Committing to Florida coach Pat McMahon for four years, Slater says that when the call came from Auburn there was little doubt that this opportunity was too good to pass up and with McMahon's blessing he gave the Tigers a look. After interviewing for the job on Monday on Tuesday he was hired when Slater was named Auburn's head baseball Coach, a day that Slater says he thought was a long time from taking place.
"My dream has always been to be a head coach at a school like Auburn," Slater says. "Did I ever think it would be Auburn? No. This is a dream come true. When I first came to Auburn I was 25 years old and was a pup. Luckily, I learned at a young age the right way to do it from a great man. After having left here and being a head coach and coming back to the SEC as an assistant at Florida it has been my goal to be a head coach in the SEC. I didn't know where that would be and I didn't know it would come along when it did, but I'm very excited to be here."
An assistant for Coach Hal Baird at Auburn for six years, Slater is very familiar with the history and tradition of Auburn baseball. While at Auburn he was a part of the most successful run in the school's history, including five NCAA Regional appearances, two Regional championships, a Super Regional berth and a College World Series appearance in 1997. In the six years Slater was at Auburn the Tigers compiled a record of 265-111, the 11th most wins in the country during that period. Slater says his goal is to get the program back to where it was and move forward.
"We have one of the best baseball programs in the country here and we for sure have the best facility," Slater says. "We are going to get after it from a recruiting standpoint and a player development standpoint to make sure we have one of the best baseball teams in the country as well."
Tommy Slater is introduced as head coach at Tuesday's press conference
The first goal for Slater is to put his staff together and that begins with retaining assistant coach Chris Finwood off Steve Renfroe's staff. Teammates at VMI and on the staff together as well for the Keydets, Slater says that he is very comfortable having Finwood as an assistant and is looking forward to working with him again.
"Chris Finwood is going to remain," Slater says. "I think he has done a tremendous job bridging the gap during the coaching change. He's held on to the recruited players and a lot of the players that were in the program already. He's a great friend and a good coach. He's got some head coaching opportunities out there right now that he's being pursued about, but I'm keeping him. As far as the pitching coach, I've got three or four guys in mind that I will be speaking with here in the next week. We should fill that quickly."
One of Finwood's major areas of concern in his four seasons as Auburn has been recruiting for the Tigers. That will continue to be stressed with Slater also heavily involved in the recruitment of players. Slater says the work on improving the AU team's talent level begins almost right away.
"July 1 starts the beginning of recruiting for rising seniors," Slater notes. "For example, at the University of Florida we've got five commitments out of kids for next year. We have to get on track and get that going. We have to get some kids committed and get some kids signed. We have our work cut out for us.
"Positional class balance is critically important to everything you do in baseball," Slater adds. "We have 11.7 scholarships and you want those 11.7 to be divided somewhat equally between the classes. What you want to do is have good balance between your junior, sophomore and freshman class. We have to get that back in order so that our positional and class balance matches up so that we can have a successful program year in and year out."
One area of concern for those associated with Auburn baseball has been the lack of a state funded scholarship program in Alabama like those in neighboring SEC states. Having been at Florida Slater says that he's seen first hand the differences in states with and without and doesn't envision it being a major problem down the road.
"Our facility is one that we're going to be able to attract any recruit in the country," Slater says. "And with this fine university with that facility, we're going to be able to attract anybody we want. I don't think our program or the Hope Scholarship made us (Florida) any better than any other team in the league. There are other teams in this league that have had success. Quite honestly we were battling those same things in 1994-2000 and had a tremendous amount of success here. I expect we'll be very successful despite those programs that the State of Alabama does not have."
One positive that Slater saw right away on his visit to Auburn on Monday was the new weight room and baseball rehab facility built adjacent to Plainsman Park. A recent addition to the complex, Slater says the facility gives the coaching staff a huge leg up in recruiting and in getting the players ready for a long season.
"I was blown away by what I saw," he says. "I had not been back to Auburn in a couple of years because we played in Gainesville this year. I had not seen the new weight facility and the new expansion. I walked in there and couldn't believe what I saw. That's going to be a big part of what we do because off-season conditioning as well as in-season conditioning is really what prevents injuries and keeps guys healthy."
One thing that is always a concern for fans is what kind of philosophy a coach has on offense. In baseball that means is a coach more prone to recruit for pure power and does he like to build his team on speed. Slater says that he likes to do both of those things, but changes in the game dictate balance on offense and an emphasis on strong pitching if you hope to be successful in this day and age of college baseball.
"If you looked at Omaha this year as opposed to five years ago when the national championship game was like 22-21 with USC, gorilla ball is over," Slater says. "Minus five bats (weight five ounces less than length) are gone. The live ball is gone. Very athletic teams, Cal State-Fullerton and Texas, that can pitch are the answer. That's what we want to have. We're going to have athletic teams here.
"If you look at some of the teams that I was fortunate enough to be a part of on Coach Baird's staff, we had a couple of guys in the middle like Todd Faulkner and Josh Etheridge that could run the ball out of the ballpark. We had a lot of really good athletes like Mailon Kent, Dominic Rich, Scott Pratt and Heath Kelly around those guys that could flat run and go get a ball."
Just because he doesn't believe in the long ball philosophy don't let it fool you into thinking Slater is a fan of the passive game. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This season's Florida team was a explosion of offense in every different form and Slater says that Auburn fans can get used to that style of play out of his teams for years to come.
"I'm very aggressive," Slater says. "I ran the offense at the University of Florida this year and we stole bases, we hit and ran, we moved runners along and we were able to hit some home runs along the way as well. We're going to be an aggressive offensive team. Our kids are going to play hard and with a lot of emotion. I think you'll see that out of our guys."