Dennis Womack didn't plan on this.
When he arrived at Virginia, he didn't think about becoming the head baseball coach, and he certainly didn't anticipate staying in Charlottesville for this long. But now, in his 20th season at the helm of the Cavalier program, Womack, sitting in his office surrounded by pictures of great players gone by, looks very much at home.
Womack - an Auburn graduate and All-SEC outfielder in 1969 - originally came to Charlottesville with his wife, who was to attend the University Law School. Womack obtained a job as assistant coach under former Head Baseball Coach James West, while also serving as the Athletic Department's ticket manager. Womack said he and his wife, Cathy, planned to move on once she graduated, but those plans changed when his wife obtained a job with a Charlottesville law firm, while Womack replaced West as head coach in 1981.
"I've never regretted it," Womack said. "I've never made an effort either to look for another job or anything like that because primarily this is where I want to live. So far it's worked out for us."
It's worked out pretty well on the diamond as well. Currently fifth among all ACC coaches in total victories, Womack stands 11 wins away from reaching the 500-win milestone. He wouldn't know it,though, unless someone else brought it up.
"Somebody has to tell me about it, and I think that's the way most coaches are: you just kind of get focused on that one particular game coming up," Womack said.
Only five other ACC coaches have won 500 or more games in conference history. Over his 20 seasons, the rigors of the college baseball season have become more and more difficult.
"Back then they used to play 20, 30 games" a season, Womack said. "Now you schedule 56 ... and if you get in the playoffs, you've played a lot of games. It's a little different now in terms of the number of games you play."
While compiling an impressive coaching record, Womack has worn a number of other hats for the Virginia Athletic Department. In addition to his early duties as ticket manager, Womack also served as assistant athletics director in facilities and event management from 1984 to 1993. Since 1993, though, Womack has restricted his involvement in Virginia athletics to the dugout.
"I see Dennis as being one of those true professional people in college athletics," Associate Director of Athletics Craig Littlepage said. "When pressed into duty he's always stepped up to the plate and performed well under the circumstances. This is a guy who's a team player in every sense of the word."
While he has served in dual capacity for much of his tenure, Womack also did his part to revamp the bsaeball program, resulting in changes to make the Cavaliers more competitive.
"The league has improved and, with the league improving, you've got to be able to improve too if you want to compete," Womack said.
Those changes ranged from cosmetic - replacing the astroturf infield appropriated from Scott Stadium with Bermuda grass before the 1998 campaign - to the structural - adding weightlifting and conditioning programs specifically targeted towards baseball players.
Even before such alterations, however, Womack was faced with the challenge of instilling a winning attitude in the program.
"When I first came up here, the general feeling, in some ways throughout the department, was you just didn't have good teams," he said. "There wasn't a winning situation, you didn't think winning. I think at times the department as a whole had a lot of good people here working hard, but there was this overall feeling that maybe we couldn't succeed in athletics. That turned around, though."
Over the years, that strategy appears to have worked. During Womack's tenure, the Cavs tied for first in the ACC in 1985. In 1996, Virginia took the only ACC Tournament title in school history, participated in the NCAA Regionals and came within one game of the College World Series. Meanwhile the baseball program has produced two first-round picks in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, three All-Americans and 13 All-ACC first team selections. While those numbers pale in comparison to those of Florida State or Clemson in the same categories, they reflect quite a turnaround for a program that was "just trying to survive" when Womack took over.
This season, the Cavs have gotten off to a rough start. At 0-5-1, Womack hasn't come any closer to that 500th win, but he's convinced things will turn around.
"I think the key for our club is pretty simple," he said. "I think you always have guys on your team that are, for lack of a better term, star quality. Those guys have to play well. They also have to provide leadership; they have to pull our other guys with them."
Womack should know what it takes to reach the win column. After all, his teams already have done it 489 times. And although he doesn't plan on leaving his spot in the dugout anytime soon, Womack already knows how he wants to be remembered once his career is finished.
"What would be most important to me was for the players that came through here ... to say, 'It was fun,'" he said. "It would be more important to me how the players reacted than anyone else, because I don't know what the records are going to be. We want to win more championships. We want to win more. But if they've had a good experience, that's probably gonna take care of the winning"