Brad Bohannon arrived in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday afternoon to take over the Alabama baseball program one day after he was introduced. The former Auburn and Kentucky assistant has his first head coaching job after spending 14 years as one of the conference’s top recruiters and assistant coaches.
Bohannon spoke with TideSports on Thursday in an exclusive interview talking about his goals for the program, his priorities in the first days as head coach and what he learned on his road to Alabama.
You seemed a little bit nervous at the press conference Monday…
“A little bit nervous?”
“I was way nervous. There’s nothing you can do as an assistant coach to prepare you for a press conference like that. I’m comfortable talking to the team, I’m comfortable on the field because that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. But I’ve never done a press conference. Yeah, I was very nervous.”
Did you ever think about what it would be like when you were introduced as a head coach or what your first day as a head coach would be like?
“I’ve been through it with three other guys that have been somewhat new head coaches. From a different perspective I kind of had an idea. But it was a fairy tale. Monday was a fairy tale day. It’s like your wedding day, it just didn’t seem real. It was awesome. It was just the most amazing day.”
The job was open last year. Were you interested in it then?
“If any baseball coach in America that’s not a head coach in this league says that they’re not interested in a head job in this league, they’re lying. This is every young coach’s dream, every assistant coach’s dream, to be a head coach in this league. I think a lot of things are about timing. Twelve months ago I had been at another school in the league for eight months that had just finished 8-22 in the league. When you’ve been around the league, I think you become more of a realist. That’s a pretty tough sell 12 months ago. Greg can answer this better but one of several things that I brought to the table was showing a turnaround in this league at two places now, not just one.”
We heard a lot about the presentation you gave to Byrne during the interview at the Monday press conference. How long have you had something similar to that ready to go?
“Gosh, I would say I’ve probably had some version of a presentation ready for a few years. You have to be ready when you get your opportunity. That’ll be a thing that we’ll coach our kids with. Of course it’s tailored over time. When you’re an assistant coach, you’re always formulating a plan and formulating opinions on every part of the program. It’s always changing, but I think ever since I’ve been an assistant coach I’ve been putting together pieces of the plan that I hope to implement right now.”
What were some of the things specific to Alabama that you might have adjusted for that presentation?
“I think every school in our league is unique. I think when you’re putting together a plan to manage a program, to not just survive but to thrive, it has to be specific to that particular school. I think my experience of being in this state was a huge strength of mine going into the interview process, having relationships with all of the coaches and whether it’s kids on the team or kids that are being recruited or have been recruited. The summer moves really fast from a recruiting perspective in college baseball. June and July are just the two biggest months of the year for the evaluation period. I learned the hard way, making the transition from Kentucky to Auburn, I missed some guys early on because I was new to an area. It just takes time to build relationships. There’s only so many hours in the day that you can talk on the phone. You can only be at one field at one place at one time. I think a big strength of mine going into this process was having that acclimation period already taken care of.”
Most of us on the outside were surprised at how quickly this process moved from start to finish. Were you surprised?
“Absolutely. Yeah. I’ve been involved in a couple of these before and I think in any field when you’re trying to get a job, it takes a lot longer than you want it to. It feels like it drags forever. But it moved really fast and I appreciate Greg for that.”
Did it make it less stressful to have it over and done with?
“It is stressful. It’s a dream of a lifetime. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s something you want really, really bad. So yeah, it does consume you. I’m very thankful that it went very fast and didn’t take three weeks.”
What has it been like for you since Monday? When did you get back in town?
“So I got here on Tuesday afternoon. It’s just been wide open. Just meeting a lot of people and logistically getting settled into the position from an HR perspective and gathering information on everything you can possibly imagine. The first thing that I really want to get knocked out is getting a staff in place. I think it’s really important to get the right people and I’m going to take my time and make sure I get it right. That’s going to be my focus. There’s a million things to do and I can’t do them all at once and I think I just have to do a good job of prioritizing and getting things right, not just getting them crossed off the list.”
How do you tackle the first few days? Reaching out to players, recruits, contacting potential staffers… Do you have an order set?
“I think I’ve put a pretty good dent into those areas. Those are the priorities, just trying to connect with our kids and connect with the kids that have been recruited here. Like I said, taking care of the staff. That’s what I’ve been trying to attack. I haven’t gotten it knocked out and it’ll take time but that’s primarily what we’re working on now.”
Where do you stand with building your coaching staff and hiring assistants? When would you like to have that done?
