Ron Polk just couldn’t keep himself away from the game he loves. Just more than two months after he retired from Mississippi State after his 35th year as a head coach, Polk has joined Alabama-Birmingham’s coaching staff as a volunteer assistant. UAB head coach Brian Shoop was an assistant under Polk at Mississippi State from 1983-89. Polk could not be reached for comment as his cell phone has been disconnected.
Polk did not fade quietly into the night after leaving MSU. When the Bulldogs hired John Cohen–his former assistant–to replace him instead of Polk’s preferred choice (Tommy Raffo), Polk said he felt like he had been punched in the stomach, and he said he wanted his name taken off the side of MSU’s stadium. His stance later softened somewhat, but the winningest coach in Southeastern Conference history hadn’t shaken the baseball bug. The 64-year-old is a confirmed bachelor who has adopted his former players and coaches as his family. Now he’ll help one of his former apprentices try to build UAB into a Conference USA power.
UPDATE: The Blazers held a press conference today to officially announce the Polk hiring. Shoop announced that UAB’s previous volunteer assistant, Jared Walker, will shift to a director of baseball operations position.
"This is obviously a significant day for UAB baseball," Shoop said. "Coach Ron Polk is a legend in college baseball and having him on our staff will make every one of us a better coach and every one of our kids a better player and person. Having worked for Coach for seven years, I have seen first-hand the impact he has on young men. I know that our players will be thrilled with this announcement and will reap incredible benefits from being around Coach on a daily basis."
Polk, of course, had nothing but good things to say about Shoop.
"He’s got a plan for what he wants to accomplish," Polk said of Shoop. "I have always been impressed with him and his makeup. I am coming to UAB to try to help him and to try to help the baseball program here . . . Brian and I talked, and he asked me about coming to UAB. I see it as a great opportunity to help Brian and stay involved working with young people."
Working with young people has always been a primary force driving Polk, as John Manuel detailed in a column after Polk announced his retirement. But a figure as complex and significant as Polk couldn’t be summed up in 800 words, so Manuel wrote a second farewell column that talked about the other part of Polk’s legacy. Both are very worthwhile reads.
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