DEVILLE: Change in the air for LSU Baseball

As we began production on this year's Tiger Rag Baseball Preview, I reached into my desk drawer and opened last season's preseason guide.

There on the cover were pictures of Smoke Laval and Yvette Girouard.


As I opened the book to my editorial from a year ago, it made for some interesting reading. I prefaced the article by talking about the success of the Tiger football team, the current state of LSU basketball then spelled out the fact that grand achievements by some sports can greatly affect the focus on others.


Basically, I said with the current all-around success of the LSU athletic department, Laval was in deep trouble.


And I was right.


After Les Miles and the football Tigers posted an 11-2 season in 2005, the pressure began to build on Laval. Then John Brady's Tiger basketball team won the SEC and made a run to the Final Four – and so did Pokey Chatman's Lady Tigers. As the hoops season wound down, the focus turned to LSU Baseball.


And things weren't good.


It was bad enough LSU failed to reach a super regional the previous year being beaten on its homefield by Rice in the sub-regional. But Laval's 2006 team trumped its failures from 2005.


Lacking the power to overwhelm teams with the long ball, the 2006 Tigers were without consistent pitching and weren't fundamentally talented enough to even outplay teams either. Double-digit defeats in SEC play became commonplace and when Ole Miss drilled LSU 12-1 in the SEC Tournament and Alabama bounced the Tigers from the league tourney with an 8-3 loss, things looked grim for Laval.


But nobody expected what happened next.


When the postseason pairings came out three days later, the Tigers were excluded from the field of 64. For the first time since 1988, LSU, the team once dubbed "Program of the Decade" in the 1990s, had slid into mediocrity. Laval sat stunned in the first base dugout of Alex Box Stadium after the announcement as he answered questions about his future.

Some thought he wouldn't get the axe, others were sure of it.


One week later to the day, former LSU coach turned athletic director Skip Bertman relieved Laval of his duties as the head coach of the Tigers.


After five seasons, Laval had compiled a 210-109-1 record, won the 2003 SEC title and made back-to-back trips to the College World Series in 2003 and 2004. But in the end, it wasn't good enough. The team began to regress in 2005 and by the end of the 2006, it was apparent a change needed to be made.


Following a national search that lasted over three weeks, Bertman got his guy. Going outside of his coaching tree as well as outside of the SEC, Bertman tabbed Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri as Laval's successor.


A former player at LSU and UNO in the mid 1970s, Mainieri experienced great success in South Bend and was viewed as a superb choice to succeed Laval as the coach of LSU's pressure cooker program.


Mainieri was introduced as LSU's new coach and has spent the last six-plus months preparing himself, his team and the fans for a new era of Tiger baseball.


While it may take a few years for Mainieri to get the program back among the elite teams in the nation, the 49-year-old Florida native has taken the necessary steps to ensure a solid foundation. Introducing a stringent conditioning program last fall, Mainieri got back to basics with his young team and spent most of fall camp teaching.


As the Tigers close out the final year in old Alex Box Stadium, view it as the beginning of a new age in Tiger baseball, an era that should return LSU baseball to its storied past.




Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag. Reach him at

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