In 2016, pitcher Robert Tyler left the University of Georgia to try his luck at a professional baseball career. But in recent months he has been back in Athens, working to complete his education while he and his wife, also a former UGA star pitcher, coached the Bulldogs.
“I’m like the senior of all my classes,” Tyler said before earning his bachelor’s degree in sports management last week. “I’m currently in my ninth year undergraduate.”
As a student assistant coach, Tyler was part of a team that racked up more than 30 total wins and a 14-13 conference record. In the SEC East standings, UGA is tied for second with Vanderbilt, ranked 21st nationally, behind No. 1 Tennessee.
The Bulldogs lost two of three games last weekend to Tennessee. They could face the Volunteers again in next week’s SEC Baseball Tournament.
Tyler played under UGA head coach Scott Stricklin from 2014-16.
“It just makes me feel good as a coach to know that your players want to come back and still be around you even though you used to yell at them when they were players,” Stricklin said.
Tyler’s return to the team isn’t something he attributes to Stricklin or graduation. He credits his wife, Chelsea Wilkinson.
“I just follow her everywhere,” Tyler said.
Wilkinson, who recorded 97 wins for the Bulldogs from 2013 to 2016, returned to the UGA softball team this season as an assistant coach. Wilkinson served on the North Carolina State softball team as an assistant coach from 2019 to 2021.
Tyler and Wilkinson met while students at UGA and married in 2019.
The Colorado Rockies drafted Tyler 38th overall in 2016. While Tyler was in the Rockies’ system, Wilkinson’s distance made it difficult for the pair.
“He was across the country and in California or Arizona most of the time,” Wilkinson said. “So we were going to go periods of four months, five months at a time without seeing each other.”
On the last day of spring training in 2019, Tyler got injured. He would miss the first half of the season with a torn abdominal muscle and said he didn’t feel like he would regain the same form afterwards, which led to his retirement.
“(I) didn’t get the results I wanted,” Tyler said, “so it kind of turned me away from (baseball) in the end.”
Wilkinson said she saw the constant mental battle he faced with his injuries and thought he might not have the strength left in him to continue the grind that is the path to MLB. Thinking about his future family, Tyler decided that retiring from baseball was the best decision.
“I think my time had just run out,” Tyler said. “I was trying to start the next chapter of my life with Chelsea.”
Wilkinson said his decision to retire was a decision he made on his own.
“I told him that anyway, I support him and whatever he decides, that’s what we’re going to do,” Wilkinson said.
Although Tyler currently plays a role on the baseball team, he said he probably won’t stay on as a coach.
“I really want to stay involved in the athletic department, whatever that looks like,” Tyler said. “I don’t know if it’s on the training side.”
In the meantime, he’s the Bulldogs’ bullpen coach.
“He’s always trying to help us with the mindset, pitching and trying to give us advice,” UGA pitcher Nolan Crisp said, “because he’s taken it to the next level.”
Due to his age, Tyler has a closer relationship with the players, according to Stricklin.
“He’s just a good old country boy,” Stricklin said. “When Robert was playing for me, I asked him if he could talk on his phone. He had a smile on his face and said, ‘No sir,’ because his accent is so strong he can’t. talk to Siri.
Stricklin was thrilled to hear from Tyler that he wanted to come back.
“He was on my team my first three years here,” Stricklin said, “so he has a special place in my heart.”
Bobby Andrews is a student at UGA’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.
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