Widely regarded as one of the premier pitching coaches in America, Mississippi State associate head coach Butch Thompson enters his seventh season on John Cohen’s staff in Starkville as the reigning 2014 Baseball America and American Baseball Coaches Association National Assistant Coach of the Year.
Having turned 23 student-athletes who went undrafted out of high school into Major League Baseball draft picks, the Amory, Miss., native’s resume speaks for itself. Player development is key for Thompson, who has been in the trenches for 13 seasons inside the Southeastern Conference and has over two decades of collegiate baseball coaching experience.
With experience comes success for the 1992 Birmingham-Southern graduate, both with his individual tutelage and his teams. Thompson has coached 22 Division I All-Americans and 29 all-conference honors, including 2013 staff ace Kendall Graveman, who on Sept. 5, 2014 at Fenway Park in Boston became the ninth player Thompson tutored to pitch in the big leagues.
The old adage “Pitching wins championships” still rings true for the mound vet, who has appeared in seven College World Series, including a national finalist finish in Omaha in 2013. Thanks in part to recruiting nine nationally-ranked recruiting classes, Thompson has been on nine conference championship teams and one national championship squad.
Inside the toughest conference in college baseball the past three seasons, Thompson has guided the Bulldogs to a nation-leading 201 double plays. In almost 70 percent of games the last three campaigns, MSU gave up four runs or less (136 times), winning 84 percent of the time when doing so (114-22). The preaching of mental toughness has also rang true, as MSU is 144-2 under Thompson the last four seasons when holding a lead after eight innings.
This past season, Thompson had three pitchers drafted in the first 11 rounds of the 2014 MLB Draft, and another one (Ben Bracewell) sign a free agent contract with the Oakland Athletics. Left-handed All-American junior Jacob Lindgren was the New York Yankees’ first selection with the 55th overall pick in the second round, before the Yankees drafted MSU junior Jonathan Holder, who finished his career with the most saves of any three-year player in SEC history (37). Righty Brandon Woodruff was taken in the 11th round by the Milwaukee Brewers.
In 2013, Thompson’s group was one of two nationally to finish in the top 15 in ERA, strikeouts per nine innings and hits allowed per nine innings. As a result of the success, Thompson saw five pitchers get drafted, including top-10 picks Kendall Graveman (8th Round, Toronto) and All-American Chad Girodo (9th Round, Toronto).
In addition to Girodo, Thompson also coached Holder and Ross Mitchell to All-American honors in 2013. Mitchell, a reliever, was the only pitcher in the country with at least 13 wins and zero losses, owning a microscopic 1.53 ERA. Holder, a closer, became the ninth player in NCAA history with 21 saves in a single season, tying the SEC single-season saves record in the process.
The previous season in 2012, the pitching general guided MSU’s staff to the nation’s second-lowest staff ERA (2.58), the best at State in nearly 40 seasons (1973). Thompson’s group ranked third in the SEC with 536 strikeouts and his hurlers came up big when it mattered most in the postseason, pitching State to five wins in six days en route to the 2012 SEC Baseball Tournament Championship. Leading the group was Stratton, who ranked first or second in the league and among the nation’s leaders in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
In 2011, State pitchers ranked as the SEC league’s most improved after shaving 2.50 points off its staff ERA as the Bulldogs came within a win of a berth in the NCAA College World Series.
A Mississippi man at heart, Thompson prepped at Amory (Miss.) High School and later starred as a pitcher at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College for head coach Roy Cresap in 1989 and 1990. On Oct. 25, 2014, Thompson was inducted into the ICC Athletic Hall of Fame.
Thompson launched his coaching career as pitching coach and top assistant at Huntingdon College (Montgomery, Ala.) in 1993, before returning to his alma mater in Birmingham, where he helped he helped lead the Panthers to back-to-back Southern States Conference championships and in 1995 coached BSC to its first NAIA World Series berth.
Thompson left BSC briefly to serve as head coach at Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham in 1997. While at JSCC, he was honored as the Regional Tournament Coach of the Year, the ABCA Alabama Junior College Coach of the Year and the Southeast Region Coach of the Year after guiding JSCC to a 39-21 mark, the AJCAA Region 22 State Championship and a third-place finish in the NJCAA Division II World Series.
