By Josh Vitale | AU Writer
Former Birmingham-Southern assistants Thompson, Bragga reunite on opposite sides of NCAA Regional
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Matt Bragga has won 393 games over 14 seasons coaching at Tennessee Tech. One of the biggest of those victories came Friday night, when his Golden Eagles upset top-seed Florida State 3-1 to advance into the winner's bracket of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional.
That win, coupled with Auburn's 7-4 victory over UCF, sets up a meeting between the Golden Eagles and Tigers on Saturday at 6 p.m. central time at Dick Howser Stadium.
It also brings together two coaches and two longtime friends who hold a special place in each other's careers.
Bragga first met Butch Thompson in 1997, when he was a 27-year-old head coach at Bevill State Community College in Sumiton. Back then, Auburn's second-year head coach was in his first and only year at Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham.
"They won the doggone state title, they went to the JUCO World Series," Bragga said of that Jefferson State team. "That's how good the guy is."
The two coaches got to know each other during that season. After it was over, Thompson returned to Birmingham-Southern College, where he spent his playing career and three of the earliest years of his coaching career from 1994-96. Bragga spent two more seasons at Bevill, amassing a 79-39 record.
Thompson, still an assistant at Birmingham-Southern at the time, kept tabs. And when a spot opened on coach Brian Shoop's staff after the 2000 season, he suggested Bragga.
"If it hadn't been for Butch Thompson, I never would have ended up at Birmingham-Southern working with him," Bragga said. "He really got my foot in the door, and I'm grateful for him for helping me with that."
Bragga and Thompson only spent one season together on the same staff. Thompson left after the 2001 season and made stops at Georgia, Auburn and Mississippi State as an assistant before coming back to the Plains as the head coach in 2015. Bragga left Birmingham-Southern prior to the 2003 season and has been at Tennessee Tech ever since.
But the two look back on that time fondly. At a pre-Regional press conference inside Dick Howser Stadium on Thursday, the two coaching veterans laughed at memories of themselves hauling clay onto Striplin Field and sitting in the dugout afterwards caked in dirt.
"Butch Thompson is one of my favorite guys in all of college baseball, if not my favorite," Bragga said. "What a joy Butch Thompson is. I love the man."