Alabama baseball finished the 2017 season at 27-29 overall and 8-22 in SEC play two weeks ago. Since then, first-year head coach Brad Bohannon has mostly been on the road recruiting. He found some time last week two sit down with The Tuscaloosa News to look back on the season, including what he learned and where the program could be headed from here.
This wasn’t your first season in the SEC, and it wasn’t the first time you’d been part of a team that struggled in the league. What did you learn from some of those previous experiences, whether it was 2004 or 2005 at Kentucky or 2016 at Auburn?
“I tell the kids all the time, one of the beauties of being in the league for 15 years is that I’ve been on both extremes. I have an SEC championship ring and I’ve certainly finished in the bottom. I’m very clear on the difference. Just being through the league for 15 years, you understand the grind and the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows. You can go 2-7 in a three-week period and still win the league or go to the College World Series. The times when it went well, when we had won two series in a row against Kentucky and Missouri, I was able to stay grounded. Then when we had some rough patches when we got swept I was able to stay grounded. Hopefully the team was able to feel that.”
Did you learn anything new this time around?
“I learned a lot this year. The word I would use is ‘adjusting’ more so than learning. Not that I didn’t make mistakes or wouldn’t do things differently but it was just a year full of adjusting to a different role. Being a head coach is a different job. You have different responsibilities. It was an entire year of adjusting to that role during the game season. It’s just different being a head coach. Especially dealing with the ups and downs of a season. It just weighs on you more when you’re the guy writing the lineup card.”
Other than that, anything that surprised you during the season?
“I would say the biggest thing is just how important the staff is. And I’ve said this multiple times and I still feel this, that in hindsight I love our staff. Our coaching and support staff is just outstanding. I couldn’t be more pleased with the pieces we have in place. I have a much deeper appreciation and respect for guys like Nick Saban, who have had a lot of staff turnover and have continued to be successful. I appreciate and respect that so much more than I did 12 months ago. You can be a great, really talented head coach and make some mistakes with your assistant staff and it would be tough to overcome. Those guys who have been able to continue to win with different pieces in place, it’s really impressive.”
It sounds like you just answered this, but just to be clear: Do you anticipate any staff changes this offseason?
“No, I would be really disappointed if somebody left. I really like the pieces that we have.”
OK. Going back to some of your previous experiences, those Kentucky teams made a regional in 2006 and then Auburn did in 2017. Does having that experience where you were at the bottom, then able to take those teams into the NCAA tournament, does that give you some hope or show you a road map?
“Absolutely. I think that’s probably a piece of what helped me get the job. Kentucky finished last in the league in 04 and 05 and then won the league in 2006. Auburn was 8-22 in year one, then last year 16-14 and in the finals of a regional.
“I think the difference between Auburn and here is when I got to Auburn, we had Keegan Thompson in the training room. We had Casey Mize in the locker room. I’m not sure that we have a potential 1-1 (first overall) pick or a third-rounder like Keegan Thompson on our roster currently to make that such a quick turnaround. But yeah, those are big experiences that keep you from losing your mind when it’s not going well.”
Talking about the talent on the roster, were you disappointed to not have anyone on any of the All-SEC teams. Sam Praytor as All-SEC freshman, or Cobie Vance on All-Defensive team, someone else?
“I’m disappointed for those kids because they performed well enough to be recognized. I think if you take a step back, it’s just a compliment to the league. You look at first and second team all-league, you look at the freshman team, the all-defensive team, there’s just a lot of really good players on those lists. Then there are a bunch of really good players who didn’t make the list. So I hate it for those two kids because I thought they performed really well and didn’t get recognized at a high level by our peers, but that being said, a lot of the kids that got those awards deserved them as well.”
You seemed to have a pretty good handle of where the program was entering this year, and kind of saw what might have been coming. Even knowing that, was there anything that was particularly frustrating for you?
“If you’re competitive, losing is hard, no matter how limited you are, how thin your margin for error is. If you’re truly competitive, losing is not fun. The University of Alabama, regardless of all the circumstances, we’re not supposed to lose 29 baseball games in a regular season. So yeah, it was hard. It was frustrating. Obviously a lot of bright moments for the team. There were some good individual games, some good weekends, some good individual performances and growth for some players. So there were plenty of positives but it’s hard to lose 29 games in a year.”
In particular, during the conference schedule, was that 10-game SEC losing streak after you had won back-to-back series a difficult moment?
“Yeah, I would say the one thing I was disappointed in this group was that we weren’t able to get out of a downward spiral. We did play some really good baseball at times. I thought once it went sideways in the league play, we just couldn’t get out of the tailspin. That’s hard individually and that’s hard as a team. I just thought with the experience that we had that we would be able to manage the short-term failure a little better than we did collectively.”
On the flip side, at the end of the season you had three really competitive games against a team that’s a national seed right now.
“Yeah, the kids didn’t give up. They gave us everything they had from game 1 to game 56. That’s something that I will always remember about this group and really, really appreciate. I think that’s a really good principle, foundation for our program going forward, that our kids gave us everything they had and that’s important.”
The draft is still coming up, but do you have an idea of where the roster stands at this point?
“The draft will have a big impact both on the current team and the group coming in. I don’t think you’ll see anything drastic. We had six seniors. I think we’ll have an underclassman or two that could hear their name called. We’ll certainly lose potentially some of the incoming kids. But besides graduation, the draft and normal attrition, I don’t think you’ll see anything drastic in regards to the roster.”
Is there anything finalized that you’re ready to talk about or would you rather wait until later in the offseason?
“There’s still a lot of moving pieces. I think a little later in the summer, after the draft, we’ll be a little closer to getting to that.”
Any updates on a couple guys injured at all during the season? Brock Love or Sonny Potter?
“No real updates. Brock is in a good place. He’s going to take some time off this summer but he was close to 100 percent at the end of the year. Probably could have pitched him against Ole Miss. He was cleared to pitch, but it just didn’t make sense for him at that point in time. Sonny is just rehabbing. He’s not throwing yet. Brock’s doing fine. It’s not normal to pitch in a game 13 months after Tommy John and not have any small setbacks.”
So what’s the schedule like for you in the next eight or ten weeks. What do things look like for you guys?
“My neighbor asked me yesterday if I was going on vacation and I laughed at him. This is actually the busiest time of the year for us. It’s a heavy evaluation time. We’re all out recruiting. I think I’ve spent two nights in town since our season ended. It’s at home once or twice a week for the next eight or nine weeks. We have some camps and we do have some players that will be here for the second summer session starting on July the 5th. But we’re out working hard on the next recruiting group.”
Anything I didn’t ask you, or anything you’d like to include?
“I’m very comfortable saying that there are some real significant gaps in multiple areas where our program is right now (compared) to what I would deem SEC average, and those gaps aren’t all going to be closed in just one year. I’m comfortable saying that.”