By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Auburn's baseball players can leave off the nametags when they meet Karl Nonemaker. The Tigers new assistant coach has seen them before, on television.
"I must have seen them play on TV seven or eight times this year," said Nonemaker, who would flip on the SEC Network after coming home from helping coach 58 games at Old Dominion.
"I got to watch them play a lot," he said. "It was exciting. It seems like the culture was really good. The guys looked like they really competed. It was exciting watching the run they made early in the SEC, and obviously watching Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize pitch back-to-back was something you could tell that, `Wow, this is something pretty special.'"
Nonemaker, who broke into the business as an assistant at Auburn from 2005-07, spent six seasons at ODU, an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for former Auburn assistant Chris Finwood.
"He's a fantastic person," Finwood said. "He's a fantastic dad, husband, man. He's extremely loyal, extremely smart. Got a great work ethic. He understands the game. He knows what he's getting into. I don't think there could be any shock value being at that level.
"He's a good baseball coach, too. He knows hitting. He's been around a lot of good people in his career so far and I think he's learned a lot from them."
Finwood is confident Nonemaker will excel as Auburn's recruiting coordinator.
"We've had to evaluate at a high level, and certainly, it's not the SEC," said Finwood, who offered ODU's Zach Rutherford as an example of Nonemaker's eye for talent.
"Our shortstop was an unrecruited, undrafted guy out of high school. We were his only offer," Finwood said. "He's going to probably go in the second round tonight. So he can evaluate, he can project. He's coached some guys who are high-level players. I don't think that will be an issue for him, making that transition to just having to do more of it."
Former Auburn coach Hal Baird remembers a Plainsman Park visit with Nonemaker, a former All-SEC outfielder at Vanderbilt, early in Nonemaker's career.
"The thing that just jumped out. Even at a very young time in coaching, he just was very, very bright," Baird said. "You could tell by his observations and his intuition. He would see a game and make comments about hitting.
"And I thought, `This guy is really going to be a good young coach,' because he not only was a good player, but I think he understands why he was a good player. That's critical in evaluating talent.
"He was a terrific outfielder at Vanderbilt. I had the privilege of coaching against him. I'm tickled to death that he's joining the Auburn staff. He has all of the intangibles and tangibles to be a terrific addition to Butch's staff. I think it's an excellent hire and would seem to fill exactly the need Butch was looking for. A bright young guy to find players and bring them in and help develop them once they get here."
Auburn coach Butch Thompson worked with Nonemaker on the Plains in 2006-2007.
"I think Karl is in that sweet spot where in three years, he's going to be known as the best recruiter in the country," Thompson said. "He checks so many boxes. It's a lengthy list of boxes that he checked.
"I'm into winning ballgames and what's best for our players and what keeps building our program to the highest possible level Auburn baseball can be. I wanted the best name, and I do think he's a splash. At the end of this day, it resonated. `This is the guy unequivocally; this is the right man for the job.'"
Nonemaker says the trust he and Thompson developed during their two seasons together set the stage for them to reunite a decade later.
"We stayed in touch over the years and the opportunity to work with him again at a place like Auburn was something that I just couldn't ever pass up," Nonemaker said.
"It is always about the people and the relationships," he said. "And the most exciting thing about Auburn is that Auburn Baseball will attract the very best because of how special the place is. What I am most excited about is working with some of the best people and coaches in America and attracting top-notch student-athletes."
Even though he's been gone from Auburn for 10 years, Karl Nonemaker says a part of him never left.
"I've obviously followed Auburn," he said. "Because Auburn is one of those places that, once you're there, there's always a part of it with you."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer