Mainieri Hits Home Run With New Pitching Coach

Notre Dame baseball lost a great coach and a great man when pitching coach Brian O'Connor left for the head coaching job at Virginia. Paul Mainieri set his sites on finding the perfect replacement for O'Connor and it would appear he did just that. Terry Rooney has had success everywhere he has been so Irish fans should expect nothing less. Rooney has already been bitten by the Notre Dame bug and he certainly "gets" Notre Dame.

Terry Rooney will be leaving his position as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Stetson University to take the pitching coach job at Notre Dame. Most college baseball fans have heard about Stetson University and Rooney says they are a big-time program. "At Stetson, I kind of like to sum it up like when I was recruiting there as ‘it's a big-time program in a small-time atmosphere.' At the beginning of the 03 season, Baseball American had us ranked 18th in the nation. In my two years there we went to back-to-back regionals and even prior to my getting there Stetson has been in the regional finals three out of past four years."

Leaving the Stetson program was a hard decision for Rooney. "It was a difficult decision to leave the staff at Stetson. I had the opportunity to work for what most people in college baseball would say is one of the greatest coaches in the business in Pete Dunn. Coach Dunn is going into his 25th year at Stetson and has really built and solidified that program into a national contender each year. The commitment to baseball at Stetson is tremendous so it was very hard to leave there. One of the biggest reasons I chose to come to Notre Dame is the quality of student-athlete that you get to work with every day. Also, the chance to work with Coach Mainieri who I really think is one of the top coaches in the nation was also very attractive. We should have the chance to get to Omaha every year so all these factors were important in my decision."

Coaching at Notre Dame is a dream for many coaches and one that Rooney couldn't let slip by. "The name Notre Dame in all aspects, whether it be athletically, professionally, academically, the opportunity for anybody to coach at Notre Dame is hard to pass up. It's a privilege for me to be here and to be a part of it."

Rooney knows talent and he knows pitching. In the last six seasons, 10 former pitchers under Rooney's tutelage have signed professional contracts—all were undrafted out of high school. "I've been very fortunate to work with some quality arms," said Rooney. "A lot of these guys have developed and really exceeded a lot of expectations that I've had for them at my prior places. A lot of these guys were not heralded guys coming out of high school and a lot of them were. Just because a guys aren't drafted doesn't mean a whole lot. They all worked very hard to get there and now they're finding success at a higher level."

Pitching philosophy is something Rooney is always getting asked about. Rooney says his philosophy is simple. "My pitching philosophy is really black and white and really simple. We really focus on the things that we can control. You want to have guys who are power guys—high velocity guys. You want a handful of guys who are ‘pitch-ability' guys whose velocity is just average but have ‘pitch-ability.' I really think that no matter what your size, velocity or athletic ability is you have the ability to be mechanically sound. Once this season starts, every guy should be mechanically sound. We'll work on getting everyone mechanically sound before the season."

"The biggest thing I try to do is to make sure we maintain a pitcher's existing strengths and to improve upon their weaknesses," said Rooney. "We'll also focus on working to an advantage count, 0-2, 0-1, 1-2, working on first-pitch strike percentages. Trying to have a goal of 70-75 percent first-pitch strike percentage and throwing two out of your first three pitches for strikes. If you can do that then you are obviously at an advantage. That's kind of the nuts and bolts of it."

Rooney is excited about working with the wealth of talent that the Irish have on the mound. "There's no question that this coming season the Notre Dame pitching staff has quite a core nucleus of returning pitchers and you combine that with the incoming freshmen and it's an exciting opportunity. There is a lot of talent here already and that was attractive to me but I'm also excited to work with the players that will be coming here in the future."

When on the recruiting trail, Rooney is very effective. Four of his team's recruiting classes have been nationally ranked and the current incoming class at Stetson should also be highly ranked. Rooney explained what he looks for in a pitcher. "You want a guy who pounds the strike zone. Guys that are able to come in and pitch right away are guys that are athletic and can throw a second pitch for a strike. They are able to throw some off-speed pitch for a strike. I look for guys who are around the zone consistently and pitches offensively, not defensively. A lot of times you want the ball put into play in three or four pitches. 10-pitch innings are what we strive for and when you can do that your starters go deep into the game."

Rooney thinks that recruiting for the Irish is an easy sell. "At Notre Dame you are able to recruit that package kid that's not only that high end guy from a talent standpoint but also is serious about his education and serious about getting that degree. It's a win-win situation because you're able to get that high profile guy from a talent and a baseball standpoint but you are also getting an outstanding student who will want to finish his education and get his degree."

Rooney also says that recruiting at a northern school will not be a negative or more difficult for him. "I look at it as a positive. Yes, Notre Dame is a northern school but you have to look at the quality of person that you are going to be recruiting at Notre Dame. You're getting the upper echelon kid as far as academics and baseball. Weather is a factor in some kid's decision but it's a very minor factor in their decision-making process. You're going to school to get an education and Notre Dame kids know that and you're going to a team that should be in a great position to get to Omaha every single year. I don't see that as a negative at all."

Notre Dame sells itself according to Rooney and he says the Irish should have excellent teams in the future. "Notre Dame offers one of the best packages as far academics and baseball. Not only a top 20 baseball program that has gone to Omaha and is on the verge of going to Omaha again but also one of the highest regarded academic universities in the country. For kids that are looking for that balance of academics and athletics, Notre Dame is the perfect fit."

Coaching is all about building relationship according to Rooney and he says the Irish are getting a coach who is going to work his tail off and build solid relationships with his players. "One of the things that I think is a big strength for me personally is the relationship I've developed with players and pitchers that I've coached in the past. I really feel that guys buy into the system that I teach. If you can get guys that have trust and faith in your system, you have a chance to develop players into their maximum potential."

"They've got to buy into the system and believe in the coach," said Rooney. "I think guys will be able to see the work ethic, the time, the commitment and the devotion that I'm going to put in to making them better individually and they'll know that we're in this together. I think they'll know that after the first week."

Mainieri has hit another home run in the signing of Rooney. Rooney is very personable, likable, excitable and energetic. He's had a lot of success as both a pitching coach and on the recruiting trail. The best thing I can say about Rooney is he is a lot like Mainieri so it had to be the perfect fit.

Notre Dame Sports Information contributed to this story. Top Stories