Mainieri retires, walks off after 15 years, one national title

Scooter Hobbs

In the end, coaching had become a pain in the neck for LSU’s Paul Mainieri.

Then the neck pain started morphing into headaches.

So, although college baseball’s winningest active coach said health wasn’t the only factor, Mainieri announced Friday that he was retiring as the Tigers’ head coach at the end of 15 seasons, five College World Series appearances, one national championship and another appearance in the title game.

It was an emotional news conference as Mainieri paused numerous times to compose himself.

“The decision was mine and it was not easy,” Mainieri said. “The game I love and the life I’ve lived have been intertwined since birth.”

The 63-year-old Mainieri will coach the remainder of the season — if the on-the-bubble Tigers get a bid to the NCAA Tournament to extend the season.

Mainieri said he had been thinking about stepping down for a couple of months — “It wasn’t a snap decision” — but he did not come to final determination until returning home from the Southeastern Conference Tournament without a win for the first time in his career.

Mainieri had his second neck surgery in less than a year last November and said he’d suffered from headaches during this season.

“Terrible neck pain, really, for about three years now,” he said. “I have not really felt well.”

Both surgeries, one performed by a former Notre Dame player of his, helped to a degree, he said. “But I haven’t really felt like myself for a couple of years now.

“I think it’s affected the way I’ve been able to coach. As a coach, one of my greatest strengths has been to be engaged with my players, pitching batting hitting fungoes … I haven’t been able to do that.

“I don’t think I’ve been a bad coach, but I haven’t been the same coach. I don’t think I’ve been carrying my weight.”

After discussing it with it his wife Karen, on Thursday he met with LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward.

“It may be to the point the program would better served if somebody else was leading it,” he told Woodward.

“It hurt to say that because I love coaching,” he related while choking up.

He said he made the announcement now so LSU can get a jump on hiring the next coach.

With no obvious successor on staff, among the names likely to be bandied about are Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello, Texas Christian coach Schlossnagle and East Carolina coach Cliff Godwin, a former Mainieri assistant at Notre Dame and LSU.

Mainieri spent his freshman year at LSU before transferring to play for his father at Miami-Dade (Fla.) North Community College, then spent his final two years of college at New Orleans.

“I left LSU back in 1976 after my freshman season to find out how good I was as a player,” Mainieri said. “I came back to LSU in 2006 to find out how good I was as a coach. It’s only fitting that as I leave the game I love so dearly, I do so from the place I love so dearly.”

Mainieri was handpicked by Skip Bertman, who built the program with five national championships and was athletic director when in 2006 he called Mainieri, then the coach at Notre Dame.

Mainieri said there was no other place other than LSU that he would have left Notre Dame for.

“All I ever wanted to do was make Skip proud,” he said.

“I hired Paul, and I’m very proud of that,” said Bertman, who was at Friday’s announcement and asked to say a few words. “I’m very proud of Paul Mainieri and what he’s done here.”

Mainieri said Woodward has asked him to stay on with the athletic department in some capacity.

“I’m not sure what they have in mind, but whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it,” he said.

Mainieri won the 2009 national championship in a three-game series with Texas and played for another before losing to Florida in 2017.

It might have been his only regret with the Tigers.

“It kills me that we didn’t win another championship,” he said. “Skip made it look easy, but I’m telling you it’s hard to win national championships. I found that out the hard way.

“We just couldn’t beat Florida those last two games.”

Mainieri, who was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2014, retires as the winningest active coach in college baseball and one of only five alltime to win 1,500 games and a national championship — the others were Augie Garrido (Cal State Fullerton and Texas), Gene Stephenson (Wichita State), Jim Morris (Miami) and Mark Marquess (Stanford).

He got his 1,500th career win last weekend at Texas A&M and will find out Monday when the NCAA Tournament field is announced if he will get a chance to add to the career record of 1,501-774-8.

At LSU he produced 13 first-team all-Americans and has sent 20 of his players to the major leagues, most notably allstars D.J. LeMahieu, Alex Bregman and Aaron Nola.

But, as Bertman said, “It’s isn’t just measured in national championships, that’s kind of silly. It’s measured in the young men and how they do.”

“He is a hall of fame coach, but the impact he had on so many young lives will be his lasting legacy,” former Tigers infielder Kramer Robertson, the son of new women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey, said via social media. “I hope that LSU makes sure that nobody wears the #1 jersey again.”

””

FILE: LSU coach Paul Mainieri talks to an acquaintance in the stands following team practice in Omaha, Neb., in 2017.

Associated Press

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