Hill focused on Cowboys, not potential suitors
Jim Gazzolo, Special to the American Press
Justin Hill doesn’t expect his phone to ring, at least not from LSU, but if it does he would take the call.
The McNeese State head baseball coach seems like a long shot for the opening at the powerhouse program he once played at, but that is nothing new to him.
Hill’s team just finished winning its second straight Southland Conference tournament championship from the seventh seed, earning a trip back to the NCAA national playoffs. The Cowboys will find out their destination today during the selection show set for 11 a.m. on ESPN2. The team is holding a watch party at BeauxDine’s on Ryan Street. The public is invited.
“I am happy in Lake Charles,” Hill said while ironically in Baton Rouge with his team at lunch Sunday. The Cowboys were returning home from Hammond, where they had won the league championship the night before with a thrilling 2-1 victory over Sam Houston State.
As he crossed the bridge over the Mississippi River, Hill could turn back and see Tiger Stadium in his rear. And his future?
“I am at a place at McNeese where if this is the last job I ever have I am very happy with that,” said Hill. “That (LSU) is so far out of my thought process right now. I have to get ready for the regional, still fix my house, rebuild our facilities. I have a lot of work to do in Lake Charles ahead of me.”
Still, Hill has ties to LSU, having pitched there under legendary head coach Skip Bertman and helping the Tigers win regional titles in 2001 and 2002. He has stayed close to the program since and even got a congratulatory phone call from Bertman himself Sunday morning.
“Would I take a phone call from LSU, of course you take that phone call,” said Hill. “I don’t anticipate that phone call happening but it would be an honor to have somebody think of me in that way.”
While LSU is likely to try for a big name to replace Paul Mainieri, who is leaving at the end of this season after 15 years and one national title, Hill’s resume is solid. He has posted a 232-192 record in his eight seasons as the Cowboys’ skipper and has won half of the program’s four SLC titles. He is just 12 victories shy of the late Tony Robichaux’s McNeese record win total of 244.
“LSU is one of the best, if not the best, baseball jobs in America,” said Hill. “You have to respect what they have done and I was lucky to have been a part of it.
“Who knows, anything can happen, but that fan base is going to want to win the press conference and likely want a big name. I understand that. I am not finished at McNeese.”
Hill has built a nice program at McNeese, getting stadium and facility improvements over the years as part of his master plan and helping to secure donations for the projects. With the damage done by two hurricanes and the recent historic flood, he is starting over in many ways.
“We do have a lot of work to get back up and running fully,” said Hill, who vowed last fall, despite the devastation that the team would play on campus at Joe Miller Ballpark this year.
“It was important to us, to the school and the community that we play at our home,” Hill said.
Hill could be in line for a new deal from McNeese. Just last week softball coach James Landreneau was given a three-year contact extension with an option for a fourth after he led the Cowgirls to a Southland tourney crown and the LSU Regional, which they finished 1-2 at.
“Justin has done a great job with this team and through this tough, tough year,” said Athletic Director Heath Schroyer. “He has been a real asset to our school and our community. We are proud of him and will see what happens.
“He certainly deserves what he gets.”
Truth is, LSU is likely to go with the biggest name out there. Reports have ranged from the Tigers being interested is either former McNeese head coach and current Ole Miss manager Mike Bianco to Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan.
With deep pockets LSU is likely to get whomever it wants.
As for Hill’s phone, it’s going to keep ringing from folks congratulating him and his team — for now.
Justin Hill congratulates Nate Fisbeck after scoring during the final game of their 4 game series at Cowboy Diamond in Lake Charles, La., Sunday, Feb.16, 2020. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)