In the search for LSU’s new baseball coach, about the only thing certain as of close of business Wednesday is that whoever athletic director Scott Woodward picks to succeed Paul Mainieri is going to displease one faction or another.
There is the crowd that likes former LSU catcher/assistant and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco. There is the contingent who thinks he hasn’t done enough in Oxford (one College World series in 21 seasons) to warrant this job.
There is the group that likes East Carolina coach and former LSU assistant Cliff Godwin. There is the group that also doesn’t think he’s done enough to merit what is one of college baseball’s most glamorous posts.
There are those who want LSU to swing for the fences for Louisville coach Dan McDonnell, who in a surprising bit of candor has actually, publicly said if LSU calls he will be gratified to listen. As the late LSU football coach Bill Arnsparger said months before leaving to become Florida’s athletic director, “What’s wrong with talking?” Talking about McDonnell, he’s built Louisville into a winner but also hasn’t yet won a CWS title.
There are also those who want LSU to roll the dice and go with young, apparent up-and-comer Tony Vitello. Got to suspect a little recency bias there since Vitello’s Volunteers just sent Mainieri into retirement with a super regional sweep in Knoxville. And there are plenty who worry that Vitello hasn’t yet proven he is more than a one-hit wonder, and/or don’t like his or his team’s demeanor.
LSU baseball fans, longing to find someone who will somehow restore the glory days of the Skip Bertman era — giving the program five CWS titles in 10 years — are finding two truisms of the coaching search. One, not every candidate is eager to leave the place that made them such a hot ticket in the first place. And two, there is no perfect candidate. Everyone has their issues or limitations.
Picking winner is the overriding requirement facing Woodward, but it is hardly the only one. LSU’s current coaching search is narrowed, or perhaps clarified, by some other factors as well.
The phrase “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” doesn’t apply to this search. Not when LSU as both a school and an athletic program is trying to extract itself from beneath the toxic cloud of sexual harassment and battery scandals that have plagued the place for months. That means integrity is a major factor in who LSU eventually brings in.
Former Kansas athletic director Jeff Long either didn’t properly vet former LSU football coach Les Miles when he hired him in 2018 or simply got blindsided by allegations of inappropriate behavior with female students when Miles was at LSU. Behavior that led former athletic director Joe Alleva to advise two school presidents that Miles could and should be fired for cause in 2013 and 2015.
You can argue forever about what Long did or should have known about Miles. There is no doubt the hire cost Long his job at KU.
LSU can’t afford that type of scandal trailing whoever it lands for its baseball coaching job, like someone with a stream of toilet paper stuck to their shoe. It needs someone who not only can win, but who has a reputation that is above reproach.
This is a tough assignment for Woodward. And there are always challenges. Women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey was an overwhelmingly popular hire, but there have still been critics bringing up comments she made at Baylor in the wake of a similar scandal at that school. It is criticism Mulkey and LSU were able to easily hurdle, but it was there.
Does that mean LSU is going to wind up with a less-than-scintillating hire than Mulkey? A hire sure to leave some part of a super-demanding fan base grumbling in their souvenir beer cups?
Perhaps. But that’s likely no matter what. LSU may not be able to land the perfect candidate in terms of on-the-field performance. But it needs to land as close to perfect as it can in terms of their off-the-field conduct.
The phrase "the right man for the job" perhaps has a deeper meaning than ever before. A meaning I'm quite sure isn't lost on Woodward, his staff or LSU's administration.