by Rob Moseley
Several big, round numbers loom on the horizon for George Horton in his college baseball coaching career.
The sixth-year Oregon coach acknowledged a certain significance to them.
"It means you're old," Horton joked last week from his new office in the Casanova Center.
Last fall, the movement of Oregon's football staff into the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex was the first domino to fall in a series of new homes for various UO programs in the Cas Center. Thus does Horton now find himself working out of the spacious main office in the former women's basketball suite, with room for not only a large desk but a meeting tables and chairs.
As of last week, the office looked as if Horton was still moving in. Piles of notes were scattered around the desk, and unpacked boxes of paperwork and baseball equipment littered the floor.
Being too busy to unpack is a sign of Horton's devotion to his work with the baseball team. And it explains how he's put himself in position to reach those big, round numbers in career victories when the Ducks begin the 2014 season with a four-game series at Hawaii beginning Friday.
If by chance Oregon is able to sweep the series, Horton will reach 900 wins as a college head coach, both in junior college and NCAA Division I. Some time in late March or early April, the Ducks should reach 20 wins for the season, giving Horton 200 in his six seasons at Oregon.
And it should be later in April that the Ducks win their 30th game, giving Horton 700 in this two Division I coaching stops, at Oregon and Cal State Fullerton.
"Usually those sneak up on me," Horton said when informed of the looming milestones. "Each and every year's a new challenge and a new objective. At the end of the year, your report card is based on, did you reach your potential? Did you get as much out of the young people you're coaching as you possibly could?"
For Horton, then, the 2014 season sets up like most in his career — the ultimate goal is a College World Series berth, and it looks like a realistic one. He took Cal State Fullerton to the tournament in Omaha six times as head coach from 1997-2007, though he's still looking for his first trip with the Ducks.
As he assessed his UO tenure given the prospect of his 200th win with the Ducks coming up, Horton said the program has come "a long ways — and not as far as I'd hoped, as quickly as I'd hoped, quite frankly."
"Whatever the pro forma or business model is, we might be ahead of the curve a little bit," Horton added. "But we have five years under our belt and we still don't have a championship. …
"That's much harder to accomplish than it is to say … but that's why they hired me, and that's the legacy I'd hoped to establish up here."
The Ducks have knocked on the door the last couple of seasons, challenging for the Pac-12 title right down to the final weeks of the regular season. Oregon was third in the conference in 2012 and second in 2013, but lost at home in the postseason each year and failed to advance to the College World Series.
Despite losing the two biggest stars from the 2013 team — slugger Ryon Healy to graduation and ace Cole Irvin to an elbow injury — Horton believes he again has a team capable of challenging for titles, both in the conference and nationally.
"We're a believer in pitching and defense, and then timely hitting," Horton said. "Even with the tough situation with Cole Irvin being out, we think we have the ingredients of another very competent pitching staff, and we think we're going to be solid defensively.
"The mission will be offensive production by committee. It isn't going to be, 'When does Ryon Healy get up next?' — although there are some guys that are emerging."
Horton's coaching career began in 1985 at Cerritos College, and he immediately led that squad to a 39-5 record. In the years since, as an assistant and then head coach at Fullerton, followed by a move to Eugene, Horton has presided over just one losing record, a 13-40 mark when the Ducks made their return to the baseball field in 2009 following a 28-year hiatus.
That success is obviously attributable to Horton's own acumen. But he's quick to acknowledge the administrators working above him, and the assistants and players on his teams, including Jay Uhlman, Mark Wasikowski and Dean Stiles at Oregon.
"The first year here was a tough situation," Horton said. "But that's probably the only year I can point to where we were really undermanned, underdogs; it was a longshot to have a good year. Other than that, every situation I've been in, I've been presented with the opportunity to win at the highest level. Great facilities, great budget, great assistant coaches, great players."
Add all that up, and you have the chance to reach some big, round career numbers, as Horton is poised to do with the Ducks this spring.