Dax Norris enters his ninth season as assistant coach at The University of Alabama in 2016. Norris made his mark with Alabama baseball early on, earning All-America honors as a catcher for the Crimson Tide from 1995-96 under head coach Jim Wells and then-assistant coach Mitch Gaspard. He currently works with the pitchers while coordinating the Tide’s recruiting efforts each season.
Norris, who was a hard-nosed player and one of the cornerstones of Alabama’s baseball revival in the 1990s, has brought that same work ethic and intensity to the Crimson Tide coaching staff over the past eight seasons. He began his coaching career at the Capstone as the hitting instructor from 2008-10, before transitioning to work with the pitching staff and tutoring the catchers beginning in the 2011 season. Norris also handles a number of recruiting responsibilities for the program.
During his 11-year professional baseball career, Norris played for the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros organizations before joining the coaching ranks in 2007. In his time with the two MLB organizations, he was associated with some of the best pitching minds in the game. With the Braves, he worked with legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone and Hall of Fame pitchers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, then later with Houston pitcher Andy Pettitte.
Despite spending the entire 2015 season on the road, his pitching staff maintained a consistency that has become the norm since Norris took over pitching coach responsibilities. Last year’s staff collected 479 strikeouts, the team’s highest output since 2010, and limited opposing hitters to a lowly .255 average against. Two of his pitchers went on to the professional ranks as selections in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, including Taylor Guilbeau (10th round, Washington Nationals) and Will Carter (14th round, New York Yankees).
His 2014 staff was highlighted by standout freshman closer Thomas Burrows and two MLB draft picks in Spencer Turnbull and Justin Kamplain. Burrows earned All-SEC and All-America honors on his way to recording a team-high 11 saves, one short of the UA freshman record. The lefty owned a 2.15 ERA across 37.2 innings and struck out 48 batters. Alabama had two of its pitchers drafted at the close of the 2014 campaign, including Spencer Turnbull going in the second round to the Detroit Tigers and Justin Kamplain joining the New York Yankees in the 18th round of the draft. Both were standouts on the 2014 team, working a combined 183.1 innings across 30 starts while striking out 130 in that time and claiming 12 victories.
2014 also featured a historical pitching performance when three Tide pitchers combined to throw the school’s first nine-inning no-hitter since 1942. On March 8, the Alabama trio of Kamplain, Jay Shaw and Geoffrey Bramblett combined for the eighth no-hitter in school history, as the Crimson Tide took down Mississippi Valley State, 7-0.
With Norris and fellow Alabama All-American Andy Phillips directing much of the player recruitment, UA entered the 2013 season with one of the top incoming classes in college baseball. The 11 signees who came to the Capstone for that 2013 season were rated fourth by Baseball America and No. 16 by Collegiate Baseball.
Norris was instrumental in the development of a young pitching staff in 2013, highlighted by the success of freshman right-hander Ray Castillo. The Crimson Tide’s first-year closer recorded 12 saves, the highest total for a freshman in Alabama history and the third-best mark in the program’s single-season history. Castillo earned three postseason awards, including Louisville Slugger First Team Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball News, NCBWA Second Team Freshman All-American and SEC All-Freshman Team honors.
Norris was also instrumental to developing the talents of walk-on freshman Mike Oczypok, who matched Tucker Hawley for the Tide’s best record (5-2) in 2013. Hawley, who returned from Tommy John surgery in 2012, fought back from injury to boast the lowest ERA on the Alabama pitching staff. The Alabama bullpen converted 21-of-24 save opportunities in 2013, to post the second most team saves in a season in program history. The Tide finished the 2013 season with a 3.70 earned run average and allowed only 8.55 hits per nine innings.
Following the 2011 campaign, Tide pitchers Adam Morgan and Nathan Kilcrease and catcher Brock Bennett were selected in the 2011 MLB Draft. Morgan, a junior in 2011, was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies, while Kilcrease went in the 30th round to the Oakland A’s and Bennett in the 33rd-round to the San Francisco Giants. After the 2012 season, reliever Ian Gardeck was selected in the 16th round by the San Francisco Giants.
