he added only Polk will know how to handle his own situation.
“I could offer him some advice, but he'll find out on his own,” Bertman said. “Plus, he probably wouldn't listen to me anyway.
“You know, one of the reasons he's walking away is because of some of the stupid NCAA rules. With having to trim rosters to all-time lows, he doesn't want to have to tell a kid he's gotta leave. I don't blame him. But I say the chances are he'll be working again in some facet of baseball.”
Polk's friend and fishing buddy, Bulldogs basketball coach Rick Stansbury, said he should just walk away and enjoy life to the fullest and leave the headaches of collegiate athletics in the past.
“He's got enough money,” Stansbury laughed. “Just look at his clothes. He's not spending any money there.”
If there's a concern Stansbury has, it's a bored Polk calling him all the time wanting to go fishing, regardless the time of day or year.
“He just learned how to fish 10 years ago,” Stansbury said. “I remember taking him out for the first time. As I was shoving us off the bank, I gave him a rod and real with an artificial worm. Next thing I know, he's dipping the pole in the water like it was cane. I said, What are you doing?' He said, I'm fishing.' I just shook my head. Ever since, he's been hooked. Now he calls all the time wanting to go fishing. In October, he forgets how busy I am.”
It's not unusual to see Polk on press row at Humphrey Coliseum for basketball games. If fact, it would be unusual not to see him.
He's even made it a ritual to visit the locker room or interrupt a team meeting to see what's happening. Sometimes he's welcomed. At other times, he's not. But, that's never stopped him.
“He thinks he can coach basketball, I guess,” Stansbury said. “Maybe that's what he can do now.
“In all seriousness, I hope he enjoys retirement. He's done so much for this university. To do what he's done and have the success he's had for such a long period of time says a lot. He'll always be a legend here.”