Sometime after midnight, Brad Bohannon peeled off an orange Auburn uniform and made his way to the Tallahassee airport. There was a plane waiting to take the Auburn assistant to Tuscaloosa where’d he’d become the University of Alabama baseball coach in the morning.
A few hours later, he wore a crimson tie and grinned as he stepped to the podium.
“I have been waiting all week to get up here to say ‘Roll Tide, baby. Roll Tide,’” Alabama’s new baseball coach said.
Bohannon was introduced as Alabama’s 32nd head coach at a news conference. It’s Bohannon’s first head coaching job after spending the last 14 years as an assistant at Kentucky and Auburn.
About a dozen current players sat in the first two rows of the press conference as Bohannon laid out his vision for Alabama.
“My goal going forward is to make Alabama the absolute best place to play college baseball in the country, and we have everything we need in place to make that happen,” Bohannon said. “We’re going to do that by being a players-first program.”
Alabama director of athletics Greg Byrne moved quickly on the hire. Bohannon was named head coach on Thursday, eight days after Greg Goff was fired after one season. Byrne spoke with a handful of those around the Alabama program early on in the search, including former coach Jim Wells, Shelton State baseball coach and UA alum Bobby Sprowl, as well as alumni like Dave Magadan, Alan Dunn and Jeff Laubenthal.
“As we went through this we spent time looking through our past rosters of our baseball team that went to Omaha, that went to regionals,” Byrne said. “Looked at the makeup of those teams. There wasn’t one size that fits all, but there were a few things that had to be there. You had to recruit the state of Alabama, and Coach Bohannon fits that extremely well. You have to recruit the Southeast, and he does that as well. You have to have a solid plan for a staffing standpoint, and he had great ideas and thoughts about that as well.”
He had a lengthy list at the start of the search was whittled to five or six names quickly. Bohannon interviewed at Byrne’s home last Monday, one week before he was introduced. One other candidate was interviewed in person.
But Bohannon arrived with a presentation on his plan for the program. A one-hour meeting stretched into three-and-a-half as Bohannon laid out his thoughts on recruiting, staffing, compliance, academics, community involvement and more.
“He walked out of my house and I thought ‘We can make this thing work if everything goes well,’” Byrne said.
He also had Alabama staffers involved in the search reach out to players who had been with Bohannon. Some were stars, some starters and others scarcely played. All said the same thing.
“The last question you ask is: ‘If you had to do it all over again, would you want to play for Coach Bohannon?’” Byrne said. “And without a doubt, 100 percent of the young men that he talked to said, ‘I’d absolutely play for Coach Bohannon again.’”
Bohannon returned to Tallahassee in the afternoon for his 119th and final game with Auburn. The Tigers’ season ended last night with a 6-0 loss to Florida State in the finals of an NCAA regional. He’ll be back in Tuscaloosa soon to begin his new duties this week.
He has spent the last 20 months on the other side of the state. That experience gives him a head start on recruiting within the state and a basic understanding of the landscape laid out before him. The experience in Alabama was a “bonus” for Byrne, who knew he needed a recruiter with a national profile. Bohannon checks that box.
“We’re going to recruit from the inside out,” Bohannon said. “I would love to have a team full of Alabama kids, I would love that. But, you know what, we have a national brand. We have an amazing place, we can get kids from anywhere and we’ll do that. There’s a lot of work to be done. We know that, and there are no shortcuts. I don’t have any magic dust, but I can’t wait to roll the sleeves up and get to work.”
There’s work to be done, repairing a program that went 19-34-1 last season while finishing last place in the SEC with a 5-24-1 record. He’s the third coach in as many seasons in Tuscaloosa.
“I told him he will have a lot of patience from us,” Byrne said. “That’s critical. We have to have stability in our coaching staff. I really believe, people come to Alabama, they’re going to stay at Alabama.”
Bohannon said he’d begun speaking with other coaches that may become part of his staff but wasn’t ready to announce any additions yet. He’ll have to handle that quickly, then work on constructing a roster of holdovers from the 2017 team and an incoming recruiting class with many players already signed.
He thanked his wife, Kim, and the coaches who gave him opportunities that led to Tuscaloosa. Then, with his new team sitting in front of him, he made his first recruiting pitch.
“Most of all, I’m just so thankful to all of my former players, I mean everybody that I’ve ever recruited and coached,” Bohannon said. “In the 14 years that I’ve been in the league, I’ve not gotten a hit, I haven’t made a pitch. It’s all about the kids, they’re the ones making the plays. I’m just thankful to each and every one of them for buying into me and what I was selling at the time and for giving me everything they had while playing for me.”