TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s almost become a cliché in sports, especially at the collegiate level, to say that every team is different due the players that come and go each season.
When University of Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon says it about the 2019 Crimson Tide, though, he really means it.
With roughly half of last year’s roster no longer around, the second-year head coach essentially has a whole new team.
“It is, that’s exactly what it’s like,” he said during an informal gathering with reporters on Monday morning. “It’s pretty rare at this level to have so many new faces.
“I hope never do it again.”
For those who don’t know, or are still put out by the previous coaching regime, Bohannon inherited a disaster last year, one that had Alabama playing anything like an Southeastern Conference team.
In 2017, the Crimson Tide collectively hit .263 and had a staff ERA of 4.83. It wasn’t known for its power, its run production or much of anything outside of mistakes and miscues.
Alabama “led” the league in just about every negative statistic, including most runners picked off, balks, wild pitches and passed balls. It was tied for first in home runs allowed and second in steals allowed.
To make matters worse, the season of mediocrity (and that’s being kind) came on the heels of rebuilding Sewell-Thomas Stadium, which ended up costing more than $42 million.
Alabama didn’t spend that kind of money to go 19-34-1, 5-24-1 in the SEC.
Then came the reports that first-year coach Greg Goff planned to take scholarships away from players, and had way overcommitted the NCAA-allotment of 11.7 full scholarships.
Roughly two months on the job, new Director of Athletics Greg Byrne fired him on May 24.
Completely starting from scratch would have been easier for Bohannon.
Instead, he had to overhaul just about every aspect of the program and help a lot of prospects who had been promised scholarships make other plans.
At least this season the headaches will mostly be on the field, although considering the circumstances Alabama’s record of 27-29 (8-22 SEC) was more than respectable. The Crimson Tide began the 2018 season 9-0 and won early series against Kentucky and Missouri before someone essentially pointed out that the emperor had no clothes.
The team lost its confidence and then lost 10 straight league games to finish last in the standings. For the first time since 1987-88 it didn’t qualify for the SEC Tournament in back-to-back years.
The truth is it’ll be tough to get to Hoover again this spring, but the overall health of the program is much better.
There’s stability in the coaching staff, as Bohannon has people he brought in at every key spot, including strength and conditioning, and none of them left after the first season.
His first full recruiting class was ranked somewhere between 10th and 25th by most services, and didn’t take too many hits in the draft. Alabama lost one player it figured on and one it didn’t.
The Crimson Tide also saw six seniors depart plus three underclassmen were drafted and chose to leave school early.
It would be a lot of turnover for any team.
Fans will quickly learn some of the new names and faces, like Tyler Gentry, Morgan McCullough, Brett Auerbach and Drew Williamson. Some freshmen will get more playing time than they normally would and there are some real questions about the infield.
“We lost over 1,200 at-bats from last year,” Bohannon said. “Just by default we were going to have a lot of new folks out there.”
It’s even more true of the pitchers, which is really where the rebuilding must happen first, and it takes time.
Consequently, look for the coaching staff to do some experimenting and make some unorthodox moves compared to what Alabama’s done in the past. Fans might see seven or eight different starting pitchers during the non-conference part of the schedule, and not all will be trying to go four-plus innings.
“It’s going to be musical chairs,” Bohannon said.
Look for this to last for roughly a month after Alabama’s season opens Feb. 15 against Presbyterian because when SEC play begins the schedule will be nothing short of brutal.
The Crimson Tide opens its league schedule at Ole Miss, a top-10 team in some polls. It then hosts another ranked team, Arkansas, before facing top-5 Florida.
All 10 weekend series might be against top-25 teams this season, topped by Vanderbilt who’s No. 1 in the Baseball America poll, and LSU who is No. 1 according to Collegiate Baseball and the coaches poll, on consecutive weeks in late April.
So it will be tough. This could be a situation of the team being better and it not showing in the overall record. Maybe it will.
Regardless, this is when the Bohannon era really begins at Alabama.