The timeline was accelerated by former LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro’s November departure to head the Mississippi State program, but this current iteration of coach Paul Mainieri’s staff is one that had been in the works for some time.
LSU will start full squad practices Friday with a new-look coaching staff. Mainieri promoted two former players from within to take Cannizaro’s place: Nolan Cain as the recruiting coordinator and Micah Gibbs as the hitting coach.
It took some foresight, and it happened sooner than Mainieri imagined, but he now has his staff constructed the way he wants it.
“I knew right from the start when I hired Andy, he was very frank about it, that he had a strong desire to become a head coach,” Mainieri said. “I thought it would be probably the next summer, maybe two (summers). Of course, the thing happened in November and kind of accelerated the process.
“But the plan was always to split the job; promote Nolan into the recruiting coordinator’s job and Micah into the hitting coach job.”
Previously, Cannizaro handled both hitting coach and recruiting coordinator duties. Before him, Javi Sanchez served as LSU’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator. Either the pitching or hitting coach has traditionally handled the recruiting coordinator position because the NCAA limits college baseball programs to two full-time paid assistants, and a volunteer coach can’t recruit off campus.
But Mainieri has long wanted the recruiting coordinator to make recruiting his sole focus. The issue is the recruiting quiet period — during which coaches are not allowed to make off-campus visits — ends during the season, meaning one of the assistants was always taken away from his work with the current team to recruit. The recruiting coordinator misses practices and sometimes games.
“Once March 1 hits, it’s essential your recruiting coordinator goes on the road,” Mainieri said. “Now, we’re in the middle of the season, so me as the head coach, I can’t go on the road. I don’t want (pitching coach) Alan Dunn going on the road because he’s calling pitches during the game, and I think the pitching coach being here is absolutely essential.
“So your recruiting coordinator has to go on the road. If he’s also your hitting coach, what happens? Who’s getting the short end of that deal? Your current players that are hitters.”
Cain has quickly become well-regarded in college baseball circles as a recruiter. Mainieri found his solution to splitting the positions in Gibbs.
The two frequently spoke between professional baseball seasons about Gibbs’ desire to be a coach. When Gibbs felt his prospect status had expired after six seasons in the minor leagues, he saw a window of opportunity with his old coach. He became LSU’s coordinator of baseball operations last January.
The idea was always to groom Gibbs to be an eventual successor to Cannizaro — it was just the eventual part of that equation figured to come farther down the road.
“Neither of us thought it would happen this quick, but it was something that we always had in the back of our minds, especially myself, so I was always trying to prepare myself as much as possible for something like that to happen,” Gibbs said. “Plus, I knew Andy was one of the top names for potential head coaches, I just wasn’t expecting anything to happen in the middle of the year.”
Gibbs is a volunteer assistant, meaning he is not paid by the university. He makes his income through LSU’s summer camps. He is not allowed to recruit off campus, but he is allowed to work with the players in a full-time assistant coach capacity.
If Mainieri was going to split the position as he originally planned, convincing a big-name coach to leave a paid position to take a volunteer job at LSU would’ve been immensely difficult. Gibbs allowed him the flexibility to do what he thought was necessary.
“In my opinion, to do due diligence for both jobs, they have to be split,” Mainieri said. “I just never felt I was in the position to do that before with the personnel that we had. But what I had done was put Micah in that position knowing that the plan would be to split the job.”
Gibbs' inexperience as a coach has led to some criticism for Mainieri, but the coach quickly brushes that aside by pointing to his previous hitting coaches and the results they’ve generated.
Like Gibbs, Cannizaro had zero coaching experience before taking LSU’s hitting coordinator job. His predecessor, Sanchez, had only worked as LSU’s volunteer assistant. LSU’s first hitting coach under Mainieri, Cliff Godwin, was Vanderbilt’s coordinator of baseball operations when Mainieri hired him.
Despite their inexperience, LSU had success under all of them. LSU has finished in the top three of the SEC in both batting average and scoring in seven of the last eight years.
The one outlier came in 2012 when the Tigers finished fourth in the league in batting average. That same year, LSU led the conference in scoring.
Combine that fact with the timing of Cannizaro’s departure — in the closing days of fall practice — and Mainieri felt comfortable pulling the trigger on the Gibbs hire and splitting the coaching duties in a way he feels will help the program.
“Look at Micah’s background; the guy was an excellent ball player, he played all the way up to AAA, six years of professional baseball, plus he’s been around the program for basically a full year before he’s going to take over as the hitting coach,” Mainieri said. “I think the guy is immensely qualified to do it, and he’s going to be great.”
LSU offensive production, by the numbers
LSU has finished in the Southeastern Conference's top three in both hitting and runs scored in seven of the last eight seasons despite consistent hires of hitting coaches with no previous experience in that role. Here is how LSU has fared offensively in each of Mainieri's 10 seasons, with their SEC rank in parentheses. Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com
- Batting average: .295 (3)
- Runs per game: 6.5 (3)
- Batting average: .314 (1)
- Runs per game: 6.8 (2)
- Batting average: .287 (3)
- Runs per game: 6.3 (2)
- Batting average: .305 (2)
- Runs per game: 6.5 (2)
- Batting average: .285 (4)
- Runs per game: 6.1 (1)
- Batting average: .303 (3)
- Runs per game: 6.9 (2)
- Batting average: .319 (2)
- Runs per game: 7.9 (2)
- Batting average: .315 (2)
- Runs per game: 7.9 (2)
- Batting average: .306 (5)
- Runs per game: 7.8 (2)
- Batting average: .256 (12)
- Runs per game: 5.0 (12)