The older parent, in theory, reminds the younger that kids grow up in the blink of an eye and to cherish every second. One day a child is playing whiffle ball in the front yard and, in short order, comes an emotional dorm-room drop-off as the once-infant child moves away to college to begin the first chapter of their adult life.
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco is no different. Time moves quickly in his world, too. He’s been at Ole Miss 17 years now, and if you asked him he’d probably tell you time has flown both on and off the field.
This past weekend was his last trip to his alma mater, LSU, without his third son, Drew, being in the opposing dugout. Drew is the third of five kids, and it wasn’t that long ago that he and his three brothers were playing baseball in the front yard of his Wedgewood Drive home with Mike umpiring behind them.
“We used to have some pretty competitive games around the house,” Drew Bianco said. “We get into it, and it’s scrappy. But at the end of the day, we’re all brothers and we love each other.”
Drew and his older brother, Ben, a senior at Oxford High School and a Louisville commitment, have put Mike on the other side of his profession, in a way, with their recruitment to Division-I programs.
“It was certainly a different perspective for my wife and I,” Bianco said. “Usually you’re trying to convince them to come here. I think it was just different. Parts of the recruiting process for Ben and him we get because this is what I do.”
The recruiting process is heightened that much more for the Bianco boys, considering their dad is the longest-tenured head coach at one of the most consistent programs in the SEC.
But Drew and Ben won’t be playing Division-I college baseball for their dad. Doing so would only splash in more complicated elements than the average college career. So the Biancos approached recruiting as the typical, every-day recruit would. And there’s a lot of thinking and planning that goes on when choosing where to go to school.
“I think a lot of times as recruiters we cloud the mind, unfortunately, of the recruit,” Mike said. “If you can just sit back for a second, take a lot of the fluff out of it and decide: Where do I want to to go? What am I looking for in a school?”
A lot could be said about Mike Bianco. One, of course, is he’s a thinker. It’s evident from the way he sets his lineup to his strategic moves in the late innings of games. He’s thinking ahead. A delicate situation as it pertains to the recruitment of his boys was no different.
He and his wife, Cammie, talked about it when they first arrived in Oxford. They weighed the pros and cons and decided long before the recruiting process began their kids needed to spread their wings.
“If we’re ever so fortunate that one of the boys would be good enough to play here at Ole Miss, would that be a good thing? It was really never a doubt,” Mike said. “We tried to argue the point, debate it and weigh the pros and cons. But I don’t remember it ever being that we should consider this. They needed to go find their own way. They don’t need to be here.”
Mike has friends in the coaching industry who’ve had their sons play for them. Not to say it didn’t work out well, but those shared experiences gave the Biancos a better understanding as to what every-day life might be like. College coaching is a fickle business, and nothing is ever certain. Tack on a world that demands results in a bottom-line business and it just didn’t sit well with Mike.
“I think the misconception is that Drew or I couldn’t handle it,” Mike said. “It’s more about going out and enjoying an experience that they’re going to have once in their life.”
Mike and Cammie have never forced anything on any of their five kids, and while their college choice was a decision they made long ago, their children shared the same thinking.
“We love Ole Miss and we love Ole Miss baseball, but we wanted to go out and do our own thing,” Drew said. “College is where you experience everything on your own and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to get out and do our own thing and not be known as the coach’s kids, but be known as Drew Bianco, Ben Bianco and so on.”
One of Mike’s friends joked with him some time ago about the uniqueness of coaching sons.
“He said, ‘Well, heck, you couldn’t handle coaching your son,’” Mike recalled. “I said no, I could handle it and he could handle it. I’m not sure everyone else could handle it. But that’s still not the point. I don’t think it’s fair to them.”
Ben committed to play for Mike’s former assistant at Ole Miss and friend, Dan McDonell, at Louisville. There’s a sense of comfort knowing his second son is going to be in good hands.
Drew committed to rival LSU, where Mike was a beloved player for the 1989 Tigers team that went to the College World Series. Drew came to his commitment on his own, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a sense of pride in donning the same colors as his father.
“I just fell in love with it,” Drew said. “The campus was beautiful. It’s LSU baseball. It’s one of the best programs in the country, and all the past and history and everything. Of course, growing up as a kid you always want to do what your parents did.”
Drew tripped to Baton Rouge for an his official visit with Cammie. Mike had a game and couldn’t make it. Before LSU played that night, with Drew in attendance, some of Mike’s former teammates were honored on the field.
“They were all telling me how much they love my dad and how good of a person he was,” Drew said. “LSU definitely loves my dad, and loves my mom.”
A plaque honoring Mike rests on the facade of Alex Box Stadium, in close proximity to LSU head coach Paul Mainieri’s office. Mainieri even joked with Drew about saluting it earlier in the day.
It didn’t take long for Drew to realize he wanted to be a Tiger. It was close enough literally and figuratively — a manageable five-hour drive from Oxford and relatives still in the area, as well as a familiar, calming feeling of normalcy due to his dad’s history.
