If it weren’t for LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri, Dave Schrage says he wouldn’t be coaching South Dakota State, which plays Southern in a weekend series beginning Friday at Lee-Hines Field.
Mainieri gave Schrage his first coaching job as a graduate assistant while Mainieri was head coach at St. Thomas University in Miami in 1984. It was also an opportunity for Schrage, who had just finished his playing career at Creighton and hadn’t gotten drafted, to pursue a master’s degree in sports administration.
“I was a finance major,” Schrage said Thursday before leaving Brookings S.D. “I wasn’t planning on going into coaching, but coaching with Paul was such a great experience, and here I am all these years later. I wouldn’t be in coaching if it wasn’t for coach Mainieri.”
Former Chicago Cubs general manager Joe Hendry, who was Schrage’s coach at Creighton, called Mainieri to ask him if he had a position for Schrage. Mainieri didn’t have the budget for a full-time paid assistant, so Schrage quickly became his “right hand.”
“We developed a friendship that has stood the test of time,” Mainieri said.
Schrage, who’s in his fourth season with the Jackrabbits, has won nearly 700 college games as a head coach, including stints at Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois and Evansville. In 2006, his final Evansville team was 43-22 and claimed NCAA regional victories against South Carolina and Virginia and reached a regional championship game for the first time in school history.
The success Schrage had at Evansville landed him the head coach’s position at Notre Dame to succeed Mainieri, who had accepted the LSU job.
“Paul had a big influence (on Schrage’s hiring),” Schrage said. “We tried to carry on what Paul had started, but he had a little bit better results than I did.”
Mainieri won 533 games in 12 seasons with the Fighting Irish. Just a few months after Schrage started at Notre Dame, his wife, Jody, was diagnosed with cancer and she died before his first game as Irish coach.
“He had to deal with that tragedy and raise two teenaged daughters,” Mainieri said. “It was a rough start and he was never able to get it together there. After four years they let him go, but fortunately he landed on his feet because he’s an excellent coach.”
Schrage, who was 119-104-1 at Notre Dame, took South Dakota State to its first NCAA Division I tournament two years ago.
Schrage and Mainieri spoke on the phone Thursday morning before the Tigers left for the Houston College Classic this weekend.
“Whenever something goes wrong I usually call Paul first because he always picks up the phone,” Schrage said. “He’ll do anything to help. I learned how to approach the game and how to treat my players from him. A lot of what we do today is what I learned from Paul.”
The Jaguars (1-6) and the Jackrabbits (2-5) will play their series opener at 2 p.m. Friday. The start time was moved from 6 p.m. because of near-freezing temperatures expected after sunset.
The series will conclude with a doubleheader at 11 a.m. Saturday. Sunday’s game was moved to Saturday because of the potential for rain Sunday.
Senior right-hander Santos Saldivar (0-2, 9.53) will make his third start Friday. In the Southwestern Athletic Conference opener last Friday he lasted just a third of an inning and walked in three runs in an 8-2 loss to Prairie View.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.