Auburn, Ala.--Nobody has to tell Auburn baseball Coach Tommy Slater that the 2007 season has been a disappointing one for his club. After starting out 18-3 and moving into the Top 10 in the country, the Tigers have fallen on hard times in SEC play with a 7-17 record in conference action and top-ranked Vanderbilt coming into Plainsman Park this weekend.
While there have been rumors of Slater's job being in jeopardy because of the slide this season and Auburn's likely miss of the SEC Tournament for the fourth consecutive season, the third under Slater, this week Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said that Slater's job isn't in jeopardy and he believes in the plan that Slater has for the program. Slater says the support from Jacobs and the athletic department is nice to have in a time of so much frustration surrounding the program.
"As I told Jay when Jay called me to tell me he was putting out a statement, I thanked him and said I appreciate it," Slater says. "Obviously that was much appreciated. I think the statement speaks for itself as far as what it is. He's a good leader and I appreciate the way he handles a lot of things quite honestly."
The plan Jacobs mentioned with Slater is one that the baseball coach has preached since his arrival back on the Plains. Inheriting a program with a huge hole in the overall talent level and depth in the young players, Slater says his first goal has just been to get the roster and talent level back to equal among the classes. That is still something that won't be remedied until next season but Slater says he can see it on the horizon, which should make for a more stable program.
"It's also about getting the class and positional balance in order," Slater says. "For whatever reason, when I arrived here we had a very top-heavy class balance. We had a lot of juniors and a lot of seniors. Between the sophomore and freshman class combined, there were only four players on scholarship in two classes combined. As we move into next year and you look at our class and positional balance, and that's critical to building a program, you're going to look at almost an equal distribution of scholarship money between our junior, sophomore and freshman classes."
It still comes down to winning games in the end and that's something Slater knows must come and come quick. Hoping to increase the win total, Slater has built his program on local kids more familiar with the Southeastern Conference and Auburn baseball in particular. Building on two very good recruiting classes his first two years that now make up roughly 65 percent of Auburn's offensive output at the moment, Slater says past history shows Auburn baseball is at its best when local kids play key roles and he's hoping to get the program back there again.
"When I got the job it was something I mentioned on day one," Slater says. "The first thing we're going to do is recruit the state of Alabama and the state of Georgia. We're going to recruit in-state kids and we're going to take this roster and make sure, as we move forward in this program, this roster is going to transform itself. When I got here we didn't have a ton of instate or Georgia kids on the roster. I believe my first year we had Adam Stacey and Josh Donaldson. They were the only two Alabamians that played. We had no Georgians that played. We will go to the mid-Atlantic if a (Mike) Bianucci or (Justin) Bristow is available but only after we've exhausted every possibility here locally. If you look at the kids we've signed in our first class and our second class and in the incoming third class, you're going to see about 97 percent of them are Alabama or Georgia kids. I believe at Auburn, in baseball in particular, you're going to win with kids from this part of the country."
Auburn has a tough task this weekend as the Tigers take on number one Vanderbilt in a three-game series at Plainsman Park. Game times for the weekend are 6 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday afternoon.