“People know me down there, but they aren’t going to think of me as the coach’s kid,” Drew said. “They’re going to think of me as Drew Bianco.”
Mike agreed. He encouraged his son not to commit on the spot, to take his time and think it through.
Still, Drew approached Mike a few days later saying all the right things. He officially committed to LSU, a place that’s been good to Mike and the entire Bianco family. He’s never tried to hide that. He knows he wouldn’t be at Ole Miss if not for Skip Bertman and LSU. It’s a place near and dear to him.
But it’s been 30 years since he donned the purple and gold and 20 since he was a coach. He felt comfortable with that, too.
“When I come down here it’s always great because I know people here,” Mike said. “There are people that work at LSU or at the stadium that I run into, but it’s getting less and less each time that we make a trip down here. I think when you talk about the fan base, too, it was long time ago. So I think it’s less and less.”
Mike doesn’t think of it as Drew following in his footsteps. No, he’s simply a proud dad of two sons whose hard work has paid off in the form of baseball scholarships to two top-tier programs currently ranked in the Top 10 in the country.
Mike’s love for his kids runs deep, so much so that he’s always been protective of certain things. He wants them to be themselves, follow their passions and find their own way in life. There are definite advantages to growing up around a college baseball program. Mike could pitch his kids batting practice in a $20-million-dollar facility. He had access to great equipment. They grew up around college players and locker rooms.
Drew said his dream growing up was never to play in the big leagues, but rather to get in four years of college baseball because it seemed like “the coolest thing ever.” Mike is protective because he’s aware of the weight that his career, success and last name carry.
“There are worse things in life, certainly, but there are pressure and expectations, and other kids didn’t have that,” he said.
When his oldest son, Michael, made his first youth league all-star team, a parent of one of the players suggested they go to University Sporting Goods and pay for last names to be put on the back of the jerseys. A popular idea for the majority, to be sure, but Mike had reservations.
“I said, ‘I don’t think we should do that,’” he said. “Of course all the parents wanted Simpson and Wilson and so on to go on the back. I didn’t want my kid going to down to Jackson and playing with the name on the back of the jersey.”
In that instant, a protective instinct sprung into motion, triggered by a desire to let his kids be, well, kids, and not to be burdened by the gravity of the ‘Bianco’ on the back of their uniforms.
It’s why his kids have felt comfortable leaving home and growing into themselves, knowing full well they can always come back.
Drew’s LSU commitment has, in some ways, strengthened their bond. They joke about how Mike will pitch to Drew, as well as who is going to beat who.
“That’s more me getting into his head,” Mike said. “I can’t get into Kramer Robertson’s or Antione Duplantis’ head because they’re not at my dinner table, so it’s me just planting some seeds.”
Drew can fire back, too. He had a message for his dad before he left for Baton Rouge last weekend. Ole Miss dropped two of three in the series to the Tigers.
“‘Hey, dad, you better go get a series win down there, because it isn’t happening when I get down there,’” Drew recalled. “‘This is your last chance for four years.’”
Though Mike didn’t necessarily think about it when standing in the visitor’s dugout before the series began, it was a foreshadowing of how fast time moves.
When he returns to Alex Box, Drew will be batting and, yes. it will be strange. But they’re both competitors. When the first pitch is fired, Drew will want to win. He wants to win every game he plays. Mike wants to win the series — if not sweep — just like any other SEC weekend for the last two decades.
But what if Drew does some damage to his old man’s club? Cammie is in the most difficult spot.
“I think it’s going to a tough weekend for her,” Mike said. “It’s her boy; of course she wants her boy to do well. I want my boy to do well. But it’s not a game that I’m sitting in the stands for, rooting for him. I’m going to be in the other dugout trying to win a baseball game.”
Drew has already put Cammie on the spot with hypotheticals. He asked her what happens if he hits a walk-off against dad.
“I’m going to wear all white and show no emotions,” she responded.
Family obviously comes first, and at its core this friendly rivalry will be dinner table talk during family bonding time, which has become more sparse over the years as Mike and Cammie’s kids grow up and move away.
“They’re typical teenagers and they’re going in a lot of different directions,” Mike said. “I understand that. I want them to be normal kids.”
He and Cammie try to carve out time for relaxation and family fun, whether it’s barbecuing by the pool, watching a movie, ping pong or watching the Cubs together and talking baseball. Mike cherishes each moment with his family around him, because time really does move at a rapid pace.
They bought a beach house not long ago because their jam-packed schedules don’t allow for planning ahead. It’s there for convenience, but also to serve as a reminder that they can just get in the car and go, as they did last December.
Baseball’s been a huge part of their lives, and Mike taught his kids how to love the game that’s given him so much. But he also understands that time can slip away from you and to cherish the moments as they pass, both on the field and at home.
“It’s probably the line that parents say to new parents,” Mike said. “Enjoy the time because it goes so quickly, and it really is true. I think as a parent you realize how quickly that times go. All the times are different. From toddlers to when they’re 10-12 and then they start to become teenagers.They’re all neat times and great memories, but it’s really a shame how quickly it goes.”