Over the sound of road noise emanating from my phone’s speaker, Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon confirmed the obvious.
“I’m in Atlanta,” he excitedly exclaimed. “I’m trying to find some baseball players.”
Bohannon’s cheerful demeanor is contagious. When you combine it with his positive nature and high-character qualities, you have what many high school prospects see in him: not just a solid recruiter, but also a genuine person.
I use the ‘high-character’ modifier with intent. If you listen to Bohannon talk about his baseball team for more than a few minutes, you’ll hear him use those same two words to describe the coaches and players of his program. It’s that high-character quality that he looks for in recruits, and the same applies to his staff at Alabama.
Bohannon coached for 12 seasons as an assistant at Kentucky before taking the same position at Alabama’s arch rival, Auburn, from 2016-2017. The hiring of Bohannon back in the summer of 2017 raised a couple of eyebrows, but his coaching pedigree soon put those eyebrows to rest.
Now, Bohannon enters the offseason after making progress during his fourth season in 2021. The Crimson Tide reached its first SEC Tournament since 2016 and made its first NCAA Regional since 2014, a big leap forward for the rising program.
With the improvement that his team displayed this season, Bohannon has been tasked once again with building the team up even stronger for next year. At the 2021 MLB Draft, the Crimson Tide saw five of its crucial players from last season depart for the pros along with its top signee.
Add assistant coach Jerry Zulli retiring from baseball and student assistant coach Kyle Cameron leaving the program to work at Jacksonville State, and Bohannon has had more on his plate than is typical in an offseason.
That being said, Bohannon knows what is important to building a successful program. It starts with talented coaches that can recruit talented players.
“I feel like every college baseball program is based on — you have to have talent,” Bohannon said. “You got to be able to attract really talented players to compete in the SEC, but you also gotta do a really good job coaching them. If you’re not really strong in both of those areas, you’re gonna get your butt kicked in a hurry.”
With former volunteer assistant coach Matt Reida taking over the second assistant spot, Bohannon still needed a volunteer assistant. For that assistant job, Bohannon used a connection that most Crimson Tide fans wouldn’t willingly pursue.
Bohannon used his Auburn connection.
The current Alabama staff has quite the number of Auburn connections. In fact, if you look at the program’s coaching staff, a total of five of the seven staff members — including Bohannon — have ties to the Tigers.
That list includes the program’s latest addition and new volunteer assistant coach Hunter Morris.
“I made Hunter say ‘Roll Tide’ a few times before I offered him the job,” Bohannon joked. “It had to roll off the tongue and he said it with conviction a few times before I made him the offer.”
Bohannon and Morris first met in 2005 when Bohannon was at Kentucky and Morris was a young high school prospect. While Morris ultimately decided to play for Auburn over the likes of Kentucky and Alabama, Bohannon left quite an impression on him.
“My relationship with coach Bohannon goes back to about 2005 when he recruited me when he was an assistant at Kentucky,” Morris said. “Always had a tremendous amount of respect for him — what he’s been able to build at different places on the recruiting side.”
Morris is a household name among Auburn baseball fans. Playing for the Tigers from 2008-2010, Morris etched his name in the top 10 of seven program single-season records. His records of most home runs (23) and total bases (202) still stand to this day.
After being named All-American and SEC Player of the Year in 2010, Morris left a year early after being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately for the young first baseman, his career ended after five seasons due to injuries.
After ending his professional baseball career, Morris returned to Auburn in 2017 to finish his degree. While there, he served as a student assistant and worked with — you guessed it — Bohannon.
“Honestly, [we] took it to a whole new other level when we worked together for a year at Auburn.” Morris said. “We see eye-to-eye on so much. Everything from the recruiting to the development of players, hitting philosophy— he does a great job with the infielders — it all just kinda lined up perfectly.
“Everything from personality to somebody that I’m thrilled to work with hopefully for a very extended period of time here. For us to be on the same page with all that, hopefully it will just continue to bring excitement and energy to this program.”
It’s not uncommon for coaches to hire assistants that see the game the same way that they do. However, when talking to Bohannon and Morris on two separate phone calls, the two almost sound like the same person, just speaking through two different mouths.
Like Bohannon, Morris possesses a cheerful nature that makes you want to smile even when speaking with him through a phone. While he isn’t able to hit the recruiting trail as a volunteer assistant, he hopes to one day return to those duties should his name be called to move up the coaching tree. That, or the NCAA passes legislation to allow volunteer assistants to do so.
Both Bohannon and Morris put emphasis on recruiting and developing high-character individuals. Bohannon often emphasizes that while talent and skills on the diamond are plentiful, finding kids that fit the mold of the team is a little more difficult to come by.
Fortunately, high-quality skills and high-quality character often go hand in hand. That philosophy is something that both Bohannon and Morris stand by.
“We share a lot of the same concepts but it’ll be a different voice,” Bohannon said. “He’ll put his spin on it, his tweak on it and I believe in him and he’s gonna do a great job.”
For now, Morris will have to put recruiting on the back burner and focus his efforts on improving the Crimson Tide’s hitting. Following his year at Auburn and a year at Samford, Morris became an assistant at UT-Martin where, in addition to recruiting, he dramatically improved the Skyhawks bats.
In 2019, UT-Martin produced 48 home runs — the third-most home runs in a single season in program history at the time. The Skyhawks' 2020 roster then hit 14 long balls through 16 games and was on track to top the 2019 total before the season was officially canceled due to COVID-19.
In 2021, Skyhawks picked up right where they left off, continuing that power surge in 2021 and crushing 58 home runs — the second most in a single season in program history.
With those results, there's no doubt that he has the experience needed to develop players at Alabama. But what about developing players for their time after Tuscaloosa?
Morris is motivated by developing young players that can pursue baseball after their time in college. With much enthusiasm in his voice, Morris excitedly detailed his philosophy of increasing the potential in young players.
“I think every player at this level should have aspirations and desires to play beyond college baseball,” Morris said. “What’s that carrot you’re chasing? What’s your motivating factor? Outside of just being a competitive human being and being an athlete at this level, there’s gotta be something else that you’re reaching towards and working towards.
“Whatever I did to set me back when I kinda hit that wall in AAA there for my last three, four years and couldn’t get over that hump — aside from the injuries — how did I prepare myself, what could I have done differently and hopefully helping these guys not make the same mistakes that I did.”
Morris is clearly dedicated to one thing and one thing alone: developing high-character players into high-quality baseball players. Bohannon saw those high-character intangibles in Morris, and that alone should get Alabama fans excited to see what kind of impact he can have in Tuscaloosa.
While Morris might not have a background in Tuscaloosa, he and his family — his wife, Macie, and his three kids Tripp, Charlotte and Ellie Kate — are happy to have moved back to the state of Alabama. They might be on the geographical side opposite of what they’re used to, but Morris emphasized that he is excited and ready to get to work.
And what are Morris’ thoughts on trading in his ‘War Eagle’ for ‘Roll Tide’?
“I’ve said ‘Roll Tide’ every day since I’ve been here,” Morris chuckled. “And I’ll keep saying it.”