“I think we’re closer on one position than a couple of the others. I’m anxious to get folks in place but the main thing is to get it right, not to get it done. You have a plan going into it, then you’re announced as a head coach and you’re really surprised at some of the people that are interested because it’s Alabama. I mean, this is a place from a recruiting perspective, whether you’re recruiting high school and junior college baseball players or you’re recruiting staff, it’s a really large pool you can choose from. It’s been exciting, some of the folks that have reached out. I wasn’t sure before it all happened that we’d have interest. Again, I want to get it right and I want to get it done quickly but the main thing is to get the right folks.”
How many players on the roster did you know or were you familiar with before you came here? I’m guessing some of the freshmen or sophomores you had run into before.
“Yeah, there’s varying degrees of familiarity. Having played four games against a team, you certainly have an opinion based on four games of the kids who played and some of the younger kids, there’s a little bit more of a relationship with. Maybe I talked to them in the recruiting process. I think the stronger relationships are with some of the younger kids that are maybe verbal commits that I had more time to build a bond.”
One thing we’ve heard about over and over again is that recruiting is your strength. As a head coach, you have more responsibilities. How do you balance that with still going out and recruiting? How do you prioritize that?
“It’s going to be an ultimate priority within our program. There are two parts to it: one, I have to hire staff that are all great recruiters. And I think player development is really essential and you have to be good at that and you have to have a great team culture. But at the end of the day, good players make good coaches. I think it’s really important to get people around me that are good at recruiting. I’m going to stay as involved as I possibly can. Being a head coach is a different role than being an assistant coach but I want to stay really active in recruiting and I will.”
I asked Greg Byrne this on Monday after the press conference, if the subject of being patient or needing time came up during the interview process. He said that was something that he was aware of and wanted to make the fan base aware of, that this might not happen overnight. Did you guys broach that topic?
“We really didn’t get into that extensively. I think my expectations for the team and the program are probably going to be higher than anybody else’s. I think it’s unfair to put any kind of time frame. I haven’t been on the field with these kids. I don’t want to make rash decisions based on four games or based on a stat sheet because you just don’t have all the information. This is one of the few times I’m going to tell you this: You may know this team better than I do right now.”
Not for long.
“Now I may not say that again, but you may know this team better than I do right now. So I want to try and be as open-minded as possible and I don’t want to set any limits on us.”
On the other hand, and you know this from being in the league for 14 or 15 years, that five or six runs can be the difference in five or six games. Sometimes little changes can bring big dividends.
“Absolutely. It is amazing how many times in an SEC game that you’re tied in the sixth inning or within one or two runs. Then you get to the end of the season and no matter where your season ends, you’re like ‘Gosh, if we’d just made this one play or this one pitch, it’d be a three- or four-game swing.’ That’s our league. Everybody is good. All the games are tight. That’s what we’re going to try and do every day on the field is try to get a run better.”
When things are rolling here and you have the program at the level you want, what do you envision?
“From a baseball standpoint, I mentioned this in the press conference, it’s really important over time to me to have balance. Now with that being said, I also think it’s important early on for us to adjust to the kids, to not try to get a certain group of personnel to play our style when maybe that’s not our skillset. That’s not a very good recipe for success early on. Over time I’d like to have a balance of physicality and athleticism, of left and right, of speed and power. When we go to a park and play a really offensive field like Kentucky, I want to be able to hit a bunch of home runs and when we play in a graveyard and the wind is blowing in, I want to be able to manufacture. That’s important. Getting left and right handed pitching, you have to have velocity and good secondary stuff. From an intangible standpoint, all the coaching clichés. I really hope down the road that the fans will look at our team and say ‘Gosh, these kids love playing for each other. They’re playing with a lot of positive energy. They’re gritty, they’re resilient. They’re just competitive and tough.’ All those things, I think any coach wants their team to be described that way. I think if we practice that way, and if I bring that type of mentality myself and lead by example, I hope the kids will follow over time.”
Not to denigrate other schools, but I think it’s safe to say that neither Kentucky nor Auburn is among the traditional baseball powers in the SEC. What did you learn from being at those programs and the challenges you faced?
“I am so fortunate that I started my career where I did because it wasn’t easy. Early on, it’s human nature to feel sorry for yourself and make excuses. At the end of the day, you realize there’s no asterisk in the box score that says ‘Hey, they did a really good job, they were really close. But their facility is terrible, the weather is terrible, there’s no players in their state, they don’t have a bunch of extra (scholarship) money.’ At the end of the day, the score is what it is. Your record is what it is. I was forced to figure it out and I thank John Cohen for that. Because John was like ‘Hey, this is the only option, to figure it out. There’s not another option.’
