No one wanted Jonah Todd. With one exception. Brad Bohannon did.
Bohannon, the new University of Alabama baseball coach, was the only coach who believed Todd, the former Marion Military Institute standout, could cut it against major college competition.
Todd made good on Bohannon’s faith, leading Auburn this season in average (.381), runs (52), hits (88), triples (5), total bases (111), slugging percentage (.481) and on-base percentage (.462). Todd was also named to the All-SEC second team and SEC All-Defensive team.
It seems like an easy decision now, but, at the time, no one believed Todd could play in the SEC.
Alabama coaches were contacted to gauge their interest. MMI was playing a game at Shelton State, but UA coaches decided against going to watch him play.
His coach at MMI, former Alabama standout and Major Leaguer Matt Downs, called Bohannon at Auburn to pitch his star player. Bohannon hit the road to watch him play.
“I saw something in him and thought he could play at the next level,” said Downs, who also played at Bibb County High School. “I start calling everybody and they all told me he’s not good enough. I called Bohannon and he said, ‘If you think he’s good enough, I’ll give him a chance.’ Brad came and watched him play, he had a pretty good day that day.”
The rest is history.
The relationships Bohannon has built around the Southeast, including in the state of Alabama are what helped the 42-year-old land the job. He’s earned the reputation as an ace recruiter.
“He’s a very personable guy,” Downs said. “I think he knows how to talk to different people. If you’re going to be a good recruiter you have to be able to strike up a conversation with different personalities and different egos. I think he knows how to relate to every different kind of kid.
“I think he’s proven his self as a recruiter. When you’ve done it in multiple places it proves it.
Bohannon is scheduled to be formally introduced as UA’s coach Monday (Auburn is participating in the NCAA Tallahassee Regional). If the Tigers advance, Auburn coach Butch Thompson and Bohannon will decide if he remains to coach in the Super Regional.
Everyone says the same thing about Bohannon: Smart guy, well liked, excellent recruiter. Everyone of his former bosses echoed those sentiments.
“Brad was destined to become a head coach,” former Kentucky and Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen said. “I’m really proud of him. Obviously I think Greg Byrne made a great choice. I think he will do well.
“What’s amazing is when I hired him at the University of Kentucky, upon the recommendation of my assistant Gary Henderson, who is now at Mississippi State, he was literally working at a cubicle at Intel in Portland, Oregon. That’s how bright this guy is. He was making a really nice salary, was a very young man in his 20s making a nice salary and said ‘You know what? I’m going to give all of this up to come work for nothing at the University of Kentucky.’ He was pretty exceptional. It was pretty apparent to me quickly that this guy was special. He had vision and he just thought at a different level.”
His skill set will be called upon quickly in Tuscaloosa. In fact, his calling card as an excellent recruiter is job one.
It’s no secret the talent level at UA has slipped, leading, at least in part, to one of the worst seasons in the program’s history in 2017.
A quick look at Bohannon’s track record reveals the cupboard will eventually be re-stocked in Tuscaloosa. It likely won’t happen in his first or even second season (Alabama’s current scholarship situation is a mess), but those who know Bohannon have faith he’ll succeed.
That opinion is especially held by the man who hired him, UA Director of Athletics Greg Byrne.
“Well, he’s got one of the best track records of anyone in the country from a recruiting standpoint,” Byrne said. “Obviously there’s great coaching throughout the SEC and obviously you want to make sure you have the best ability to have a high level of recruiting.
“When we sat down with him he just had a really solid plan and incredible both within the state of Alabama, throughout the southeast and around the country and even into Canada. To me, that made a lot of sense to have him be a primary target for us.”
His former boss at Kentucky, Gary Henderson, said being a good recruiter comes down to two things.
“One is knowing what you’re looking for,” he said. “Two, work ethic. And probably reverse the order of those two things. It’s the willingness to work hard and having a really good idea of what you’re looking for. Brad does a good job in both areas.”
Cohen, who won shared the SEC title with Alabama in 2006 and led Mississippi State to the NCAA championship series in 2013, said Bohannon is a natural.
“Great recruiters are relentless. They’re constantly looking and constantly evaluating,” he said. “They’re evaluating kids on the phone. He has tremendous ties in the junior college world, in the high school coaches world. He’s one of those guys. There aren’t a lot of them. There’s a really small group that can recruit at his level. It’s not just recruiting; recruiting is about talking somebody into coming to your school. Evaluating is deciding what kids you want to recruit. He is exceptional at both.”
Downs saw those skills when literally no one believed him about Todd. Well, no one but one person. Brad Bohannon.
Downs’ heart is still with the Alabama baseball program. After a few rough and tumble years, he said he now has no worries.
“I’m glad to know (the Alabama program) in his hands.”
Ben Jones contributed to this report.
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.