He returned to Birmingham-Southern as Shoop’s top assistant the following season, beginning a four-year run during the most successful span in BSC baseball history. The Panthers won 196 games and four TranSouth Conference championships and made three-consecutive appearances in the NAIA World Series. BSC’s 2001 team posted a school-best 55-11 mark and captured the NAIA National Championship.
In 2002, Thompson joined the SEC baseball coaching fraternity, beginning a four-year term as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Georgia under head coach David Perno. Georgia’s 2003 recruiting class was ranked 10th nationally, while capturing the SEC title in 2004 en route to advancing to the NCAA College World Series.
Following the 2005, campaign he continued his SEC affiliation at Auburn, serving as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator on the staff of Tom Slater. Each of his three recruiting classes at Auburn was ranked among the nation’s top 18, including a No. 5 national ranking in 2007.
Thompson, honored as the 2006 Fellowship of Christian Athletes SEC Coach of the Year, has shared his expertise as a featured speaker at numerous baseball coaching clinics throughout America.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in history at BSC in 1992 and completed a master’s degree in sports administration at UAB in 1996. He is married to the former Robin Ashe of Birmingham, Ala., and they are the parents of three daughters --- Anna, Olivia and Madelyn Gail.
THE THOMPSON FILE
BASEBALL AMERICA/ABCA NATIONAL ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR
THOMPSON BY THE NUMBERS...
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT BUTCH THOMPSON
“To me, Butch Thompson is one of the best coaches I have ever been around. His knowledge of the game shows on the field and he is a superb example off the field as well. He leads his players in the right direction for their life.”
“His enthusiasm and passion for coaching, recruiting and most importantly pitching is exciting and contagious. I knew he had a bright future ahead of him. I am not surprised he is considered one of the best college pitching coaches in the nation.”
“It took me only 15 minutes of talking pitching with Butch Thompson before it became apparent to me that I was not only speaking with one of the best pitching coaches in college baseball, but in the professional ranks as well. He is that good.”
“Butch Thompson is a tremendous man of integrity and character that just so happens to be one outstanding college baseball coach. If I had a son that had the ability to play baseball on an elite Division 1 level, finding a way to place him under the instruction and mentorship of Butch Thompson would be of the utmost priority.”
“Coach Thompson is like a second dad to me. For him to be a mentor to me, not only on the field but off the field, has always stood out to me. How he develops relationships with recruits and players is huge. He is somebody that means the world to me and I would do anything for him.”
“I love Coach Thompson to death. He is like a father to me. I would do anything for him and I know he would do anything for me. People like him are why I come back (to Starkville). Coach Thompson has taught me a lot and I have to give him all the credit for how far I have gotten.”
“Butch is one of the best pitching coaches in the country. He is very detailed and it shows on how competitive his pitchers are.”
“I consider Butch Thompson to be a go-to guy for me when it comes to the development of pitchers. He is a lifelong learner who continues to grow himself and the pitchers under his watch.”
“Butch has developed into one of the premier coaches in college baseball. Much more importantly, in an era when much of the news around college athletics is bad, Butch is an incredible role model of integrity and character. He is committed to God, to his wife Robin and to his three daughters. As good a coach as he is, Butch is even a better person. It has been an honor to have coached him, to have coached with him and it brings great joy, almost like the joy of a father, to watch Butch have such a huge impact on young lives today.”
“One of the great joys during my tenure as president of Mississippi State University has been the growing success of our MSU baseball program. Coach Butch Thompson has been an integral part of the success of our program and I’m keenly aware of the confidence and trust that head coach John Cohen has in him. Mississippi State University is very proud of this richly deserved honor from Baseball America for Butch Thompson.”
“In addition to being an outstanding student of the game, Butch Thompson is a tremendous leader of young people. He combines an unbelievable competitive fire with a true heart for those he coaches. Mississippi State is proud to have Butch as part of our family.”
“Butch Thompson is not only one of the most elite coaches in the country – he is one of the best human beings I have ever known. His never-ending dedication to his craft, his loyalty to our program and his devotion to this university is why he is so deserving of this distinguished award.”