Sunday, May 10, 2009

Was John Pawlowski the Right Choice?

 

Looking back at the season, one question Auburn fans kept wondering aloud was if CJP was the right choice? Should we have fired Tom Slater? etc.

Honestly, its a question fans shouldn’t be asking. Fans that do ask it, honestly, don’t realize the gift we got when CJP agreed to come to Auburn. Here are the reasons CJP should remain as Auburn’s skipper, and why the questions/rumbles/whatever should die down.

1. The Recruiter/Developer

It bears repeating, but this fact should never be overlooked by Auburn fans:

While an assistant at Clemson, Pawlowski's staff led the country in earned run average in 1996 with a staff that featured the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks in the MLB draft that year in Kris Benson and Billy Koch. In his five years at Clemson, the Tigers had 15 pitchers drafted, while the recruiting classes ranked in the top 10 nationally each year.

1996 would be CJP’s third year at Clemson. His third as recruiting coordinator and pitching coach. With players he was able to recruit, or was able to finally mold and coach to his skill level.

1996 is the first year I would start judging the talent that CJP was able to bring in. 96, 97, 98, 99, 2000. That’s the years you should look at and just see the talent that CJP was able to bring to Clemson.

From 1996 to 2000; Clemson had 20 players drafted. 13 of whom were pitchers. He’s also responsible for one of the best drafted duos to be drafted:

Kris Benson and Billy Koch from Clemson University were selected first and fourth overall in the 1996 draft, marking the first time since 1978 and only the second time in history that two players from the same school were drafted in the top four selections. Benson - Baseball America's College Player of the Year and a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team - was chosen by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who made just their second number one pick ever, and Koch was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays.

It didn’t stop at Clemson either. In his 8 years at the College of Charleston, Pawlowski had 22 players drafted (13 Pitchers). Previously, CofC only had 3 players EVER drafted. 3 Players EVER to 22 over an 8 year era. It should also be noted that it wasn’t until 2003 (again, that would be CJP’s 3rd year at his school) that these players began to be drafted.

2. It’s year one.

Let me repeat that. Year ONE. Can we at least give the man the three years he’s due?

It took 3 years to legitimately turn CofC around (5 to make them contenders).

If I could editorialize a bit: The main problem fans have with CJP is probably because, deep down, they want another reason to hate Jay Jacobs. I’ve seen calls of incompetence and ridiculous follow most of Jacobs decisions when it comes to the Auburn football team. But in this case, this BASEBALL, case, he was spot on.

Please quit using the frustrations from the Auburn FOOTBALL coach search to impact your view or feelings of the BASEBALL coach.

3. It’s A Change in Philosophy

It’s a change in 2 ways.

First, it’s a change in offensive philosophy. Here’s quote from Tom Slater when he was first hired:

"I'm a very aggressive coach. I ran the offense at Florida last year. We will do a lot of hitting and running, stealing bases and moving the runners along. We also hit some home runs at Florida. We're going to be an aggressive offensive team. Our players will play with a lot of emotion and aggression."

And from CJP:

`What is an Auburn team going to look like? We're going to be blue-collar, hard-nosed, tough kids who are going to play hard to the final out,'' Pawlowski said. ``They're going to go to class; they're going to get an education, which is going to far and beyond the playing fields.''

And earlier in the season, when previewing the road ahead:

I think we are going to have to be a team that will create and manufacture runs. We will not be able to just sit there and hit the ball out of the ballpark. As much as we would like that to be our style and our plan, this league is so tough and we are going to have to get guys on and move them over. The biggest thing offensively is we are going to have to understand what the role is. I tell guys all the time, our offense is based on leaving your ego at the bat rack, going to the plate and doing whatever you can to move guys up, move guys over and get guys in and we are going to have to be a very unselfish offensive club,” Pawlowski said.

Spooky huh? CJP knew, going in, that the team would need to resort to small ball to stay competitive. Not doing that would set Auburn up for failure (and of course, Auburn couldn’t > resorted to the old “Slammin’ Slater” ways > Fizzled down the stretch).

That “aggressive style” that Slater was so fond of? Well it didn’t do Auburn so well. Auburn was a team that whiffed all the time under Slater (breaking school records in 04 and 05) and CJP was left with that same mentality (and another record breaking year in team strikeouts).

In baseball terms? Auburn was going from the AL to the NL. To a Minnesota Twins/LA Angels mentality from a New York Yankees mindset. Small ball. Stretching games. Forcing opponents mistakes. That’s what CJP wanted. However, that took patience, not something Tom Slater taught his players.

The second change in mindset and one that most people don’t recognize: CJP isn’t an Auburn guy and that’s a good thing. Tom Slater? Auburn guy. Steve Renfroe? Auburn guy. Both came in to mixed results but ultimately failure. CJP comes in with fresh eyes and a fresh outlook. Something that was needed when he was hired.

4. It could pay off big.

CJP was almost the skipper before Slater. But instead, Ed Richardson went with Tom Slater. CJP didn’t have any hard feelings (“The Timing Wasn’t Right”, he said afterwards).

But, and again, I’m editorializing a bit: I personally see the makings of a great coach in CJP. A coach that could very well be our own Nix of Baird.

He loves the team. He loves the community. He knows the area. I could go on and on.

But the biggest, is something I noticed on my first weekend watching games: The mentality is different. The mindset is different. it’s positive, it’s proactive. The player were having fun. CJP was sticking up for his players, getting in Umpire’s faces.

This season I witnessed Auburn struggle. One thing I didn’t witness? The team giving up.

My biggest gripe with Tom Slater was this: Pitch in and Pitch out. Questionable call or close play. It didn’t matter. He was glued to the damn bucket in the dugout. Unmoving. Unflinching. Like a Baseball Robot. He was rarely EVER out, arguing, getting a little fire into his team. He was always glued to the damn bucket.

CJP? Nothing like that. Constantly moving. Constantly coaching and directing. Choosing plays. Working matchups. Questionable call? He was sprinting out the dugout.

It was night and day.

It’s time to stop wanting CJP gone. It’s time to start realizing what we actually have in a head coach. 

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