Sizing Up Potential Candidates To Become Alabama’s Next Coach

Image credit: Alabama mascot (Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images)

The news last week of Alabama firing coach Brad Bohannon amid an investigation into suspicious gambling shocked college baseball. It also created a significant job opening.

Alabama occupies an interesting spot in the college baseball landscape. On the one hand, Alabama is one of the strongest brands in college athletics, thanks to its longtime football excellence. Several programs are rolling right now in Tuscaloosa, including softball, which has advanced to the Women’s College World Series 13 times in the 21st century and won the 2012 national championship. The baseball team has been to Omaha five times and twice finished as national runner-up, most recently in 1997. It appears to be on track to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons and could be turning a corner after a difficult decade.

On the other hand, Alabama lacks some of the advantages of its competitors in the SEC. Baseball remains a partial scholarship sport and the state of Alabama doesn’t have the same academic scholarship programs many other Southern states do, which provide a tangible benefit on the diamond. It also was paying Bohannon $500,000, which ranks near the bottom of the conference, where the top-paid coaches now make well north of $1 million.

A fully invested Alabama could be a real contender. While much is often made of the academic aid that is or isn’t available, in-state rival Auburn has made it to Omaha in two of the last three seasons. The state of Mississippi has a similar situation to Alabama and it’s home of the last two national champions.

That’s the question that now rests with the Crimson Tide and athletic director Greg Byrne. He’s well-versed in baseball and has made a couple home run baseball hires in the past. While at Mississippi State, he hired John Cohen to replace Ron Polk and during his time at Arizona, he hired Jay Johnson to replace Andy Lopez. Byrne hired Bohannon in the wake of a messy situation for the program after one season of Greg Goff at the program’s helm. This is another opportunity for Byrne. Can he hit a home run this time?

Cliff Godwin, head coach, East Carolina

When the job was open the last time, Alabama tried to hire Godwin and was rebuffed. Godwin has turned down all the opportunities he’s had to leave his alma mater in his nine years as head coach. He really wants to guide the Pirates to Omaha for the first time in program history and has six years left on a contract that pays him $600,000 a year. Alabama could try again for Godwin, but it’s going to have to come with a bigger, better offer than it did six years ago.

Mark Wasikowski, head coach, Oregon

Wasikowski has done excellent work at Oregon since taking over following the 2019 season. He’s made regionals in back-to-back seasons and is on track for a third this year. He signed a significant contract extension following the 2021 season that will pay him nearly $2 million over the next three years. It would take something special to pull him out of Eugene. An SEC opening might just do it, however. He has experience in the league (as an assistant at Florida) and his time as an assistant at Arizona overlapped with Byrne’s tenure as athletic director there, adding some familiarity.

Dan McDonnell, head coach, Louisville

McDonnell was briefly mentioned in 2016 when this job was open, but Louisville moved quickly to sign him to a 10-year extension worth $1 million annually, which at the time put him at the peak of the college baseball pay scale. A lot has happened at Louisville since and the ACC has slipped further behind the SEC. McDonnell is one of the very best coaches in America, but he’d also require Alabama to completely blow up its pay scale. Is the Tide ready to make that move?

Chris Pollard, head coach, Duke

Pollard took a dormant program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968 and turned it into a consistent regional team and this year has it in position to host for the first time ever. That kind of ability to do a lot with less resources than the top teams in the conference would be an asset at Alabama, which hasn’t matched programs like Arkansas or LSU in investment. Pollard’s whole career has been in North Carolina and Alabama would be a significant change, but he’s a proven winner.

Rob Vaughn, head coach, Maryland

Vaughn, 35, has gotten Maryland humming. The Terrapins are closing in on their second straight Big Ten title (after not winning a conference title for 51 years), last year hosted regionals for the first time ever and this year are closing in on a third straight regionals bid, which would be the longest streak in program history. Maryland, however, is not an easy job and its facilities lag behind other top programs in the conference. The Terrapins’ two previous head coaches parlayed their success into jobs at more resourced programs—Erik Bakich at Michigan and John Szefc at Virginia Tech. Maryland is a better job today than it was when they left, but the SEC is a different beast.

Lane Burroughs, head coach, Louisiana Tech

Burroughs has done a good job at La Tech and has led the Bulldogs to back-to-back 40-win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances. La Tech’s not having that kind of season, but that shouldn’t take much away from a strong overall resume that includes four seasons as an assistant coach at Mississippi State. Burroughs wouldn’t be the flashy hire, but if Alabama doesn’t want to reset its salary structure, he’d be a quality hire.

Justin Haire, head coach, Campbell

Haire has guided Campbell to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and is on track for a fifth straight bid this year. He’s turned the Camels into a premier mid-major program, achieving both on-field success and developing high-end talent like 2022 All-American Zach Neto. The knock would be a lack of not only SEC experience, but also experience in any major conference. How much does that matter? It’s hard to say, but among the current SEC head coaches, only Missouri’s Steve Bieser hadn’t coached in a major conference before getting hired.

Jake Gautreau, recruiting coordinator, Mississippi State

I expect Byrne is going to place an emphasis on head coaching experience in this search, but if Alabama does entertain assistant coaches, Gautreau is perhaps the one to target. He’s one of the most respected assistant coaches in the country, both as a recruiter and as a hitting coach. Mississippi State’s downturn since the 2021 national championship could give some pause, but the Bulldogs are averaging 7.4 runs per game this season. He’s worth a look, even if the timing isn’t perfect.

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