Norris’ return to Tuscaloosa in 2009 paid immediate dividends, as the Crimson Tide was one of the top offensive units in the country that year. The Tide ranked in the top 25 nationally in nine offensive categories, including slugging percentage (7th, .566), home runs (8th, 107), doubles (12th, 142), runs scored (18th, 509), batting average (22nd, .330), doubles per game (23rd, 2.35) and total hits (25th, 689). Following the 2009 season, Norris, along with Gaspard, were named the SEC assistant coaches of the year by SEBaseball.com.
Norris also tutored Kent Matthes, the 2009 SEC Player of the Year, who led the nation with a school record 28 home runs. Matthes, a fourth-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies, hit .358 with 28 home runs and 81 RBI in 2009. That season, Matthes ranked second nationally in home runs per game (0.50), third in slugging percentage (.858), sixth in RBI per game (1.45), 11th in RBI (81) and 12th in total bases (175). A finalist for several national awards, Matthes was named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association District III Player of the Year.
Norris earlier worked with 2008 All-SEC performers Alex Avila and Brandon May. Avila hit .343 with 17 home runs and 62 RBI as a junior and was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 MLB Draft, making his Major League debut with the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 6, 2009. He became the first Alabama player under Norris’ tutelage to reach the big leagues, and has since won a World Series as well as being named to the All-Star team and the Silver Slugger for the catcher position in 2011. May, a 36th round draft pick in 2009 by the Chicago Cubs, hit .347 with 12 home runs and 69 RBI and led the SEC with 39 RBI in 30 league games. In 2008, May hit .365 with five home runs and 50 RBI. Vin DiFazio was a 12th-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers following the 2009 season.
Prior to his return to Alabama, Norris began his coaching career at Niceville (Fla.) High School, where he spent the 2007 season working under former Tide assistant coach Kevin Berry. Norris worked with the Niceville hitters and catchers and one of his star pupils was eventual Alabama pitcher Jimmy Nelson, who earned all-state honors in high school. Following his junior season at Alabama, Nelson was a second-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 and made his debut with the Brewers in 2014. Nelson has improved each season with the Brewers, earning himself the role of the team’s No. 1 starter this past season.
Norris played 11 seasons with the Braves and Astros organizations, reaching the Triple-A level with both clubs and was voted to the 2002 Triple-A All-Star team as a member of the Richmond Braves. He played in 846 career minor league games and batted .265 with 73 home runs, 421 RBI and 771 total hits. He had a career-high 122 hits and 72 RBI for the Greenville (S.C.) Braves (Class AA, Southern League) in 2000 and smacked a career-high 15 home runs in Greenville in 1999. During the offseason, Norris played in the Venezuelan and Dominican winter leagues and also ran his own hitting school.
A 23rd-round draft pick by the Braves in 1996, Norris had been a two-year starter for the Tide. He batted .283 (72-254) as a junior in 1995 with three home runs and 34 RBI in 63 starts. Norris was named to the 1995 NCAA East Regional all-tournament team, after batting .316 (6-19) with two runs scored and five RBI.
Norris was elected team captain on the Tide’s 1996 SEC championship team that finished with a then-school record 50 wins. Alabama also captured the 1996 SEC Tournament championship and hosted an NCAA Regional for the first time in program history. Norris led the Tide to its first College World Series appearance since 1983 during his senior year. He batted .370 (105-284) with seven home runs and 49 RBI, en route to being named a 1996 first team All-American by the Super Smith Team. Norris also was a first team All-SEC honoree and American Baseball Coaches Association All-South Region pick.
Following his professional career, Norris completed his bachelor’s degree in human environmental science in 2007. A native of LaGrange, Ga., Norris was born Jan. 14, 1973. He is married to the former Rene’ Simpkins. The couple welcomed their first child, son Colton Dax Norris, in September of 2010.