Butch Thompson’s smile shined brighter than his new crisp navy blue and burnt orange tie.
Thompson was introduced as Auburn’s new baseball coach at the university’s athletic complex Thursday afternoon in press conference, well attended by current and former players.
The former Mississippi State assistant choked back tears at times in describing the Auburn job as “more of a calling, than a desire.”
“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.”
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Thompson spent the last seven seasons at Mississippi State coaching in his home state. He said only a “very special” opportunity would get him to leave his former job, and the Tigers’ position was just that.
“I wanted this job because of Auburn's tradition, history and passion,” Thompson said. “Auburn has one of the finest fan bases in the country. I feel all the ingredients are here.”
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said Thompson signed a 5-year contract that has a base salary of $350,000 a year. He didn’t detail any bonuses that are included in the deal, but acknowledged there is a “lot of other stuff in there.”
The timeline for the interview process was a short one.
Jacobs interviewed an unspecified number of candidates face-to-face starting early last week. There was a search committee that identified candidates, and a group of five players who met with some of the potential hires including Thompson.
At Thursday’s press conference, Jacobs made it clear that Thompson immediately established himself as the top candidate, one that had extensive experience in the SEC.
“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.”
Jacobs also emphasized Thompson’s talent as a recruiter. Jacobs said that during his time as an assistant with the Tigers (2006-2008) and Mississippi State (2009-2015) “owned the state of Alabama.”
Thompson could hit the road recruiting as soon as Friday. The coach doesn’t plan on using a short offseason as an excuse, and doesn’t expect his players to use it either.
He jumps into the fray at Auburn expecting the Tigers’ to compete from day one.
“I think the timings perfect,” Thompson said. “I think we can take a positive outlook at this point, and time of year of where we are going, I think we have a good ball club. I know these players; I competed against these players…We will not give this season away, next week away, tomorrow away, today away, a pitch away.”
When catcher Blake Logan met Thompson during the interview process, he carried a similar message from the clubhouse.
“I kind of alluded to him, we don’t want to use this as an excuse, the circumstances we’ve been through,” Logan said. “We know it might seem fair, but we don’t want to waste this next year. We feel like we have a chance to do something really special.”
Thompson expects to spend time recruiting, and meeting with players before deciding on a coaching staff. It will be up to him if any of Auburn’s current assistants are retained.
He doesn’t have a timeline for finalizing a staff, but said he wants, “the best coaches possible, great recruiters, great developers.”
Thompson was quick to point out that he isn’t type of manager who delegates all coaching, and recruiting responsibilities.
“Pitching and recruiting is what I built my career on,” Thompson said. “I can’t come here to Auburn and stop doing my strengths.”
Elephant in the room
Former Auburn baseball coach Sunny Golloway’s name only came up once during the press conference.
Following Golloway’s dismissal, the coach’s lawyer released a statement threatening ligation. Auburn’s athletic director declined to discuss the situation, and has yet to comment on the reason behind his decision to fire Golloway “with cause” prior to fall practice.
“It was kind of the elephant in the room,” Auburn pitcher Keegan Thompson said, of not having a coach the past month.
The junior out of Cullman High School, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, along with current players Logan and Daniel Robert all agreed that the Tigers’ upperclassmen helped keep the team focused the past month.
“It was tough, and different – the unknown – but I thought we handled it really well,” Logan said.
Thompson met with his new team prior to the press conference, and delivered a simple, yet effective message.
“It’s going to be OK,” Thompson said. “You guys maybe through little blinks of adversity or challenges, have an opportunity to be a strong team.”
The process of establishing trust won’t be an overnight process, but players sound eager to get on board.
“Everybody has to buy in, get on the train and start rolling,” Robert said, with a smile.