Auburn, Ala.--It did not take long for Jay Jacobs to find his man to replace fired baseball coach Sunny Golloway as former Auburn and current Mississippi State associate head coach Butch Thompson was named as the new Tigers' head coach on Thursday.
"It's an opportunity to not lead out front, but to lead together; and for our current players, an opportunity to lift them up and embrace them," Thompson said. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime to be the head baseball coach at Auburn University.
"It's a cliché to say it's being a part of something bigger than yourself, but I think it applies here," Thompson said. "To our baseball alumni and our fans, I want to encourage them that now is the time we can walk together. It's kind of a call to arms for this baseball program. We need them now more than ever. Auburn people respond well to that."
Thompson has a five-year deal with the Tigers at $350,000 a year, according to Athletic Director Jay Jacobs.
One of the most experienced and well-respected assistant coaches in the country, Thompson is known as a top recruiter and pitching coach and was named the 2014 Baseball America and American Baseball Coaches Association National Assistant Coach of the Year after helping the Bulldogs to the NCAA Championship Series the season before.
A veteran of seven College World Series, Thompson has been part of nine teams that won conference championships and one CWS winner.
Jacobs said that Thompson's background at Auburn was a plus, but not the reason he was hired. "That was not the criteria, but certainly with all the other attributes and experience that Butch brings to the job, his familiarity to Auburn was impressive, along with his experience in the Southeastern Conference," the athletic director said. "He's been at Georgia and Mississippi State as well. We believe this conference is unique, and it takes a unique person, and it was unquestionable that Butch possesses all those characteristics we think that a successful baseball coach in this league needs to have."
Already very familiar with Auburn after spending three seasons (2006-08) on the Plains, Thompson had a big role in recruiting many of the players that helped the Tigers win the 2010 Western Division title and has strong ties in the State of Alabama, something that is a huge plus as he takes over an Auburn program needing to re-establish a stronghold in-state.
Following his stint at Auburn he moved to Mississippi State in 2009 and has been in Starkville since that time, helping to rebuild a proud program to one of the most consistent in the country. That has been especially true the last five years, a run that included a spot in the CWS Championship Series.
In the last four seasons guiding the Mississippi State pitching staff Thompson’s Bulldogs have allowed four or fewer runs 162 times, almost 70 percent of the time. Even more impressive is a record of 168-3 in the last five years when leading after eight innings, showing the toughness that Thompson demands from his players on the mound.
Butch Thompson has been working with the pitchers at Mississippi State.
This past season the Bulldogs lost many of their top arms to nagging injuries, finishing with a 4.51 ERA, a far cry from what Mississippi State teams were used to doing under Thompson. The previous year a 3.06 team ERA, led by Jacob Lindgren and Jonathan Holder, continued a run of great success for the Mississippi State staff.
In 2013 Thompson’s group was one of two nationally to finish in the top 15 in ERA, strikeouts per nine innings and hits allowed per nine innings. That success saw the Bulldogs have five pitchers get drafted, including Top 10 picks Kendall Graveman (8th Round, Toronto) and All-American Chad Girodo (9th Round, Toronto). Graveman made it to the big leagues in 2014 and is in the rotation for the Oakland A’s.
In addition to Girodo, Thompson also coached Holder and Ross Mitchell to All-American honors in 2013. Mitchell, a reliever, was the only pitcher in the country with at least 13 wins and zero losses, owning a microscopic 1.53 ERA coming out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs. A dominant closer, Holder became the ninth player in NCAA history with 21 saves in a single season, tying the SEC single-season saves record in the process.
The previous season in 2012 the pitching general guided MSU’s staff to the nation’s second-lowest staff ERA (2.58). That was the best mark for a Bulldogs staff since 1973.
Leading the group was Stratton, who ranked first or second in the league and among the nation’s leaders in wins (11), strikeouts (127) and ERA (2.38) before being drafted in the first round by the San Francisco Giants. Working his entire college career with Thompson, Stratton said he’s had a big influence on him.
“I love Coach Thompson to death,” Stratton said. “He is like a father to me. I would do anything for him and I know he would do anything for me. People like him are why I come back (to Starkville). Coach Thompson has taught me a lot and I have to give him all the credit for how far I have gotten.”
Thompson didn’t just make an impact on his players at Mississippi State, but also to players with Auburn ties as well. A 10-year MLB veteran that was around Thompson during his time on the Plains, Scott Sullivan said Thompson is the kind of guy you want leading young men.
“Butch Thompson is a tremendous man of integrity and character that just so happens to be one outstanding college baseball coach,” Sullivan said. “If I had a son that had the ability to play baseball on an elite Division 1 level, finding a way to place him under the instruction and mentorship of Butch Thompson would be of the utmost priority.”
In addition to his time at Auburn and Mississippi State, Thompson has also coached at Georgia (2002-05), Birmingham-Southern (1994-96, 98-2001), Jeff State (1997) and Huntington (1993).
Auburn's athletic director said the search went well.
"We had a great pool of candidates," Jacobs said. "It was a great and thorough search. We had a lot of people involved in it, we got a lot of people's opinions on the best way to move this baseball program forward. When all the interviews were concluded, the committee supported Butch unanimously, along with the people in this athletic department who visited with him and the people outside of the athletic department who were providing me with input throughout the process."
Thompson said that it is important to concentrate on recruiting with the early signing period coming up in November. "It's very important from the standpoint of what players do we have, what's still available," he said. "It's an opportunity to evaluate.
"The recruiting never stops. I do think it's given us time. Our next recruiting line in the sand is Nov. 11. Priority One is to take care of our current players, and No. 2 would be recruiting. Being able to be in place at this point will give us time to see if everybody is on board, if they're a match and still committed to Auburn baseball."