Loyola Marymount at Oregon
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
EUGENE — George Horton is almost certain to sit out the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time in 20 seasons as a Division I baseball coach.
As Oregon has faded from NCAA Tournament contention during the past month, an emerging subplot is Horton’s future with the program as he nears the end of his contract.
Loyola Marymount at Oregon
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
The coach hired 10 years ago to bring baseball back to Oregon has not discussed a new deal with athletic director Rob Mullens or Eric Roedl, the executive senior associate athletic director who serves as the administrator for baseball. Mullens will not publicly address Horton’s status until after the season, a UO spokesman said.
“People talk about how it hasn’t been renewed yet, but I don’t lie awake at night wondering if I’ll have a job,” Horton said Saturday after Oregon was swept in a three-game series by top-ranked Oregon State. “If my time at Oregon is up, then I’ll move on and I’m sure somebody else would like me on his staff. I’ve got a lot of games still in me, and hopefully Oregon wants me to continue to run this program.”
Horton’s second five-year deal with the Ducks, which guarantees him at least $540,000 this year, expires on Sept. 10.
“I can’t coach like that or worry about that,” he said. “The only time I think about it is when somebody asks me. The biggest concern I would have is the assistants and my staff.
“… We’ve had a couple crummy years, no mistaking that, but hopefully the administration has confidence in me. You can only do what you can do. I would like for them to think I’m the right man to get it going back in the right direction.”
Horton is 316-216-1 in nine seasons with the Ducks, including five trips to the postseason. Oregon finished in the top four of the Pac-12 standings from 2012 to 2014 but is on pace to finish sixth or worse for the third year in a row.
Horton took Oregon to an NCAA regional in 2010, his second season on the job, and went to four straight regionals from 2012 to 2015. In 2012, the Ducks reached a Super Regional but lost to Kent State at PK Park, one game short of the College World Series.
Horton led Cal State Fullerton to the postseason in all of his 11 seasons as coach there, from 1997 to 2007, including five trips to the CWS and a national championship in 2004. When Pat Kilkenny reinstated baseball at Oregon as athletic director in 2007, he pulled Horton away from the Titans.
“The main reason I want to be here is I’ve got work to do here,” Horton said. “I think I’ve let the people that hired me originally, Pat Kilkenny and president (Dave) Frohnmayer, down a little bit. We were supposed to be in Omaha by now. I hope they continue to give me an opportunity. There’s nothing I would like better than to see Rob and Pat and Phil (Knight) in Ameritrade Park (home of the College World Series). I haven’t had a chance to play there either.”
The last time Horton’s contract was up, he was coming off the Super Regional appearance and it took more than one month after that deal expired for him to reach a new agreement.
As Horton waits to see if he will be offered another contract, Oregon is 26-21 with two weeks left in the regular season and sits ninth in the Pac-12 at 9-15 after being picked to finish eighth in a preseason coaches poll. The Ducks won five of their first seven conference games and moved into the national rankings, but they have lost 13 of their past 16 games.
Oregon went 29-26 overall and placed eighth in the conference at 14-16 last season.
“I hope they still want me,” Horton said. “I still want to be the Oregon baseball coach.”
Oregon pitcher David Peterson might be Horton’s second first-round pick with the Ducks in next month’s major league baseball draft, but sophomore starters Matt Mercer and Cole Stringer will be back next season. Oregon could return eight position players who started at least 20 games this season.
Horton has regularly put four freshmen in the lineup with Spencer Steer, Gabe Matthews and Matthew Dyer often making up the middle of the batting order.
Freshman Kenyon Yovan ranks among the nation’s leaders with 13 saves, and Ryne Nelson is a two-way player who has served as the designated hitter and as a relief pitcher.
Oregon has announced 10 recruits signed for next season.
“The freshmen are going to get bigger and stronger and smarter and more experienced, and that’s an exciting possibility,” Horton said. “We have some work to do with them as well. The future looks bright. We have some nice arms to go with it. We need to get more athletic and get stronger. That will be the objective with the recruiting class coming in if hopefully the pro people leave them alone a little bit and we hit the jackpot like we did with this class.
“If we put another class like this together, we have a chance to be the kind of team I’m used to coaching.”
Oregon has eight games remaining, beginning when Loyola Marymount visits on Wednesday. The Ducks are at USC this weekend and return home to finish with a three-game series against UCLA, May 25-27.
“I’ve never had a team roll over, and even momentum we can create not making the playoffs could carry over into next season,” Horton said.
The coach will wait to see if he gets that opportunity.