By Robert Wilson
Ole Miss will be facing a Mississippi native, Itawamba Community College alumnus and former Mississippi State associate head coach in the first round of the College World Series.
Butch Thompson is the head coach for Auburn, which plays Ole Miss Saturday at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 in a first-round CWS game at Omaha.
Thompson, in his seventh season as head coach Auburn, not only is from Mississippi, but he grew up an Ole Miss fan.
“I was an Ole Miss fan. I was born in 1970. It was Archie Manning, Archie Manning,” Thompson said. “It created a whole generation that drew people to Ole Miss. When you are right in the middle and you choose sides, that Archie Manning era got my dad. It captured him. My dad was one of those shift workers. We would go to an Ole Miss football game once a year. It was a special thing. I would try to go steal all the souvenir cups. I would try to get 70 or 80 of those when I was young. I was at the game where (Georgia’s Heisman Trophy running back) Herschel Walker jumped over the (Ole Miss) line and landed on his feet and went in the end zone.
“When I got the pitching job at Mississippi State, I didn’t let my dad know because he was such an Ole Miss fan. I knew he would never let it go. I got home before he heard about it. I had about a week to get home. There wasn’t all the social media stuff back then. I walked and he was sitting there at the table, and I threw a Mississippi State hat at him. He said, ‘Boy, get this out of this house.’ I told him I’m the pitching coach at Mississippi State. He put his head down and said, ‘I guess blood is thicker than water. Let’s go.’”
Thompson’s dad didn’t get to see Butch take his first team to Omaha as a head coach in 2019 with Auburn. He passed away in 2018.
Butch Thompson grew up Amory and is very proud of his Mississippi roots.
“I grew up about 50 minutes to hour from Starkville and about an hour and 10 minutes from Oxford,” Thompson said. “Even though I’m coaching in a neighboring state, I take a lot of pride in the folks of the great state of Mississippi. Mississippi is a small state, but when I think of Mississippi I think of Walter Payton, Brett Favre, Jerry Rice, we have the best of everything, players, and people. It is second to none. It’s pretty incredible. When you talk about SEC baseball, guys like (former Auburn coach) Hal Baird and (former MSU coach) Ron Polk built this SEC brand to what we get to experience today. Those men have paved the way to get to where it is now and there has been a lot of Mississippi imprint on it. (Head coach) Scott Berry is a good man at Southern Miss. I got to talk to him today. He had a club Ole Miss had to go through to get here. That was a tall order.”
After playing baseball at Amory High and Itawamba CC, Thompson played at Birmingham Southern then started his coaching career. He coached at Huntington (Ala.) College, Birmingham Southern and Jefferson State (Ala.) CC before getting into the SEC at Georgia in 2002. He coached at Georgia from 2002-2005, then at Auburn from 2006-2008 and at MSU from 2009-2015, the last three at associate head coach. He helped MSU to a national runner-up finish in 2013.
Thompson, in his 30th season as a collegiate coach, will be making his eighth CWS appearance, second at Auburn. He led the Tigers to the CWS in 2019, the first time the program had been to Omaha in 22 seasons.
“This is year 30 for me as a coach and it may have been the finest journey for me,” Thompson said. “The players have been challenged by low expectations and it drove them even more to this point. I had a front seat to watch them do some amazing things. We come in there thinking we aren’t done yet. We hope the best is yet to come.”
In addition to Thompson’s Mississippi ties, Auburn has one player from Mississippi, junior outfielder Bryson Ware, who played at Germantown High and Pearl River CC. He has started 23 games, played in 48 and is hitting .226 with 8 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, 22 runs and 21 runs batted in this season.
“I can’t imagine anyone more deserving than Bryson to have the opportunity to play in the College World Series,” said Brian Hardy, who coached Ware at Germantown and retired after this season. “He has worked his tail off for many years and I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
Ware made 37 starts in three positions – right field (25), designated hitter (10) and first base (2) – as a sophomore in his first season at Auburn last year. He hit .254 with six doubles and six home runs. He played 16 games and hit .321 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in the shortened covid year as a freshman at Pearl River two years ago. Ware hit .477 with 9 doubles, 4 triples, 8 home runs, 45 runs and 26 RBIs as a senior at Germantown. He set school records for batting average, home runs and runs.