David Barnett retiring after 37th season: his legacy and impact on Flagler baseball

Photo by Becca Rios.

By Gabby Alfveby

Flagler baseball head coach David Barnett began his 37th season with the Saints like any other: focused on the team and ensuring its success. 

But for Barnett, this isn’t just any other season.

After more than three decades at Flagler, Barnett announced his plans to retire following the current season. While he’s trying to go about business like he always has, he admits that he’s started to feel the emotions that come with retirement and that they will hit him more and more as the season goes on.

“I just want these guys to have a good season and do well,” Barnett said. “I want to enjoy it, which I am. I want to enjoy going to practice. I want to enjoy the games. You know just soak it all in because this is it. I won’t be doing the same thing I’ve done for 37 years, the same routine really when you think about it, so that will be different.”

Barnett has accumulated a career record of 1,041-869. He has made the top 20 for all-time wins in NCAA Division II baseball, and led his team to the regional finals twice, in 1993 and 2002, as well as the Peach Belt Conference tournament seven times. On top of that, he also served as the athletic director at Flagler from 1994 to 2009.

Barnett is retiring following the remainder of the 2024 season and has loved every second of his career. He has watched 51 of the players he coached sign professionally, three of whom moved up to play Major League Baseball.

But for Barnett, it hasn’t just been about baseball. He saw himself not only as a coach but also as a teacher of many lessons for the players who have gone through the Flagler baseball program.

“I’ll miss it [coaching players]. But there’s also a nice feeling to know that I’m retiring and I won’t have some of the headaches,” Barnett said. “But I know I’ll miss the players. I’m not talking about necessarily this group of players, but all the players that I’ve coached.”

Photo courtesy of Flagler Athletics.

He would love for his current team to finish the season strong despite their rough start thus far.

“We’ve won three in a row against good teams,” he said. “So maybe it’s turning a little bit. It looks like it is, but we stubbed our toe for the first eight games of the season, and then things are starting to head in the right direction. But regardless, I’m going to enjoy it.”

Barnett recognized that this is the last team he will ever coach and wants to truly live in the moment and enjoy what he has now.

“[His main focus is] just enjoying the team and the players and [having] a little bit of reflection,” he said. “I want to focus on this particular team because it’s the last team I’m going to coach. So, yeah, I want them to do well. I’ll get a little choked up sometimes in my mind if I try to think about reflecting on things. I’m trying to enjoy it.”

Photo courtesy of Flagler Athletics.

Barnett did, in fact, start coaching because he enjoys and gets satisfaction from being not just a coach, but also a teacher, a mentor, and someone players can lean on for help.

“Coaches have influence,” he said. “I always had coaches that I had a lot of respect for and had a lot of influence on me when I was younger. So I think that probably played into my thoughts about coaching, too. That the influence that a coach can have on players is a lot more than teaching the game. You kind of hope you’re teaching the game of life a little bit, too.”

Photo by Becca Rios.

Matthew Burke is a senior infielder on the Flagler baseball team and has not only learned so much about baseball and grown within the sport but also those life lessons that Barnett emphasizes.

“He took a chance on me,” Burke said. “[I had] no offers in high school, and he just gave me a chance to play college baseball, and I’m so grateful for that, and it’s really, really awesome. Obviously, he stresses about winning and losing. He wants to win so badly, but he shapes us men to where we want to be for our futures. He wants us to have a family, treat everyone that we see right, and he just wants the best for us in our future. He wants us to be successful in the real world.”

Burke said that he will miss the energy that Barnett brings to the field and is honored that he got the chance to be a part of his career.

“[I will miss] his joyous spirit at practice,” Burke said. “He always has a smile on his face and wants to be there. He wants us to be better every day. And I feel like that’s a really good [quality to have] as a head coach. He’s had a wonderful career, and it was awesome to be a part of that wonderful career.”

Photo courtesy of Flagler Athletics.

Barnett is grateful for his time at Flagler and all the opportunities he has had. He built many relationships with the community during his time as an assistant coach, head coach, and even when he served as an athletic director.

“The emotions are more [than that] I’m just thankful,” Barnett said. “My emotions are thankful that I’ve stayed at the same place for as long as I have. Flagler’s a great Institution. You know, to live in a community like St. Augustine is a blessing. I’m just thankful that I’ve been able to stay at the same place.”

Barnett not only made an impact on Flagler baseball but also on athletics as a whole. He served as the Athletic Director for 15 years, from 1994 to 2009, until the current athletic director, Jud Damon, took over. 

“We grew a lot and improved a lot during his tenure,” Damon said. “He made some major facility improvements as the AD. He grew the department and he was instrumental in the transition of Flagler from the NAIA to NCAA Division II.”

Barnett and his dedication will be deeply missed by Flagler College and the community.

“[What I will miss most about him is] his presence in the athletic department,” Damon said. “He’s always supportive of everybody else in the department, and he cares very deeply about Flagler College in a way that only someone who’s put so much of his life into it could care.”

Barnett will always be a fan of Flagler baseball and is hopeful for the program’s future.

“I think whoever takes over, I feel, is in a real good spot,” Barnett said. “I think it’s a good job. We’ve got a lot of things in place to win. I want this program to win. I want them to win and win big at the national level, and I think that we’re trending in that direction.”

Barnett is excited to be able to enjoy watching from the stands instead of the field. 

“I want the program to do well,” he said. “I want to come to games and sit in the stands and enjoy their success.”

Barnett plans to top off his legacy by building a “tradition room” off the dugout.

“That’s my legacy to the players,” he said. “That’s something I wanted to do. It’s called the alumni tradition room, and it’s going to have every team picture from 1975. That was our very first team. It’s going to highlight all the individuals that were either All-Conference or All-District or All-Americans and we have All-Decade teams. We have players that played professional baseball. We have players that are on our Flagler College Athletic Hall of Fame. So it’ll be like a museum of sorts for Flagler baseball, and really, there’s no other sports that have something like that.”

Barnett hopes that building the alumni tradition room can leave an impact on the program and allow past players to bring their families back and relive their careers as baseball players.

“That’s gonna be the last thing I want to do, and I think it’s neat because these guys can come back for alumni weekend or any time. That’s their room,” he said.

Photo courtesy of tradition room pamphlet from David Barnett.

Barnett has plans to spend time with his family during retirement and take up some hobbies.

“I’ve got five grandkids, so I think that [spending time with] family is my biggest plan, and then I might see if I can sharpen up my golf game a little bit,” he said. “It’s pretty rusty, right… maybe doing a little fishing.”

Many coaches are remembered and measured by their success on the field, but Barnett hopes that his legacy is more than that.

“I hope that I have a positive influence on all the players that I’ve coached,” Barnett said. “You hope that you had some kind of impact on them… I would hope in the end that most of the players who have played in the program would say that ‘He not only taught me about baseball, but he taught me about life.’”

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