The Dye-Gest: The Big Hurt A Big Success

Pat Dye writes about new Hall of Fame member Frank Thomas, who he coached in football at Auburn, and the trend towards early commitments in college programs.

I am really proud that one of our former Auburn players, Frank Thomas, was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame this past weekend at Cooperstown. It is a truly well-deserved honor for one of the most exciting players to every swing a baseball bat.

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Nothing Frank did as a professional for the Chicago White Sox and other teams he played for surprised me. We could see when he was at Auburn that he was a special player with a serious desire to take advantage of his God-given ability. Frank was like a sponge. He soaked up every bit of knowledge he could about baseball and football we could teach him.

We were fortunate to have a real baseball man, Coach Hal Baird, running our program and Hal did a great job of helping Frank develop his skills.

I know Frank could have been an outstanding football player and probably could have been an All-SEC and All-Pro tight end, but without a doubt he made a smart choice to concentrate on baseball. It was really a no-brainer. People who know a lot more about the game than I do tell me few men in the history of the sport could hit a baseball as well as he did and his nickname, The Big Hurt, was appropriate.

I am truly happy for Frank and I know Auburn people everywhere appreciate all the good words he had to say about his experience as a college athlete for the Tigers. He is a class act and has represented Auburn well since leaving college. Going into the Hall of Fame is a monumental thing for Frank and for Auburn.

I had a chance to stop by one of the Auburn football camps in July, something I enjoyed. I got a chance to talk to a lot of high school coaches, graduate assistants and others while seeing a lot of good prospects running around out there on the practice fields. There were players everywhere scrambling around doing drills, but it was an well-organized scramble.

Football recruiting is really different now than when I was a college coach and in many ways it is so much better. One of the key elements in deciding who to sign is getting to know more about who you are recruiting. You can look at them on film all day and watch them play in games to understand what type of athlete you are getting, but you still don’t know if he is going to fit into your program or not.

The summer camps and visits by prospects to campuses to get to know college coaches helps both the recruits and the recruiters get a better feel for each other better. At one time I thought all of these early commitments to major college football programs was a ridiculous thing. I have changed my opinion on that.

As a coach if you start following these kids when they are freshmen in high school by the time they are ready to go into their senior seasons you should have a lot of information about a prospect and whether or not he would be the right fit for your team.

Athletic ability is certainly important, but a key factor in developing players to help you win championships is what type of character he has, how much heart he has, what is his situation at home and what other intangibles need to be taken into consideration before extending a scholarship offer.

If you can find kids with the right talent and the potential to continue to get better in your program while being solid citizens in the process, that makes it well worth the extra time and effort to start checking them out when they are still a long way from signing day.

I think Coach Malzahn’s Auburn program has to be particularly attractive to good kids coming out of high school right now and that is one of the reasons why so many talented recruits are deciding before their senior years start that they want to play for his team.

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