By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
After being an assistant with Baylor baseball for nearly two decades, new head coach Mitch Thompson waited his turn and will now take the reins of the program. A true Baylor Bear at heart, Thompson was teary-eyed and grateful Thursday morning at the Baylor Club as part of his introductory press conference.
“Wow, God is good, and His timing is perfect,” Thompson said. “I’m so honored and humbled to be here … I’m so honored to be the new head baseball coach at Baylor University.”
Thursday’s event follows Thompson’s hiring, which was announced on June 15 following the resignation of Steve Rodriguez, who led the Bears for the last seven seasons. Thompson is the 20th head baseball coach in program history and brings more than 30 years of coaching experience into the 2023 season.
From Rodriguez’s departure on March 30, the search for a skipper lasted about 16 days. Vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics Mack Rhoades found their guy just down the road.
Although Thompson spent 18 years under former head coach Steve Smith, in 2014 he took over Waco’s own McLennan Community College and transformed it into one of the nation’s top junior college programs. In his last two years at MCC, he made the JUCO World Series and is coming off a 2021 national championship.
“[After] 23 years as a division one assistant coach, I thought I was ready to be a division one head coach, and I think I was,” Thompson said. “But I can promise you that I’m more ready now than I was before then. Those nine years have been invaluable.”
As part of the decision-making process, Rhoades said it was a “nationally coveted” job with a “really deep pool of candidates.” In the midst of that, he said Thompson earned the job by being “the best of the best.”
“Baylor baseball means something nationally — that came out resounding,” Rhoades said. “It is highly regarded nationally, well respected nationally, and because of that, we had a really deep pool of candidates. Mitch Thompson wasn’t given this job; he earned it. He was the best of the best.”
During his previous tenure at Baylor, Thompson helped lead the Bears to three Big 12 conference titles, 12 NCAA Regional appearances, three Super Regional appearances and the 2005 College World Series. In his MCC tutelage, Thompson compiled a 372-138-1 (.728) record with postseason appearances each year.
Even with such a strong resume, the highly respected coach said he knows he has big shoes to fill at Baylor University, since the program tends to keep coaches around for long stretches of time.
“To follow in the steps of the great coaches that have been here before, it gives me pause,” Thompson said. “It makes me take a deep breath and realize the shoes that I’m standing in. To realize that I’m only the fifth head coach at this great school in the last 61 years tells me that if I do it right, I can be here a long time.”
It feels like Thompson is a puzzle-piece fit for the program and that it was an easy decision, but Rhoades stressed the process just as he had with other coaches in recent memory. There were a few things that stood out to the Sports Business Journal’s 2021 Athletics Director of the Year.
“His commitment to getting better at his craft really connected with me,” Rhoades said. “His track record of success was really important for us as well.”
Rhoades brought up Thompson’s recent JUCO World Series success as proof of that track record. Regarding winning championships, Rhoades said, “he’s done it before, he knows how to do it and he’ll do it again.”
Thompson has some work to do with his group, as the team finished an abysmal 2022 campaign without an NCAA tournament appearance yet again. He said that one of his first orders of business is to put together a staff and that some of those decisions will be announced “in the next several days.”
Thompson said that he knows he will have to fill out his roster and that he will get on the phone with plenty of JUCO coaches to help do so. The new coach spent a year prior to his MCC tenure as the South Texas area scouting supervisor for the Kansas City Royals organization. During that time, he drafted the first-, third-, ninth-, 13th- and 20th-round picks for Kansas City, two of which have advanced to play in the big leagues.
It’s safe to say he knows how to recruit and has a big name in the state of Texas.
It’s a new era for Thompson and Baylor baseball alike, but it’s one he embraces and is ready for. Through a “together” mentality, he is confident the Baylor family can turn the program around.
“We’re going to build this thing back into a national power,” Thompson said. “We’re going to do it together. I need you to fill the stands. I need you to buy tickets. I need you to create that home field advantage. And together, if God be willing, we’re going to take this place back to Omaha and we’re going to compete to win the whole dadgum thing.”