STARKVILLE — After Butch Thompson wasn’t hired away from the Mississippi State baseball team in the summer, John Cohen thought he had his pitching coach for at least one more season.
But MSU’s eighth-year head coach wasn’t surprised when Auburn came after Thompson and officially hired him Thursday. Thompson, who is from Amory, replaces Sonny Galloway, who was fired with cause after two years.
“We are proud and happy for Butch Thompson, and there is no one more deserving of this opportunity,” Cohen said in a statement.
Baseball America and American Baseball Coaches Association named Thompson the 2014 assistant coach of the year.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime to be the head baseball coach at Auburn University,” said Thompson, who worked at Auburn as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator from 2006-08.
Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said it was easy to identify Thompson because he is widely known a respected in college baseball.
“He has an outstanding track record as an elite recruiter, and he has been recognized as the best pitching coach in the country,” Jacobs said. “His track record of developing players who have gone on to highly successful careers in baseball is second to none.”
Cohen doesn’t think it will be hard to find Thompson’s replacement. Along with Thompson, Cohen’s last two pitching coaches have become head coaches in the Southeastern Conference. When Cohen was hired away from Kentucky in 2009, Gary Henderson was promoted and took over the program. Cohen doesn’t have a lot of time, though, as MSU, which ended fall practice Wednesday, begins the 2016 season in February.
California State University at Fullerton’s Jason Dietrich, Dallas Baptist’s Wes Johnson, Illinois’ Drew Dickinson, Virginia Tech’s Robert Woodard, and Ohio’s Rob Smith are some of the candidates that have been mentioned to replace Thompson, who also served as associate head coach at MSU. D1 Baseball’s Kendal Rogers lists Dietrich as the leading candidate.
“Our nationwide search for a new pitching coach begins immediately,” Cohen said. “We look forward to the new hire developing our talented group of arms and recruiting tirelessly as we continue our goal of winning championships at Mississippi State.
“Some of the best pitching minds in the country would be very, very interested in being in a program like ours.”
Dietrich served two seasons (2011-12) as pitching coach at the University of California, Irvine. The Titans hired Dietrich in the summer of 2012. He has spent the last four seasons in Fullerton.
During his first season with the Titans, Dietrich helped CSUF pitchers new single-season records in ERA (2.47), walks (86), walks per nine innings (1.41), hits per nine innings (7.59), and shutouts (11).
Jacobs confirmed Thursday that Thompson signed a five-year contract that will pay him $350,000 a year at Auburn.
Thompson was instrumental in MSU’s success in the past seven years. The Bulldogs made four NCAA regionals, two super regionals, and one appearance in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, finishing as the national runner-up to UCLA in 2013.
Thompson has developed 23 non-drafted players out of high school into draftees in college. In 2012, Thompson’s pitching staff led the SEC with a 2.58 ERA. That mark was No. 2 in the nation. Nine of his pitchers have made it to the major leagues.
Thompson played baseball at Itawamba Community College and Birmingham-Southern. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Huntingdon College in 1993. He also served as an assistant coach at Birmingham-Southern and was head coach at Jefferson State Community College. He started his career as a coach in the SEC at Georgia from 2002-05.
The Bulldogs have had plenty of pitching talent with Thompson on staff, and that will continue.
The Bulldogs will miss him, though, as several took to Twitter to congratulate Thompson, including junior right-hander Austin Sexton, who wrote, “Coach Thompson is one of the greatest coaches I have ever had the privilege to play for. Even more than that he is a better man. He truly cared about us as ball players and more importantly men.
“This will be a big year for Mississippi State Baseball. The boys are hungry and we are focused and ready for this season. It’s going to be a fun year Bulldog Family!! See y’all at the Dude (Dudy Noble Field) in 2016!”
Cohen hopes to hire Thompson’s replacement quickly so the new coach can get acclimated to MSU and help the team prepare for the 2016 season.
“One of Nation’s Elite Pitching Coaches will be joining our program soon #HailState,” Cohen tweeted Thursday.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Reports from The Associated Press and other media outlets were included in this story.
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.