A "New Challenge" for Mainieri

Nine NCAA Tournament appearances and a winning percentage of .714 were just a few of the accomplishments that Paul Mainieri achieved while at Notre Dame. It elevated the baseball program to the national stage. It also made Mainieri a viable candidate for higher profile jobs.

This past week, baseball power LSU came a calling and Mainieri could not resist the temptation to lead one of the top programs in the country. Mainieri was announced as the Tigers new head baseball coach at a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, ending his run with Notre Dame after 12 successful seasons in South Bend. He becomes LSU's 25th head coach. The LSU Board still has to officially ratify the contract, which athletic director Skip Bertman said was a five-year deal. Mainieri, who was a 1976 letterman winner with the Tigers baseball team, is also taking pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Terry Rooney and hitting coach Cliff Godwin with him to LSU. Nonetheless, Mainieri's choice to pursue greener pastures was not an easy one to make.

"As I weighed on this decision very strongly, I kept coming back to that at Notre Dame we loved it and it was great," Mainieri said. "We accomplished great things, went to the World Series and had a top-ranked team in the country at one time. We did a lot of good things. It's not that I thought we couldn't continue to do them.

"But I wanted a new challenge. I just felt when this opportunity came up when Skip called me and I talked to Karen at length, I kept coming back that this was a new challenge. It's something I haven't had the opportunity to do and that is to have the resources and pieces in place to become the top team in the country. Make no mistake about it: that's the goal, to return LSU to the pinnacle position in college baseball. If we don't do it, it won't be because of a lack of effort. I have all the confidence that we can do that."

Mainieri's accomplishments at Notre Dame made him the viable candidate that LSU desired in their search process. In 12 years with the Irish, he went 533-213-3 for a winning percentage of .714. The 533 victories at Notre Dame are second only to Jake Kline's 558 wins. One more solid year with the Irish and the record would have been his.

Mainieri had 11 40-win seasons. The highlight moment was a 2002 appearance in the College Baseball World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. This past season, Notre Dame won the conference regular and postseason championships to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Although Mainieri and company thought they got snubbed by being seeded third in the Kentucky regional, the Irish went two and out to end the year 45-17-1. Maybe more important than all of these: he graduated 71 out of 71 players from his program that completed their eligibility. Mainieri will follow in the footsteps of Bertman, who won five national championships during his time with the Tigers, making LSU the name in college baseball that it is today.

"I have given up the opportunity to work at Notre Dame," Mainieri said. "It's not something I did lightly. It's a wonderful place. I spent twelve years there. I have many great friends that I'm leaving behind. It's very difficult to say good bye to people. This was a long, thought out process. I leaned on my family quite extensively to come to this decision. This was a decision me and Karen (his wife) made together. We're confident it's the right decision."

The question for Notre Dame: who's next? One possible choice might be Virginia's head coach Brian O'Connor. O'Connor was an assistant under Mainieri at Notre Dame for nine seasons. He worked with the pitchers during his time and also was the recruiting coordinator. After taking the Cavalier job before the 2004 season, O'Connor led Virginia to a 44-15 mark, good enough for ACC Head Coach of the Year. This past year, the Cavaliers were 47-15 and hosted an NCAA Regional before being bounced by Evansville.

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