So Paul Mainieri’s flirtation with Texas is over almost before we knew it existed. After a hasty meeting with athletic director Joe Alleva on Thursday and a hefty (if unspecified) raise — more of the latter than the former greased the wheels of this decision, I’m sure — Mainieri will stay at LSU.
He has said he’d like to coach here another eight years, 18 in all, a numerical significance he has declined to share. Whether he indeed will coach that long, or longer, given his level of success, it’s a strong bet he will leave LSU one day only on his terms.
He left LSU once before, after playing one season for the Tigers, a productive campaign in that it allowed him to meet his wife Karen, an LSU cheerleader. The pull to go play a season for his beloved father Demie at Miami-Dade Community College was too great. Eventually he was back in Louisiana playing his final two seasons at UNO.
Family made Mainieri leave that first time. There was no such attraction at Texas. Most of Mainieri’s family is here. His grandchildren are here. And LSU is just as good a job as Texas. Actually, it’s better right now, considering what the Tigers have returning next season.
At Texas, Mainieri would have had to try, at 59, to rebuild the Longhorns into a national contender. At LSU, that contender is already in the drydock at the shipyard, just awaiting a few final finishing touches before being launched for the 2017 season.
The announcements the past two days that LSU’s middle infield, shortstop Kramer Robertson and second baseman Cole Freeman, will return followed the news that first baseman Greg Deichmann will also be back. The only big decision left belongs to Jared Poché, the would-be senior left-hander. If Poché rejoins Alex Lange and LSU figures out its persistent third starter issues, the Tigers could be preseason No. 1.
Coaches don’t consider walking away from that unless there’s some extenuating circumstance. For Les Miles in 2007, it was the prospect of coaching his alma mater, Michigan, despite being on the cusp of playing for a national title. For Mainieri, it appears to be a lack of appreciation.
Mainieri is a proud man, proud of his LSU program. Seeing a coach like Louisville’s Dan McDonnell — a coach unlike Mainieri who is without a national championship on his résumé — recently get a 10-year, $10 million deal had to be galling to LSU’s head man. It’s widely believed TCU’s Jim Schlossnagle makes even more (TCU, as a private school, doesn’t have to divulge such gauche matters as salaries).
Whether LSU matched the kind of money Texas considered offering Mainieri will probably never be known. The point is, as far as both programs are concerned, it was enough to keep him from bolting to Austin.
Keep Austin weird, Texas.
LSU will keep Mainieri, the Pope of Gourrier Avenue, right where he is.
It doesn’t make LSU unusual in that Mainieri’s name had to be tied to another major job for him to improve on his $750,000-a-season salary, even if it is a shame, but it does fit a pattern. Alleva flirted with the athletic directorship at Tennessee and got a bigger check to stay. Miles flirted with Arkansas and got a new contract out of the episode.
It seems Mainieri generally felt underappreciated, feelings that are partially of his own making. He hears too much of the criticism of fans and pundits for his own good. If it’s true, as former Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano once said, that every man in America thinks he can work a grill and coach football, he could have added a line about coaching baseball and still been inbounds.
“I don’t care if you’re 18 or 58 — everyone has a human need to feel appreciated and wanted,” Mainieri told The Advocate on Thursday.
But, Mainieri said, “this is where I want to be.”
Mainieri is, in a way, a victim of his own success. Critics point, with justifiable complaint, that while LSU has been a national seed five straight years, it’s won only one College World Series game in two appearances. But it’s also worth noting that only Stanford has ever had a longer string of national seeds under the current NCAA tournament format with six.
Only LSU and Florida have been national seeds seven times since 2008. The Gators are in Omaha while the Tigers are at home, but Florida is still hunting that first national title.
Hopefully for Mainieri, the raise, the appreciation, will be enough, because it isn’t only his salary that will go up. If Mainieri is now a million-dollar coach or close to it, he and his team will face only greater expectations — especially next season. Everyone invested in LSU baseball, financially or emotionally, will expect a return on what it cost to keep Mainieri here and happy.
LSU has long been a place where a national championship was the expectation. That may never be truer than it will be in 2017.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.