When Mike Bianco realized he was going to be hired as the Rebel baseball coach six years ago, he knew his first order of business was finding the right wing man for his program.
He chose Dan McDonnell, who had spent the previous eight seasons coaching at his alma mater, The Citadel, who won five conference titles during his tenure.
"Obviously, Dan was the biggest and best hire I ever made," said Bianco. "I knew that position would be significant over time because it's the recruiting position. I knew in order to be successful here I had to make the right choice."
The Rebel baseball program has steadily improved during the Bianco/McDonnell era and the head man is quick to point out where a lot of the credit goes.
"Head coaches always get the bulk of the credit for success, but Dan doesn't need to be overlooked in his contributions here," said Bianco. "His value to us, and to me, can't be defined. Dan is invaluable. We can all be replaced, but I'd have a hard time finding another Dan McDonnell."
What makes McDonnell a priceless commodity to Bianco? We'll let him tell you.
"First of all, he's a superstar in recruiting. In baseball, we don't do like football and have the country broken down in areas with each coach getting an area. We all do a little bit of recruiting, but the bulk of our recruiting is Coach McDonnell," Mike explained. "His effort sets him apart. He's tireless and thinks about recruiting all the time. A lot of guys in this profession don't like recruiting. Dan has a passion for it.
"He's constantly locating talent and evaluating players. Then we decide who fits our program and he goes after them. We don't offer a bunch of kids and take the first ones who accept our offer. We hone it down and Dan outrecruits other schools on our primary targets. That's not easy to do. He builds the relationships, he calls them once a week, he recruits their parents, he is with them on their visits. Recruits and their families know Dan better than they know me until they actually get here. He is such a likeable person that they are drawn to him. As far as I am concerned, there isn't a better baseball recruiter in the country."
And it doesn't stop there. Bianco said Dan's expertise doesn't end with recruiting.
"Dan is in charge of our baserunning and infield. It's not a coincidence that we set a school record in steals this year and our infield is as good as any infield in the country," he noted. "Dan does as much on the field as he does recruiting.
"We have great players on our infield and on the basepaths, but Dan either gets the credit for getting them here in the first place or for coaching them up once they get here or both. Either way, through recruiting them or coaching them, he's had a major hand in our success in running the bases and in fielding. He's an excellent teacher, a tremendous coach. Trust me, he will be an outstanding head coach when he gets that opportunity."
McDonnell deflects all praise to the players he coaches.
"It's easy to coach great infielders. They have worked so hard and take pride in their fielding," said Dan. "They understand the importance of making plays and not beating themselves.
"As far as baserunning is concerned, we have several guys who have a knack for it. They are able to put a lot of pressure on opposing pitchers and catchers with their ability and they like playing aggressive baseball on the basepaths."
The recent SEC Toruanment championship the Rebels captured in Hoover, AL, was nothing totally new to McDonnel.
"I've been lucky enough to be a part of coaching in five conference championships prior to the SEC Tournament victory we just had," he continued. "The formula is the same - timely hits, good pitching and make routine plays in the field.
"As a coach and a player I've been a part of that before, but certainly the SEC Tournament championship is at the highest level. These are the best teams in the country and I'm very excited about what we were able to accomplish so far."
McDonnell said that while he is elated about the results of the SEC Tournament, he's not really surprised.
"Look at out pitchers, for instance. By the time we got there (Hoover) they were no longer freshmen. They had just gone through 10 SEC weekends against the toughest competition college baseball has to offer," he explained. "The biggest crowds, the best players, the best teams. We knew if they could just survive the regular season that they would be seasoned when they got to tourney time."
The tourney title will also help in Dan's main chore - recruiting.
"It makes it a little easier to be able to say we have hardware (titles and trophies) now instead of we are going to win them in the future," he noted. "This gives us a little more to sell. It gives us a little more ammunition. We've shown a consistent level of play, but now we can show them championships. I've been selling Coach Bianco's championships at LSU as a player and a coach and my championships at The Citadel as a player and a coach. Now we have one to prove we mean business and can get results at Ole Miss.
"But I will continue to sell Ole Miss, Oxford and what we represent. We will continue to go after the best players in the country and sell Ole Miss to do it. Certainly, attaching a title to that sales pitch will help. We can now sell the present insted of the future."
As Bianco said, head coaches usually get more credit than is warranted, but in this case anyone who keeps up with Ole Miss baseball understands the value of Dan McDonnell.
Not the least of which is Bianco himself.