Butch Thompson, left, and Jay Jacobs hold the jersey that tells of the hiring of Auburn's new baseball coach
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Evan Crawford listened to Butch Thompson on Thursday, and, like back in the day when he was a hot pitching high school prospect, he was ready to commit to Auburn like he did in 2006.
"He had me again. I was ready to re-sign. It was great," Crawford said.
Auburn introduced Thompson as its baseball coach Thursday, bringing in former Tigers' pitching coach who brings a reputation of integrity and recruiting prowess after spending 15 years in the Southeastern Conference.
Thompson, who was Auburn's pitching coach from 2006-08, is coming from Mississippi State, where he spent the last seven seasons.
"I think it means good things in the future for Auburn baseball and the people around the area. It's always good to have a genuine good person leading a portion of the athletic department," said Crawford, who pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012.
Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs formally introduced Thompson at a press conference attended by athletic staff and former and current players.
"It was amazing to me the number of former players, not only just at Auburn, but at other institutions, that called me about Butch," Jacobs said. "Not only about his character and integrity, but how great of a teacher he was, and he was the kind of guy we'd want our son to play for.
"We actually got calls and emails from players on major league baseball teams of players that Butch had coached."
They endorsed Thompson, who will sign a five-year contract that will pay him $350,000 annually.
Jacobs said Thompson could take Auburn "back to its greatness." Thompson replaces Sunny Golloway, who was dismissed in September.
Jacobs said he asked: "Who is the best person for those guys over there in that clubhouse right now? Then you begin to think about what qualifications do you need to have to be a successful baseball coach at Auburn."
He said "character and integrity" led him to Thompson.
"I'm honored, humbled and blessed to stand here today as head baseball coach at Auburn University," Thompson said. "Auburn has meant so much to me and my family over the years.
"I wanted this job because of Auburn's tradition, history and passion. Auburn has one of the finest fan bases in the country. I feel all the ingredients are here."
Thompson met with the team Thursday afternoon, soon after he arrived on campus.
"That was important, that was our first calling. I basically told them, 'It's OK. It's going to be OK,'" Thompson said.
"My plan is to love them up, coach them up and develop them so they give every ounce of their ability to Auburn University."
Thompson missed fall practice, and has only a few weeks before the Nov. 11 signing period begins. Still, he said, "we will not give the season away, next week away, tomorrow away, today away, a pitch away."
He said he'll hit the recruiting trail "immediately, maybe as soon as tomorrow."
"I'm excited about what the future holds. That future starts today.
"I know what an SEC player looks like. I have an opportunity to coach first-rounders, as opposed to coming and trying to figure it out."
Mississippi State coach John Cohen wished his former assistant well.
"We are proud and happy for Butch Thompson, and there is no one more deserving of this opportunity," Cohen said.
Scott Sullivan, who coached with Thompson at Auburn, watched the press conference.
"It's a great day for Auburn baseball. Coach Thompson is a tremendous man of integrity and character, and to have a man like him leading men, who happen to be baseball players, is reassuring."
Sullivan said having a former Auburn coach return is a plus.
"Once you get a part of Auburn, it stay with you for a long time. There's a hunger and desire. It's like when you leave home, there's no place like home, and there's no place like Auburn."
Former Auburn and big leaguer Gabe Gross said "that's a man I can get behind."
"Auburn baseball means a lot to a lot of people. I don't think you can overestimate the pride I took in playing for Hal Baird and playing here for Auburn baseball. There's no reason whatsoever not to get back there again," Gross said.
"I feel very strongly his leadership and knowledge of the game of baseball is the right place at the right time."
Jonathan Schuerholz brought baseball credentials to the search committee. The former Auburn player who is the assistant director player development in the Atlanta Braves organization said the hiring "means we have a man at the helm that exemplifies what it means to be an Auburn man. He's a man of very high moral fiber, very high moral character, yet at the same time has a tremendous amount of baseball acumen.
"It's very important of where the history of this program was at one point and where it's going to go. What we have done in the past, what Coach (Hal) Baird did in the past, and Coach (Paul) Nix before him, they were able to put together winning ball clubs that represented the university on the field and off the field, and that's something I know Butch takes to heart. He's seen it. He's been a part of it. There's no doubt he's the guy who will do this again for us."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine