By Jeff Shearer
From Fayetteville to Fenway, Baton Rouge to the Bronx, Auburn’s baseball coaches have been there and won there.
Omaha? For these guys, it’s not a Peyton Manning audible. It’s a place they’ve visited many times in June for the College World Series.
Auburn’s four-person staff boasts nearly four decades of Southeastern Conference coaching experience.
Head coach Butch Thompson leads the way with 14 seasons in the SEC and seven CWS appearances.
When putting together his staff, Thompson placed a premium on SEC experience.
“I wanted to make sure as a prerequisite that every coach we brought into the program already had a great understanding of the Southeastern Conference,” Thompson says.
Drawing from personal experience when he entered the SEC in 2001, Thompson believes it takes two years for coaches to adjust to the league’s speed and quality.
“And I’m thankful to have the 39 years of experience on our staff,” Thompson says.
Assistant coach Doug Sisson adds 23 years of professional experience, including two years in the big leagues as the Kansas City Royals’ first base coach.
Sisson also spent two seasons at Georgia as associate head coach, including a trip to the 2006 CWS.
“I think familiarity always helps. And experience is the best teacher,” Sisson says. “It’s helpful to me to know what I’m getting into. Just having been there before. Feeling like nothing’s going to catch you off guard.”
Brad Bohannon, the 2015 American Baseball Coaches Association National Assistant Coach of the Year, joined Thompson’s Tiger staff after 12 seasons at Kentucky.
“It’s the big leagues of college baseball. It’s hard to describe, but it’s just a different beast. A different animal,” Bohannon says. “And there’s just no substitute as a coach or as a player for going through the league.”
“I believe I can look people in the eye and say I have the best recruiting coordinator in America in Brad Bohannon,” Thompson says.
Listening to Bohannon talk about his new program, it’s hard to argue.
“What an awesome place. Auburn has had some great baseball teams and some great players. There’s a lot of tradition here,” Bohannon says. “I walk around, I see our ballpark, our residence hall, the Wellness Kitchen, the weight room, and really just the feel of the community and the people. I think Auburn’s the best place in the country to play college baseball. And I tell kids that. I think they’re crazy if they get an opportunity to play here and don’t come here. It’s an easy sell.”
Volunteer assistant Greg Drye adds 11 years of SEC experience, all at Mississippi State in baseball operations.
“Every time I called to the bullpen in the past seven years, he’s been on the other end of that line,” Thompson says. “We believe in what we’re doing from the pitching standpoint, so Greg was the perfect fit and match.”
Drye believes Auburn’s players will benefit from the staff’s seasoning.
“It’s not the most important thing just to talk about, they’ve got to play in it. But you can prepare them. Talk about the hitters in the league. Talk about the position players in the league,” Drye says. “I hope that goes a long way. I hope it helps our players out in the long run.”
Part of Drye’s approach is preparing Auburn’s players for the challenge of SEC weekend series.
“Sunday’s a grind. It’s the best team who goes out and fights the hardest on Sunday,” he says. “I don’t throw a pitch, I don’t make a play, but I feel like I’m in a 10-round boxing match once it’s over.”
When Auburn begins the season Friday at Plainsman Park against Sacramento State, Thompson will be exchanging lineup cards as a head coach for the first time since 1997 at Jefferson State Community College. All the more reason to surround himself with Southeastern Conference veterans.
“With me being at Auburn before, and all of our coaches having SEC experience, I thought it would allow us to make adjustments and know what to do sooner as opposed to later,” Thompson says.
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer