One Last Goodbye

Paul Mainieri looked exactly the way he described himself: "an emotional wreck." Mainieri, who took the baseball head coaching job at LSU earlier this week, was back on the Notre Dame campus Friday afternoon and took some time to answer questions from the assembled media. He also was saying goodbye to the people who have crossed his path the past 12 years in South Bend.

"You hate to say goodbye to people," an emotional Mainieri said. "It's hard. It's been a tough day for me. I'll be honest. Karen and I went to Baton Rogue with an open mind about things. We were 50-50. When it came time to make a decision, this is what I wanted to do. It was exciting and I've never been more confident that this is the right thing to do for us. We're exited about a new chapter in our lives."

What's hard will be replacing a head coach at Notre Dame with the kind of success Mainieri has been able to achieve. Multiple Big East championships coupled with nine NCAA Tournament appearances made the Irish a contender on the national stage. The highlight on the field was the trip to the 2002 World Series. Off the field, Mainieri graduated all 71 players who completed their eligibility. Former Notre Dame assistant Brian O'Connor, now the head coach at Virginia, recently said he would be staying put with the Cavaliers. Mainieri believes that the Irish will find the right guy.

"I have all the confidence in the world that (athletic director) Kevin White is going to make a great decision in finding a replacement for me," Mainieri said. "I want to help in that process. All he has to do is ask for my help and he already has. I've given input on people I know and who I think would be great fits.

"Notre Dame is a special place and a unique place. I think it takes a unique person to coach here. You have to really believe in the place and in the kids that you're coaching. I know that there are great coaches out there. I'm not indispensable. I feel that they're going to go out and find a coach who is even better than me. I think what's important is that when the new coach comes in, give him a break and give him time. Don't compare him to me. He's going to be different than me."

Mainieri said he's got some big shoes to fill. He'll be taking over for Skip Bertman, who won five national championships while leading the Tigers baseball team. Bertman is the athletics director at LSU and thought highly enough of the Irish manager to offer him the head coaching position. The choice was a tough one, Mainieri admits. But he feels the right one was made.

"When you make a decision, you always try to put things of both sides of the page," Mainieri said. "You have the positives and negatives. The lengths of positives were so long for both sides that you really couldn't distinguish. I didn't look at it that way. I knew I couldn't make a bad decision. I was either getting back on a plane and come back to Notre Dame for the rest of my life or I was going to take on a new challenge at LSU and be a coach of a program where college baseball is such an important fabric of the community.

"What ultimately made the decision for me was that I didn't want any regrets. I thought if I walked away from this opportunity, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I tell our players all the time not to hold back and don't be afraid to lose. Play to win, let it rip and take chances. Then you can live your life and not look back and regret anything. I thought maybe it was time to heed my own advice there."

The next chapter for Notre Dame baseball begins now. For Mainieri, he has no second thoughts about his time with the Irish and was proud of the team accomplishments.

"I really don't have any regrets about my time at Notre Dame," Mainieri said. "I feel like everyday we came to work and did the best we could. I feel like I treated the kids the right way. I loved working here for 12 years. It was a joy to wake up and come to work. When you give it all you got, you don't have any regrets. I don't think there was anything more we could have achieved. Statistically, the championships will always stand out. But the thing you remember most is the people."


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