“And like I mentioned in the press conference, let’s talk about what we have and not what we don’t have. We have an awesome place. We have so much to sell. We’re going to focus on our beautiful ball park and this fan base and this national brand and the college experience of being a student here and going to Alabama football games. There are a lot of great baseball players out there that would love to play at a place like Alabama and in this league. We just have to pick the right ones.”
What’s the best recruiting story you’ve got? A long day with a flat tire? Eating weird food with a kid’s parents? Found a guy no one offered before?
“There’s a million of those. I need to write a book. I think anybody that’s been in my position for any period of time has done it all. I’ve slept in the car. I’ve slept in the airport. I’ve driven through the night to a game and the kid got hurt or didn’t play. I’ve recruited the walk-on that ended up being a good draft pick. The All-American that never did anything. I’m only 42 but I feel like from a recruiting standpoint, I’ve been there done that from pretty much every perspective.”
Is it true that no one was on A.J. Reed when you found him?
“We got on A.J. before he had a ton of interest. Based on the type of player he ended up being, the correlation was not where it should have been. A.J. was a kid that grew up in Terra Haute, Indiana, was a blue-collar kid, he didn’t do all the national circuit stuff. So he just wasn’t exposed to a lot of schools. But he was a no-brainer. Anybody that would have seen him play when he was 16 or 17 years old would have wanted him. I did not have the magic eye with A.J. I was just fortunate that I had a good network in that part of the country and found out about him before a lot of other folks.”
But Jonah Todd at Auburn was a guy that no one was on when you found him, right?
“Jonah is a great story. I went and watched him play and talked to him after the game and I said ‘Hey, tell me how the recruiting process is going? Are you talking to anybody else?’ and he said ‘My coach says one school has called,’ and it was a low Division I school. So I said ‘You haven’t even talked to them? Your coach just said they called?’ And he said ‘Yes, sir.’ I said ‘Do you think you can play in the SEC?’ and he said ‘I know I can.’ And just the way he said it, I was like ‘I believe in this kid.’ There was a deep level of confidence there despite what the baseball industry was telling him. But yeah, it’s pretty rare these days with social media, YouTube, everybody has a camera on their phone, that stories like that happen. But he’s a true diamond in the rough.”
This is out of left field. Who is someone who has affected you during your coaching career that you might not be able to tell just by looking at your resume and seeing where you’ve been?
“I could narrow that down to a few players. That’s why you do it. When you have certain kids that mature as people or really grow as players, that has a huge impact because that’s why you do it. So it’d be hard to pick just one. But I think if you work hard and you pay attention and really invest in the kids and those relationships, when you see them grow, it has a huge impact on you. At least it has on me, and that’s why I do what I do.”
I’m sure I won’t be the only one who will ask you about your time at Intel, since it came up at the press conference. How comfortable was that job for you? Did you like going into an office every day? Did it suck away at your soul a little bit?
“All of the above. I am so thankful for that experience. I learned a lot of professional skills that I still use today…”
“I’m so thankful for that. Because I grew in some areas that I probably wouldn’t have if I had been a coach the whole time. But also, every young coach, when you’re grinding and not making any money, you have this thought in the back of your mind ‘What am I doing? Is the grass greener on the other side where I can make more money and have real weekends?’ I had already had that experience. So early on when the coaching career wasn’t accelerating at the rate that you wanted it to, I didn’t have second thoughts of ‘Do I need to go sit in a cubicle? Do I need to get a sales job?’ Because I had been there and done that and knew exactly what it was. It gave me more conviction early on in my career to stick with it.”
I think Greg Byrne had a similar experience earlier in his career, where he left Kentucky for another job outside of athletics. Did that come up in your interview?
“Yeah, we did briefly. It’s pretty neat. Everybody has a different story and everybody has a great story. He shared his path with me. It was very interesting.”
Another one out of left field. What’s the last book you read?
“The Girl on the Train. Fiction. I like to read fiction on planes and on the bus. Sorry, I know I’m supposed to say something on leadership or something like that. I’m just being honest.”
I was curious. Some folks have mentioned that you’re a really smart guy and I figured that you would be a guy that reads.
“I like to read. It’s entertaining for me. I read mostly fiction. Occasionally I’ll do some self-help or leadership-type stuff. Honestly, I like to read for entertainment. Fiction books are generally more entertaining.”
And you’ve got a lot of time on the road to read.
“I always keep a book in my bag and in my car. You never know when you’re a rain delay away from knocking out a couple chapters.”
That was all I had. Anything I didn’t ask you or anything you’d like to include?
“I don’t think so.”